$200M for water shortages likely to pass

A low-level irrigation ditch is fed fresh water from the Colorado River, August 27, 2019, in Casa Blanca, Ariz.(AP PhotoMatt York)
A low-level irrigation ditch is fed fresh water from the Colorado River, August 27, 2019, in Casa Blanca, Ariz.(AP PhotoMatt York)

The Legislature is set to pass a $200 million proposal to fund areas without a proper water supply.   

The money would help meet long-term demands and financially assist in the creation of water supply and conservation projects.   

The proposal, which is part of the FY2022 budget, passed the Senate June 22 on a party-line 16-14 vote and the House still had not considered it as of press time.  

It narrowly passed the Appropriations committees in the Senate and House on May 25 as Democrats and Republicans on those panels agreed something needs to be done about the state’s nearly 21-year drought, but Democratic lawmakers opposed the bill because they said that it may do little to properly address the drought, and in some cases may be used to speed up the depletion of resources already in short supply, such as groundwater. 

As a desert region with an already limited water supply further drained by climate change, Arizona has been working to resolve the lack of water. In 2019, the state enacted the Drought Contingency Plan, which outlines how Arizona and other Colorado River basin states will divide the limited water that’s now available.   

The plan conserves water in reservoirs such as Lake Mead and Lake Powell and funds various groups for leaving water within them.   

The Associated Press recently reported, however, that Lake Mead has hit a record low water level since its creation in the 1930s, a decline expected to continue until November.   

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has said it’s expected to issue the first-ever shortage declaration that prompts water reductions in Arizona and Nevada, creating a further need for legislation.   

The Legislature’s answer to meet Arizona’s long-term water demand is legislation to establish the Drought Mitigation Board and the $200 million Drought Mitigation Revolving Fund.   

Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, said in the May 25 House Appropriations Committee hearing he was curious as to whether there was a way to monitor the board that would receive the funds. Friese said that the board could “spend money as they see fit without review.”   

The committee’s chairwoman, Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, said that while there was no established review for the fund, she would be open to a review of recommended expenses for the board in the future.  

Rep. Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley, said that while the fund was a step in the right direction, it did not directly solve the underlying problem.   

Lieberman then directly took note of issues he had both with the bill and the water treatment, citing issues such as water pumping that the bill did not adequately address.   

“Unfortunately this bill isn’t doing anything to bring some accountability along with the significant investment,” Lieberman said.  

Cobb said people “can always say it’s not enough and vote no, but it’s something so I vote yes.”   

The bill was narrowly passed by the House Appropriations Committee 7-6, with Republican Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Gilbert, joining five Democrats in opposition.   

Senate Democrats also questioned the bill’s credibility in the Senate Appropriations Committee, where it passed on a partisan line of 6-4.   

Sandy Bahr, director for the Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter, spoke in opposition of the measure.  

“While it is true many parts of the state do not have sustainable water supplies based on current or projected uses as the bill indicates, the fund does nothing to address the underlying issues contributing to that,” Bahr said.  

Bahr similarly cited unfettered groundwater pumping and connections between ground and service water as points of concern. Bahr also said she believed that the proposal should have been a stand-alone bill so it could be debated and evaluated on its own merits.  

2024 spending spread from schools to a rodeo and more

A cowboy competes in the saddle bronc competition during the Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo, Wednesday, July 3, 2013, in Prescott. The rodeo is earmarked to receive $15 million from the fiscal year 2024 state budget. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

The budget crafted by Gov. Katie Hobbs and state lawmakers includes a tax rebate, big-ticket spending packages and – in a break from tradition – funding for scores of small, local projects.

The budget deal moved through the Legislature this week as a 16-bill package and will supply state funding for fiscal year 2024, which begins on July 1, 2023.

The $17.8 billion budget is balanced, meaning estimated revenues match planned spending under the plan, according to a Joint Legislative Budget Committee analysis published on May 10. But the deal includes plans to spend the state’s more than $2 billion budget surplus now rather than preserving the surplus going forward. It does not, however, touch the rainy-day fund.

The full budget comprises 16 different bills that, combined, run more than 200 pages. Below are some highlights of the deal.


In her State of the State Address earlier this year, Hobbs indicated that education was her top priority for this session, specifically saying she wanted to increase funding for public schools and to pay teachers more, so that more educators keep working in Arizona classrooms. The final budget includes substantial new funding for public education, but it also allows the state’s universal school voucher program to continue growing unabated – something that has angered Democrats and that Hobbs herself described as a compromise.

The K-12 education budget maintains a 0.9% increase in the base level funding and includes a one-time $300 million injection into the state aid formula by way of the Arizona Department of Education.

Districts also saw a $20 million increase in additional assistance, and $183 million was put toward school building renovation. Individual schools and districts can apply for a slice of that $183 million through the School Facilities Board. Other K-12 spending includes $15 million to dual enrollment programs, $10 million to increase administrative funding and $3 million for professional development for teachers and other personnel.

In higher education, there is a $20 million earmark for the Promise Scholarship program and $15 million for the Arizona Teachers Academy. There isn’t money to expand the Promise program to undocumented students – something Hobbs asked for in her executive budget proposal.

Both chambers passed resolutions to waive the aggregate expenditure limit for the next fiscal year, allowing schools to spend the new monies put toward the education budget this session.

And though Democrats did not get the cap on enrollment in the Empowerment Scholarship Account program that they wanted, the budget includes some additional reporting requirements for the program and House leadership agreed to convene an oversight committee to issue a report on administration of the program.

Senate Minority Leader Mitzi Epstein said of the study committee, “It will have to do … This, in combination with accountability measures, might lead to a better solution in the coming months.”

The city of Phoenix begins cleanup in ‘The Zone’, a downtown Phoenix homeless encampment in Phoenix. A judge ordered the city to clean up the city’s largest homeless encampment, citing it being a ‘public nuisance.” The state’s fiscal year 2024 budget puts $40 million to shelters and services and $150 million toward the Housing Trust Fund. PHOTO BY ALEXANDRA BUXBAUM/SIPA USA


Housing and homelessness also saw significant investments. The budget puts $40 million to shelters and services and $150 million toward the Housing Trust Fund.
The Housing Trust Fund, administered by the Department of Housing, invests in programs like a tax homeless credit for affordable housing developers, assists in improving access to federal housing funds and supplements state housing assistance programs like homeless shelters and eviction prevention.

The Mobile Home Relocation Fund also saw a $5 million deposit. Payouts available through the fund were increased when Hobbs signed a bill sponsored by Rep. Matt Gress, R-Phoenix, earlier this year.

Putting further funding toward housing comes as a court ordered the city of Phoenix to clear out “the Zone,” the state’s largest homeless encampment located just a few blocks from the Capitol. The city started clearing the area on May 10 and has made it clear in legal filings that they lack shelter space to accommodate every person pushed out of the area.

The Arizona Housing Coalition said the budget would deliver a “historic” investment to deal with housing and homelessness issues. The coalition is one of the state’s leading organizations working on housing and the current Department of Housing director, Joan Serviss, is a former director of the nonprofit organization.

Although they’re pouring money into the Housing Trust Fund, lawmakers haven’t been able to reach a compromise on other legislation seeking to address housing. A major bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, stalled earlier this year after facing opposition from cities and towns.


The major tax package in the proposal is a tax rebate that will send money back to some parents of dependent children. The rebate will be calculated based on dependents: taxpayers can get $250 back for each child under 17 and $100 for dependents 17 and up. Rebates can only be issued for up to three dependents per taxpayer – meaning the maximum rebate per taxpayer will be $750 – and the rebate will be calculated based on tax year 2021 returns.

There’s one other detail: rebates can only be issued to taxpayers with at least $1 of tax liability in 2021, 2020 or 2019. In other words, the lowest-income Arizonans, who have no tax liability at all, won’t get money under the program.

JLBC calculated that the one-time rebate will cost $259.8 million.

The plan looks similar to a child tax rebate proposal that Hobbs floated at the beginning of the year. But Hobbs’ proposal was different in key respects: the governor’s plan was to distribute $100 per child to low-income parents. That means Hobbs’ plan likely would have given money to low-earning parents who won’t qualify for benefits under the enacted budget, but it would have cut out higher earners who will be able to get a rebate under the enacted deal.

Ultimately, the tax rebate that made it into the budget was pushed by Republicans – something that GOP lawmakers were keen on clarifying.

“I’m proud of the fact that we have a number – quite a bit – of conservative Republicans who put money into this fund so that we could get a tax rebate to help Arizona families,” said Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek.

Republicans also passed an amendment to prohibit the Governor’s Officer from sending letters about the tax rebate.


It’s not uncommon for lawmakers to insert some smaller projects among the big-ticket items in the state budget. Adding a modest project to help out a particular lawmaker’s district can be a way to secure a vote from a legislator who is uncertain about supporting a bill.

But this year’s budget process went further than throwing a few pet projects into the final deal: Republican lawmakers divided up surplus cash and offered a “share” to individual legislators to fund their own projects, or to combine their shares to pay for larger projects.

Republicans in the House were allocated $20 million and, in the Senate, $30 million. Democrats as a whole were allocated approximately $700 million, but the caucus’ leadership opted not to divide that up among individual members. One of the Democrats’ spending items was the $300 million transfer to the Department of Education.
The result is that the fiscal year 2024 budget is chock-full of small-dollar, hyperlocal spending projects.

Without a full accounting from lawmakers, it’s hard to determine how many projects were requested as part of individual slice-of-the-pie budgeting process – and who asked for what. But it’s clear that dozens of projects made it into the final package through individual requests.

The JLBC analysis shows more than 20 “local distribution” projects that will be paid out by the treasurer, like $15 million for the Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo and $850,000 for a transportation study in Sun City. And there are almost 100 items listed under capital spending, many of which look like targeted, local projects.

A large number of capital projects fall under ADOT, indicating that they’ll fund various kinds of road work. There’s $1.5 million for a roundabout in Payson; $8.6 million for an Interstate 19 interchange near Nogales; $10.5 million to repave part of US 60 from Morristown to Wickenburg; $250,000 for a construction study for Cave Creek Road.

Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, told KJZZ that he used half of his share of the money for a deep well for the city of Peoria, and the other half as a contribution to a joint project for road work on State Route 30.

Livingston said the individual allocations “played a big role” in getting the budget done and argued that it’s an efficient way of divvying up state money.


More than $51 million is slated to go toward prison health care and an additional $100 million will cover prison building repair and capital projects as the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry faces a decades long lawsuit.

In April, a federal judge ordered the department to make sweeping improvements to state prison conditions and health care system, citing an “unconstitutional substantial risk of serious harm.”

Judge Roslyn Silver said the department had three months to make major improvements across record keeping, staffing and inmate mental and physical health care. Silver also required prisons to be free of garbage, mold, mildew, filth, vermin, insects and rust.

“As a matter of common decency, an Order should not be required to prompt Defendants to repair leaking pipes, repair inoperative toilets, or collect trash,” Silver wrote.

The budget also puts $2 million toward a grant to provide transitional housing and services for formerly incarcerated people.

And in juvenile corrections, the budget provides a $250,000 backfill for courts to cover juvenile monetary sanctions. A bill to repeal juvenile monetary sanctions is making headway in the Legislature, but the only opposition comes from the courts which feared the pitfall it would create in the budget.

A U.S. Border Patrol agent instructs a group of undocumented immigrants where to line up near a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint Thursday, May 11, 2023, in Yuma. Although the governor and lawmakers haven’t highlighted border-related spending in the fiscal year 2024 budget the package does make some significant modifications to funds that have already been designated for border projects. PHOTO BY RANDY HOEFT/YUMA SUN VIA AP


The governor and lawmakers haven’t highlighted border-related spending in this year’s budget, but the package does make some significant modifications to funds that have already been designated for border projects.

The $335 million that was earmarked last year for border projects will no longer be restricted to being used for physical barriers. Former Gov. Doug Ducey already spent more than half of the cash on a short-lived container barrier that was torn down late last year following legal action from the federal government. Cost estimates for building and disassembling the container wall are generally in the realm of $200 million, meaning there’s still a significant sum of money left over.

The budget also effectively renames Ducey’s Border Strike Task Force the Local Border Support fund. Hobbs has said she would eliminate the controversial strike force, but the JLBC budget analysis indicates the change basically amounts to renaming the project, which is funded through the Department of Public Safety and gets about $12 million per year. The budget includes minor changes to funding rules for the Local Border Support fund.


On top of the small-scale infrastructure projects chosen by individual lawmakers, the budget includes significant carve-outs for major highway projects. There’s $89 million to widen the I-10 from Phoenix to Casa Grande and $76 million to expand 1-17 from Anthem to Sunset Point. The interstate funding in this year’s budget comes after the state applied last year for federal money to support the I-10 widening project, but had the proposal rejected. The entire project is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, meaning this year’s appropriation won’t be enough to complete the work.

Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, said on Twitter that he had pushed for the for I-10 funding and that the state will need about $120 million in matching funding from the federal government to finish the project.


3 health care reforms that Republicans oppose

Doctor with a stethoscope in the hands on white background

One year into the coronavirus pandemic, Arizona has suffered greatly, but the chance for vaccination gives us some hope. The sheer scale of the sickness – over 800,000 cases in our state, resulting in over 56,000 people hospitalized, and more than 15,000 dead – has revealed some shortcomings in our public health system, in and many cases it has made those shortcomings worse.

As a state senator, I worked with my fellow legislators and with Healthcare Rising Arizona to address those shortcomings. We offered three bills to chart out improvements in our health care system, addressing both access to care and the cost of care, as well as taking steps to safeguard the health and safety of the healthcare professionals who have worked hard for a solid year of stress and struggle.

I am sorry to report that even with the coronavirus pandemic raging, Arizona’s Legislature failed to hold a single hearing on one of the three urgent bills we championed. Even more worrisome, neither health committee passed a bill related to the pandemic. Last week, the deadline for holding hearings on bills passed.

The three bills that we introduced in Arizona’s Legislature can make a real difference in people’s lives.

First off, over this past year, Arizona health care workers have been heroes. They need protective equipment, and shouldn’t have to pay for it out of their own pockets. They deserve paid sick time if they get infected. They deserve hazard pay for what they’ve been through and the tremendous sacrifices they’ve made.

The Healthcare Heroes Bill of Rights (HB2842), sponsored by Rep. Melody Hernandez, D-Tempe, myself and 17 others, would have done just that. Melody is an emergency medical technician and knows what health care workers have been through over the past year. Her bill would protect health care workers who perform Covid essential functions by providing them with personal protective equipment, hazard pay, whistleblower protections, and paid sick leave for any worker who cannot work due to a Covid diagnosis. Nineteen legislators have already signed on in support of the bill.

Juan Mendez
Juan Mendez

Medical debt is also a huge issue for hundreds of thousands of Arizona families. The bill that I offered, the Reduce Medical Debt Act (SB1796), would protect consumers who are struggling with medical debt. The legislation shields homes and most vehicles from seizure by debt collectors, and increases the amount of time before a medical debt can show up on a consumer’s credit report.

The third bill we offered would ensure that no one is denied care because of a pre-existing condition or an annual or lifetime cap on the cost of care. People with employer-provided health insurance do not have this worry, but Arizonans who have bought the “short-term limited duration” plans that are legal in this state do. Imagine paying your health insurance premium every month, and then learning only after you get sick that your plan doesn’t cover the care you need.

That’s why the Healthcare Bill of Rights (HB2739), sponsored by Rep. Andrea Dalessandro, D-Green Valley, ensures that health insurance plans cannot reject patients with so-called pre-existing conditions, or charge them unaffordable rates for that coverage. These protections extend to the so-called “short-term limited duration,” requires all plans sold in Arizona to offer essential medical benefits, and bans annual or lifetime caps on coverage.

We offered these bills in the spirit of advancing public health and looking out for Arizona families. Sadly, Republicans refused to even hold a hearing on even one of these bills. But there’s still hope, because Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, or Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, could bring any of these bills to the floor of the House or Senate.

I hope they do.

Sen. Juan Mendez of Tempe, a Democrat, represents Legislative District 26.

9th Circuit upholds law to burden Libertarian candidates

Symbol of law and justice in the empty courtroom, law and justice concept.
Deposit Photos

A federal appeals court has upheld a 2015 state law which the Libertarian Party charges – and some Republican lawmakers admitted – was specifically designed to keep its candidates off the ballot.

In a unanimous ruling Friday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged that the law could require would-be Libertarian candidates to gather the signatures of up to 30 percent of registered party members to qualify for the primary.

But Judge Margaret McKeown, writing for the court, said that isn’t the fault of the Republican-controlled Legislature that enacted the requirement.

She pointed out that the Libertarians, just like Republicans and Democrats, can offer themselves for office by getting the signatures of just 1 percent of those who are eligible to sign petitions. That means not just Libertarians but also those who are unaffiliated with any other political party.

Margaret McKeown
Margaret McKeown

McKeown, a President Clinton appointee, said it is the decision of the Libertarian Party to allow only party members to vote in the Libertarian primary.

“And it does not want its candidates to solicit signatures from non-members,” she said.

Put simply, McKeown said the problem is of the party’s own making because of party policy. And she said that voiding the law – and going back to the way things were – would “incentivize parties to have fewer registered members and therefore artificially reduce the signature requirements.”

Michael Kielsky, a party member and plaintiff in the lawsuit, said he expect the ruling to be appealed.

Prior to 2015, candidates for recognized minor parties could get on the ballot simply by submitting petitions with the signatures of one-half of one percent of those registered with the party. In 2018 for the Libertarians, a statewide candidate would have had to collect around 160 names.

That year Republicans lowered the requirement to one-quarter of one percent. But they engineered it so that the figure was based on all who could sign a candidate’s petition.

That added political independents to the base, who actually outnumber Democrats and run a close second to Republicans.

So in 2018 the minimum signature requirement for a Libertarian running statewide was 3,153, about 10 percent of all those actually registered as Libertarians. For the Green Party the floor was 1,253.

Meanwhile the numbers for Republican and Democrat nominations remained close to what it always had been: 6,223 for the GOP and 5,801 for Democrats, both a small fraction of each party’s voter registration.

McKeown acknowledged the burden for Libertarians with the party’s desire to have petitions signed only by party faithful. And she said it could reach 30 percent for some offices.

But she said states are entitled to make the “preliminary showing of a significant modicum of support” as a condition of being put on the ballot. And the judge dismissed the current burden as being unreasonable, citing the fact that Arizona law permits people to get nomination signatures not just in person but online.

Kielsky said the court ignored the evidence that there were political motives behind the change in the law.

“It is designed to screw us,” he told Capitol Media Services.

In debating the change, GOP lawmakers made it clear they hoped to improve the odds for Republican lawmakers who might otherwise lose votes to a Libertarian.

As proof they cited the 2012 congressional race for CD 1, which runs from Flagstaff and the Navajo Nation to the edge of Tucson.

Republican Jonathan Paton garnered 113,594 votes against 122,774 for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick. But Libertarian Kim Allen picked up 15,227 votes – votes that then-Rep. J.D. Mesnard, now a state senator, contended likely would have gone to Paton.

Similarly, in the newly created CD 9 which encompasses parts of Tempe and Phoenix, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema beat Vernon Parker by 10,251 votes, with Libertarian Powell Gammill tallying 16,620.

And to ensure the point was not lost on his GOP colleagues, Mesnard made the issue more personal, warning them that they, too, could find themselves aced out of a seat if they don’t change the signature requirements.

“I can’t believe we wouldn’t see the benefit of this,” he said during a floor speech.

Kielsky said all that presumes that “the votes belong to a particular party, they do not belong to the people.”

The law produced the desired results: There was not a Libertarian Party candidate for governor on the ballot for the first time in more than two decades. That cleared the way for a head-to-head race between incumbent Republican Doug Ducey and Democrat challenger David Garcia, without either candidate having to worry about votes being siphoned off by a minor party contender.

A lot could go wrong for both flyers in LD6 Senate race

Elections right ahead on a green highway sign.

In 2018, Felicia French came within 600 votes of doing the improbable – a Democrat flipping a legislative seat in northern Arizona and creating a 30-30 deadlock in the House.

Two years of near-constant campaigning later, the retired Army colonel from Pine is weeks away from an election that could end up deciding the balance of the state Senate. And while she said she’s optimistic about the eventual election results, she’s leaning on lessons learned from flying medical evacuation helicopters during her 32 years in the Army. 

“The joke about the difference between a helicopter pilot and a fixed-wing pilot is that helicopter pilots are always anticipating something going wrong because you don’t have much of a safety cushion. We fly in a lower altitude, so if anything goes wrong you don’t have much time to recover from it and do a corrective action emergency procedure,” French said. “So you were always looking for what’s going to go wrong, and I feel that way now.” 

A lot could go wrong for French in Legislative District 6. Republicans still hold a nearly 9-percentage point edge in voter registration – more than double their lead in most other hotly contested districts. The district went for Donald Trump by double digits in 2016, and while moderate Democrats Tom O’Halleran and Ann Kirkpatrick have represented the area in Congress since 2012, their campaigns are bolstered by Native American voters who don’t live in LD6.

But a lot could also go wrong for retired Air Force Lt. Col. Wendy Rogers, a jet pilot and the Republican candidate who pulled off a lopsided upset victory over longtime Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake. Rogers’ decade-long streak of losing congressional races in Tempe and northern Arizona convinced some Republicans that she would cost the GOP their Senate majority, while her scorched-earth primary against Allen alienated would-be allies in LD6, including current Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake. 

“It’s a district that the Democrats think they can actually swoop in and take,” Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward said during a September 30 live-streamed town hall with Republican candidates.

Wendy Rogers
Wendy Rogers

The Rogers campaign declined to participate in a phone interview. But during the Sepember 30 town hall with Ward, she said her campaign has been rallying Republican support since the primary, during which 8,000 more LD6 voters voted in the Republican primary than the Democratic one. 

“We played the long game and we reached out to infrequent Republican voters,” she said. “We know that will put President Trump and Martha McSally, people who have to run statewide, in very good stead. We’re very proud of that.”

Rogers faced criticism from both her primary opponent and Democrats in the district for being too focused on federal issues, rather than issues specific to rural Arizona. She said during the Republican town hall that the biggest issue in her district is preventing Flagstaff from turning into Portland, Oregon, a liberal bastion.   

Rogers is on track to both outraise and outspend every other legislative candidate in Arizona’s history. The roughly $551,000 she has collected with a month to go before the election is only $3,000 less than prodigious fundraiser Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, raised for a nail-bitingly close Senate race in 2018. 

And outside groups, from national Democratic organizations, to conservative PACs that backed Allen over Rogers to a political action committee backed by Gov. Doug Ducey, have already sunk more than $600,000 into advocating for or against either Rogers and French. 

Ducey’s PAC, Arizonans for Strong Leadership, is the biggest individual player, spending more than $140,000 on negative ads about French and another $91,000 to back Rogers. It has created a more negative campaign than French experienced when she ran for the House in 2018. 

Felicia French
Felicia French

 “They’re in the local paper,” French said. “Every time it’s published, there’s a full-page ad against me and I didn’t have that last time.”

 Ducey’s PAC is invested in portraying French — as well as Democrats running in tight districts in suburban Phoenix — as San Francisco-style liberals, playing off the Republican mantra of  “Don’t California my Arizona.” In French’s case, that means ads highlighting her support for a 2018 renewable energy ballot initiative that voters overwhelmingly rejected and 2018 comments about not wanting charter schools to receive public education funding, said Republican consultant Barrett Marson, who works with the governor’s PAC. 

“She has a lot of wonderful California ideas that just don’t fly in Arizona,” Marson said.  

French said she found those kinds of attacks “honestly quite amusing,” adding that she was a registered Republican until about 15 years ago and that nobody could serve 32 years in the military and be an “extreme liberal.” 

She left the Republican Party while she was studying climate change as a national security issue at the Department of Defense, because congressional Republicans were ramping up a policy of denying the existence of manmade climate change. It took several more years for French to officially join the Democratic Party, because initially she didn’t see Democrats being fiscally responsible.


A Voice for Giving Women a Voice

9-21-times-pastAs this picture of Frances Munds clearly illustrates, she was not the kind of woman afraid of wearing a very large hat. She was also not the kind of woman afraid of taking on a very large project. She was one of the Arizonans more instrumental in securing the right to vote for women of this state.

The effort to achieve women’s suffrage began in Arizona when it was still a territory. One of the most telling accounts of her early attempt is provided by Carrie Catt, a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, who came to Phoenix to lobby for women’s suffrage in 1899. She reported that opposition to the idea came from saloon owners and was led by the proprietor of the largest and more profitable saloon in the territory.

Saloon keepers opposed women’s suffrage because they feared that women would support passage of laws that would damage their businesses. And, in fact, many women involved in the campaign for women’s suffrage, including Frances Munds, got their start in politics through working in the temperance movement. In addition, many of the saloon owners also ran gambling dens and houses of prostitution, and believed women voters would not be favorably disposed toward these enterprises either.

In 1899, according to Catt, a women’s suffrage measure passed the lower chamber of the Legislature by a vote of 10 to 5, and a majority in the upper chamber had pledged their support, but saloon owners sent every member of that chamber a telegram threatening them with political ruin if they supported the measure. The bill was filibustered to prevent it from ever coming to a vote. Catt reported that she was told that all such legislation is controlled by bribery, and that the measure could be “put through in a twinkling by ‘a little money judiciously distributed.’” She opined that it was the low pay of legislators in the territory which led the most desirable men not to serve and allowed enough men of unprincipled character to have seats for the latter to hold sway.

Undaunted, however, Catt and her colleague, Mary Hay, returned the next year to help organize the first full-fledged suffrage association in Arizona, with Pauline O’Neill as president and Frances Munds as recording secretary. In 1903, Munds was one of three members of the organization who worked with legislators and succeeded in getting a women’s suffrage bill passed. But Governor Alexander Brodie, an appointee of President Theodore Roosevelt, vetoed the bill. The veto was apparently part of a deal engineered by Joseph Kibbey, the leader of the Republican minority in the upper chamber, who was described by Munds as the “arch enemy” of women’s suffrage. When Brodie resigned, Kibbey was appointed to take his place as governor, and the suffragists knew the situation was hopeless as long as he was in office.

In 1909, Munds became the territorial chair of a new, more efficiently organized women’s suffrage association. A year later, at the constitutional convention, the association worked hard to get a women’s suffrage clause included in the proposed state constitution. When that effort failed, the association established headquarters in Munds’ house in Prescott and mounted a vigorous campaign to elect suffragists to the first state Legislature.

“The men, however,” Munds writes, “were so pleased with the members of the constitutional convention that a little thing like their voting against women suffrage did not matter and everyone who was a candidate for anything was elected, some to the Legislature and others to various state offices.”

George Hunt, who had been president of the convention and had aggressively opposed the suffrage clause, was elected the first governor of the state. He did recommend to the Legislature that it submit a women’s suffrage amendment to the voters, but the measure failed in both houses.

At that point, Munds’ organization decided to use the initiative process provided for in the new state Constitution to put the question on the ballot. The requisite number of signatures was collected on petitions, and in the election of November 5, 1912, the amendment received 13,442 “yes” votes and 6,202 “no” votes. Every county was carried. In an observation that serves as a reminder that this victory did not mean the end of discrimination in voting rights, Munds noted that the number of votes cast was small because Mexicans living in the state were disenfranchised by the education requirement for voting that was in place at that time.

The federal constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote was ratified by the Arizona Legislature on February 12, 1920, in a special session called by Governor Thomas Campbell. By that time in Arizona, there was little controversy about the matter. Two women from Iowa and Virginia came to speak in opposition to the amendment, and, according to Munds, were listened to in the Senate with “good-natured amusement” before the resolution for ratification was passed in both chambers without a dissenting vote.

Munds was among the leaders in the suffragist movement who traveled to other states to help seek ratification of the federal amendment. And on August 26, 1920, the U.S. Secretary of State proclaimed that the 19th Amendment had been ratified by the requisite three-fourths of the states.

This Times Past article was originally published on June 15, 2001.

Photo courtesy Arizona State Library and Archives; research by Gail Merton. ©Arizona Capitol Times.

Abortion questionnaire bill signed into law

(Deposit Photos/Merion_Merion)
(Deposit Photos/Merion_Merion)

Women who want to terminate a pregnancy are going to be asked some questions first.

But they don’t have to answer.

Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday signed a measure into law that spells out a new list of things that doctors and clinics are required to ask. The law takes effect 91 days after the Legislature ends its session.

Existing law contains an open-ended question that health care providers are supposed to ask about the reason for the abortion. That includes whether the procedure is elective or due to some issue of maternal or fetal health.

But Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, said that doesn’t provide sufficient information, at least not in a form where it can be classified into categories and published in annual reports by the Department of Health Services.

As originally crafted by Cathi Herrod of the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy, the list of choices women would have been given when asked about why they want an abortion would have included economic reasons, a decision not to have children at this time, the pregnancy was due to rape or incest, or whether there were “relationship issues, including abuse, separation, divorce and extramarital affairs.”

That gained Senate approval over the objections of Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix.

“If I get an abortion, it is no one’s business,” she told colleagues.

“It is not this Legislature’s business, it is not the governor’s business or anyone in state government,” Hobbs continued. “The Catholic Church does not need to know why I am getting an abortion, and not the Center for Arizona Policy.”

But when several House Republicans balked at the list, Herrod was forced to pare down the list.

As signed by Ducey, women will be asked whether the abortion is elective or whether it was due to one of a list of medical conditions.

Other questions include whether the procedure is being sought because the pregnancy is due to rape or incest. And women also will be questioned whether they are being coerced into the abortion, whether they are the victim of sex trafficking and whether they are the victim of domestic violence.

Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, defended in particular the questions on sex trafficking and coercion. He said it gives women, who will be taken into a separate room, a chance to seek help.

Nothing in the measure requires a woman to answer in order to have her pregnancy terminated.

House approval came after Republicans rejected a bid by Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, to also ask women if they were seeking an abortion because they lacked access to affordable family planning. Farnsworth said that question is irrelevant.

Ducey, in a prepared statement, said the bill simply updates existing reporting requirements by requesting information, which women need not provide, on whether a crime has occurred and provides information on services to women on how to report that crime. The governor did not address the other questions women will be asked which are not related to crimes.

About face – Republicans back jobless benefit hike


Arizona legislative Republicans who have resisted increasing the state’s second-lowest-in-the-nation unemployment benefits since 2004 are now spearheading bipartisan efforts to hike the rate.

On February 24, the House voted 50-9 to approve a bill that would increase the maximum weekly unemployment benefit to $300 from $240, starting in 2022. Meanwhile, Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, this week introduced her own bill to increase the maximum benefit to $320, starting on the general effective date – usually in August – which is 91 days after this year’s legislative session ends. 

At the start of the session, Fann said any talks about increasing unemployment benefits would have to wait until at least next year. For this year, the state needed to focus on replenishing the unemployment fund, which plummeted to roughly $90 million from a high of $1.1 billion over the course of 2020. 

Fann said February 24 that uncertainty about when and how Congress will act and a growing bipartisan desire to act pushed her to introduce her late bill. Along with increasing benefits, her bill would reduce the number of weeks per year that a worker can receive benefits to 20 from 26, unless the unemployment rate is higher than 6% or a governor-declared state of emergency that could close businesses, like the one for the ongoing Covid pandemic, is in effect. 

“If the federal government monies do expire in August like we believe now, it could still put some people in a bad situation until we can get all the other businesses open, so I decided to go ahead and move forward with it this year and try to get it in place to help everybody out,” she said. 

She landed on $320 by adjusting the current $240 based on inflation in the 17 years since it took effect. Once the state has replenished its unemployment fund and qualifies for an interest-free federal loan to cover benefits, Fann’s plan would further increase that amount to $400 per week. 

Under the most recent Covid legislation, unemployed Arizonans are eligible for an extra $300 per week in federal assistance, bringing the total to $540 at least until March 31. Congress has not yet reached an agreement on subsequent aid packages. 

Both Fann’s proposal and the House bill, sponsored by Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, would increase the income disregard amount – the amount an underemployed worker can make per week without seeing their unemployment benefits drop – to $160 from $30. That’s about 13 hours of work at the state’s current $12.15 minimum wage. 

Fann described that component as enabling employees and employers to stay connected in tough economic times, so the workers can eventually transition back to full-time work at the same company if they choose or move on to a new job without significant gaps in their work history. 

“If you drop out of school, it’s very hard to get those kids back to school,” she said. “Same thing happens in the workforce.”

Both bills would also increase unemployment taxes paid by businesses, which now pay taxes on the first $7,000 of each worker’s salary. Fann’s bill would increase that to the first $8,000 beginning in 2022 and the first $9,000 in 2023. Cook’s bill leaves it at $8,000.

Fann acknowledged that employers won’t like the increase, but they’ve been paying based on $7,000 for almost four decades. As the owner of a construction business founded in 1984, she has only ever paid unemployment taxes on the first $7,000 of her employees’ salaries.

“Yes, it’s going to be a little bit more for them, but they also have to realize that they’ve been paid on that $7,000 base wage rate for 36 years. “The day I started my business, it was at $7,000, so obviously we have not kept up with the times.”

Both bills have their skeptics – nine conservative Republicans voted against Cook’s version, and Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, voted against Fann’s measure in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Senate Democrats, who have long pushed to increase unemployment benefits, aren’t happy with Fann’s proposed reduction in the number of eligible weeks. But they’re willing to support the measure anyway.

Cook said after the February 24 vote that his bill won’t be the last word and he expects the Senate to change it. He said to the nine Republicans who voted against it that, if they think his proposal isn’t conservative enough, they really won’t like the Senate’s proposal.

“This is common sense,” Cook said. “It pays for itself. It’s just something that needs to be done for the people and small businesses.”


AG Brnovich escapes Bar sanctions, enters ‘diversion agreement’

Katie Hobbs, left, and Mark Brnovich.

The State Bar of Arizona will not punish Attorney General Mark Brnovich over claims that he acted unethically in his representation of two state agencies. 

But that doesn’t necessarily mean he did nothing wrong in his dealings with Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and the Arizona Board of Regents. 

On Friday, Brnovich’s press aide said he had “reached an agreement … to resolve the Bar complaints.” 

In each case, Katie Conner said, both complaints will be dismissed “with no sanctions or findings of professional conduct.” 

What Conner did not say, however, is that Brnovich and his attorneys have entered into a “diversion agreement.” 

In a letter, James Lee, senior counsel for the Bar, said the terms of that agreement are confidential. 

But the Bar’s own documents show that this outcome is not a finding that the lawyer did nothing wrong. 

“Diversion is intended as an alternative to disciplinary sanction,” according to the Bar. More to the point, it says the primary purpose is to identify lawyers who have violated the Rules of Professional Conduct “and whose cases involve minor misconduct.” 

Hobbs said she believes that this will prove critical to preventing the kind of problems she was having with Brnovich that caused her to file the complaint in the first place. 

“Diversion is designed to remedy the lawyer’s problem and prevent recurrence,” she said in a prepared statement. 

“Although the terms of this diversion agreement are confidential, the State Bar is helping to prevent these ethical lapses from occurring again,” Hobbs said. “And that is justice.” 

There was no immediate response from the Board of Regents. 

Both cases stem from complaints that Brnovich violated those ethical rules by acting on one hand as the attorney for the two agencies while also taking action contrary to their interests.
Hobbs said that the Attorney General’s office, in its role representing her agency, had received confidential attorney-client communications and provided advice. The problem, she said, is that the AG’s office then withdrew from representing her and the Secretary of State — and then took a legal position “materially adverse to the secretary of state.” 

Brnovich clearly was not pleased with the finding. 

Conner said her boss will now seek a change in those ethical rules — the ones that Hobbs and the Board of Regents accused him of violating — to say that his duties as a constitutionally elected state official and the chief attorney for the state are different than a private lawyer hired by a client. 

And Conner took a swat at how Hobbs is describing the diversion agreement. 

“The secretary of state is once again trying to spin a story,” she said. “We entered an agreement with the State Bar today that soon will result in the dismissal of each complaint with no finding of professional misconduct,” Conner continued, saying that “cooperation is always the best approach for resolving difficult issues.” 

But Lyndel Manson, chairman of the Board of Regents, made it clear he sees the resolution as does Hobbs. 

“The State Bar of Arizona recognized that the attorney general’s professional conduct required corrective action by entering into a diversion agreement with the Attorney General,” she said in her own prepared statement. “Contrary to the Attorney General’s assertion, the Bar’s decision is not a vindication of the attorney general’s conduct.”

“Contrary to the Attorney General’s assertion, the Bar’s decision is not a vindication of the attorney general’s conduct.”

Lyndel Manson, chairman of the Board of Regents

In the other case, the main issue in the complaint was that Brnovich actually filed suit against the regents over a deal made by Arizona State University for a hotel and conference center on university property. That lawsuit, which is still pending, involves claims that the deal amounted to an illegal gift of public funds. 

But there’s more, including Brnovich publicly blasting the board over what he contends are overly high — and potentially illegal — tuition increases. 

Brnovich has argued all along that he is different than any other attorney by virtue of his constitutional duties and powers. 

While Brnovich did not address the diversion, he declared the outcome to be in his favor — and a slap at Hobbs and the regents. 

“This is a victory for the rule of law and a rebuke for anyone attempting to weaponize the system for regulating lawyers for their own political purposes,” he said in his prepared statement. “No one working for our office should have been subjected to these Bar complaints, which put their reputations and livelihoods in jeopardy merely for doing their jobs as public servants.” 

The finding comes just days after Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, introduced legislation that would financially penalize anyone who files a Bar complaint that is not borne out, making that person liable not only for the attorney’s legal fees but also any damage to reputation.

On Twitter: AzCap Media (@AzCapMedia) | Twitter

 This article was updated Feb 7, 2022 at 1:40 p.m. for clarity.

AG suggests measured words when making allegations of fraud in election

From left, Secretary of State Michele Reagan and Gov. Doug Ducey sign the formal certification of election results Monday as Attorney General Mark Brnovich, required to be there as a witness, observes. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
From left, Secretary of State Michele Reagan and Gov. Doug Ducey sign the formal certification of election results Monday as Attorney General Mark Brnovich, required to be there as a witness, observes. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Attorney General Mark Brnovich warned Monday that people “need to be really careful when making serious allegations” about election fraud or other issues or risk undermining democracy.

Brnovich’s comments came on the heels of the state formally certifying the results of last month’s election. There were no surprises in the legally required formality involving Brnovich, Gov. Doug Ducey, Secretary of State Michele Reagan and Supreme Court Chief Justice Scott Bales.

But the results come after charges by Jonathan Lines, chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, that there were irregularities in the procedures used. And Lines even has started his own party-financed “independent audit” of the practices in Maricopa County.

Ducey, as the top elected Republican in the state – and someone who got help from the state GOP – repeatedly dodged questions about the efforts by the party chairman to question the conduct of the vote.

“I refer you to Mr. Lines for those questions,” he said.

“We have had some concerns around certain issues,” the governor continued.

“But I’m not going to expand on that,” Ducey said. “I’m just going to say I’ll let his investigation or what he wants to focus on play out.”

Brnovich, however, gave a somewhat more direct response to the question about the activities of Lines, though he didn’t mention the state GOP, which also provided financial help for his own reelection effort.

“I think people need to be really, really careful when they make serious allegations,” he said. “One of the things I think that’s problematic in the country today is that people are undermining the integrity of institutions, all sorts of institutions.”

But the attorney general said this isn’t just a problem of the GOP’s making.

“Both sides are doing it and it needs to stop,” Brnovich said. “It’s why politics gets so nasty in this country.”

Neither Lines nor his press aide responded to requests for comment about not just the issue of undermining confidence but the fact that Ducey said reporters should seek him out.

But party spokeswoman Ayshia Connor said there is nothing to report yet on the audit that Lines launched on the practices of Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes after alleging voting “irregularities.”

In setting up the audit, Lines said it would focus on “allegations of fraud in the election.”

Lines, however, provided no examples. Instead, he said the party was hiring Attorney Stephen Richer to set up a website for people who submit information.

“We are still gathering information,” Connor said Monday. “We will keep you posted.”

The GOP move came after Republicans lost their stranglehold on all statewide elections.

While Ducey won handily, Democrats took over an open seat in the U.S. Senate and the offices of secretary of state and superintendent of public instruction. And one of the two seats up for grabs on what had been an all-Republican Arizona Corporation Commission also was clinched by a Democrat.

Republicans also lost four seats in the state House, reducing their margin to 31-29.

Other than general allegations of fraud, Lines wants his audit to also look into the decision of Fontes, a Democrat, to open “emergency voting centers” on the Saturday and Monday before the Nov. 6 election. Lines has questioned the legality of such centers, even though they have been operated before by Republican recorders.

And Lines wants to look at Election Day voting procedures, challenges, ballot counting and the process for reporting results.

At the formal canvass of votes Monday, Secretary of State Michele Reagan reported the statewide turnout was 2.4 million, or more than 64.8 percent of registered voters. While that was 17 points higher than the 2014 election, it did not set a statewide record, even for a midterm non-presidential election.

Reagan said, however, that new records for midterm elections were set in Coconino, Gila, Maricopa, Pima and Yavapai counties.

Alone among Democrats, Sinema stays silent on GOP Supreme Court push

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., waves as she departs after the impeachment acquittal of President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020 in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., waves as she departs after the impeachment acquittal of President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020 in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Almost every Senate Democrat has come out against President Trump’s plan to rush through a replacement for the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, saying the nomination should wait until after the looming elections.

Every Senate Democrat but one – Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

While other Democrats were using language like “shameful,” “brazen hypocrisy,” “horrible precedent” and “theft” of a Supreme Court seat in what they called a power grab, Sinema has only commented on Ginsburg’s legacy after the justice’s death Sept. 18.

Political analysts said Sinema’s silence is not surprising given her carefully cultivated image as bipartisan and moderate.

“If you’re going to be a Democrat that wins in a traditionally red state, you’re not going to be a super-progressive liberal democrat, you’re probably going to be more moderate,” said Frank Gonzalez, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona School of Government and Public Policy.

He said Sinema is a politician who wants to be viewed as an “independent thinker,” a posture echoed by Garrett Bess, vice president of government relations at the Heritage Foundation.

“I think it tracks with sort of her … quasi maverick-type record,” Bess said.

But it did not sit well with some progressive Democrats in Arizona.

“This is going to affect the country for another 30, 40 years,” said Signa Oliver, co-lead for Desert Progressives Indivisible. “Open your mouth.

“Those of us that knocked on doors for her to get her elected, have been very disappointed several times with her inability to, you know, step forward and represent the Democratic Party principles that we elected her to do,” Oliver said.

Sinema’s office did not respond to requests for comment on her position – or lack thereof – leaving her weekend tweet expressing “gratitude and service to our country” as her only comments on Ginsburg and the court vacancy she left behind.

Within hours of Ginsburg’s death last Friday, by contrast, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a statement promising a Senate vote on Ginsburg’s replacement.

“We pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary,” McConnell’s statement said. “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

Most Republicans, including Arizona Sen. Martha McSally, rushed to agree with McConnell. But Democrats were livid.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court, meets with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, not pictured, at the Capitol, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020 in Washington. (Stefani Reynolds/Pool via AP)
Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, meets with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, not pictured, at the Capitol, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020 in Washington. (Stefani Reynolds/Pool via AP)

Trump announced Sept. 25 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Amy Cooney Barrett as his nominee.

Democrats have repeatedly brought up McConnell’s refusal in 2016 to even grant a hearing to President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, because it was an election year. McConnell, who delayed action for almost the entire year, said then that voters should have a say in who makes the choice.

“Unfortunately, Sen. McConnell has decided to go against Justice Ginsburg’s dying wishes and is cementing a shameful legacy of brazen hypocrisy,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, said in a tweet the night of Ginsburg’s death. “The right thing to do here is clear, and Senate Republicans know it. We should let voters decide. Period.”

Even moderate Democrats jumped to criticize McConnell and the White House for rushing to fill the seat, an appointment that could give conservatives an unassailable 6-3 majority on the court.

“The American people deserve to choose the president who will fill this vacancy,” said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the co-chair of the Moderate Democrats Working Group. “I will oppose any Supreme Court nominee until after Inauguration Day, and I will do everything I can to fight for fairness.”

Oliver said Sinema needs to speak up.

“They stole Merrick Garland’s seat, and you’re going to be silent or possibly vote with them to give them another seat? That’s unacceptable,” she said.

But political experts say it is not surprising that Sinema is in no rush to be grouped in with the Democratic establishment.

In her 2018 campaign for Senate, Sinema ran as a middle-of-the-road independent. Since taking office she has voted in line with the Trump administration 26.3% of the time, toward the upper end of the votes by moderate Democrats, according to a FiveThirtyEight vote tracker.

But that is not necessarily a liability for Arizona politicians, analysts said, invoking the late Republican Sen. John McCain who was often at odds with his party.

Voters in Arizona do not seem to be as bound by national party ideology as voters in other states, said Samara Klar, an associate professor at the University of Arizona School of Government and Public Policy.

While she and others said they would be surprised if Sinema voted for Trump’s nominee, Klar said Sinema is probably making a safe bet by not coming out against a Republican nominee now.

“The safer play for Arizona politicians generally is to try to straddle the middle as much as they can given how voters here see themselves,” Klar said.

Gonzalez said that taking a hard stance against Senate Republicans now would not be “worth the risk of giving a Republican challenger a talking point in four years” when Sinema will be up for re-election.

And by taking her time and hearing how Arizonans are feeling about the process before making a statement, Sinema is also reinforcing her brand, Bess said.

“The advantage for holding back a statement is to continue showing that she is willing to listen, willing to hear,” Bess said.

But Oliver said the people Sinema should be listening to are “the people that put her in office” or they will find someone else to support.

“If she does the wrong thing on this important issue, I will never knock on another door, I will not have another petition signed for her, I won’t do anything else for her,” Oliver said.


AP calls races for Kelly, Fontes; Hobbs, Mayes pad leads

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs speaks on the set of “Arizona Horizon” prior to a televised interview with host Ted Simons in Phoenix, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs and other Democrats got an unexpected boost from a batch of ballots counted in Maricopa County on Friday, widening their party’s lead in key races on a day that Republicans hoped would turn the tide in their favor. 

The Associated Press and major TV networks including NBC called the U.S. Senate race for Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly, whose lead over Republican candidate Blake Masters grew to 124,000 votes, or 5.7 percentage points, after the Friday update. 

The AP and networks also called the Secretary of State race for Democrat Adrian Fontes over Republican candidate Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley. Fontes led by 5.6 percentage points and 118,000 votes after the Friday update. 

Arizona Republican Gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake speaks as former President Donal Trump listens during a rally, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022, in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Hobbs earned 54% of the votes reported by Maricopa County on Friday, increasing her lead over Republican candidate Kari Lake to 31,000 votes, or 1.4 percentage points. And Democratic Attorney General candidate Kris Mayes finished the evening with a 19,000-vote, 0.8-percentage point lead over GOP nominee Abe Hamadeh, after taking 53.5% of the Friday vote dump. 

The closest statewide race after the Friday update was for Superintendent of Public Instruction. In that contest, Democrat Kathy Hoffman clung to a 6,700-vote lead over GOP candidate Tom Horne – a margin of less than one half of a percentage point. 

The Friday count from Maricopa County followed a 25,000-vote batch from Pima County that came in around 6:45 p.m. on Friday. Those votes favored statewide Democrats by two-to-one margins in most races, according to reporting by ABC15’s Garrett Archer. Other counties also submitted smaller vote batches throughout the day. 

Fontes, Finchem, election, Secretary of State, Democrats, Republicans, Trump, election deniers
Adrian Fontes, a Democratic candidate running for Secretary of State for Arizona, poses for a photograph July 29 in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Maricopa County Friday batch was widely expected to favor Republicans and it included some critical vote categories. Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates provided a rough breakdown of the ballots expected on Friday night at a news conference earlier in the day. 

The batch contained up to 17,000 ballots dropped into “Box 3” on ballot tabulation machines, he said. Those ballots weren’t tabulated on Election Day due to problems with voting equipment, but they seemed likely to skew Republican since they were cast by voters who voted in person on Nov. 8 – a category that has favored GOP candidates so far. 

Another several thousand (Gates said it was less than 10,000) ballots were early ballots. That’s a category that has favored Democrats so far. 

But the majority of the Friday batch, Gates explained, was made up of early ballots that voters deposited in drop boxes on Election Day. That category, Election Day drop-offs, represents a large share of the remaining votes and will be key to either party winning close races. And it’s a category that has favored different parties in the past. 

Kyrsten Sinema, the moderate Democratic Senator, won the category in her 2018 race. But former Republican President Donald Trump earned the majority of votes in that category in the 2020 presidential race in Arizona. 

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

Before the Friday update, Maricopa County officials said there were approximately 290,000 Election Day drop-off ballots left to be counted. On Friday afternoon, before the update, the county was reporting about 354,000 ballots left to be counted. That means that more than half of the ballots left to count around the whole state were Election Day drop-offs from Maricopa County. 

Throughout the day on Friday, GOP candidates talked confidently about an impending shift in momentum, saying they expected to earn significant majorities in coming batches including Friday’s drop from Maricopa County. 

“We’re very confident that these counts are going to start going heavily our way and we will win this,” Lake said in an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s show earlier on Friday night. Masters, Hamadeh and other GOP candidates also projected optimism leading up to Friday night. 

Paul Bentz, a veteran Arizona pollster, said GOP candidates in tight races, including Lake and Hamadeh, are looking vulnerable after Friday’s update, but their races aren’t over yet. 

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

“The window for Republicans narrowed but it’s not impossible. There is too much variance in where the ballots could be coming from,” he said in a text message. 

At the Friday afternoon news conference, Maricopa County officials said that election workers are currently counting votes from all around the county, but they didn’t provide granular information about whether any specific locations might be over or underrepresented in the Friday night vote batch. 

The Friday update came in the midst of saber-rattling by Republican figures, including Lake, who aren’t happy about the pace of vote-counting in Maricopa County, which is home to about 60% of the state’s population. Lake recently accused the county of “slow walking” its results, allegedly to extend Democrat leads before reaching Republican-friendly batches of ballots. 

The Republican National Committee and the Arizona GOP went further, demanding in a statement on Friday that ballots be counted 24 hours per day in Maricopa. Gates has previously said that county election workers are working 14 to 18-hour days. 

“The RNC and the Republican Party of Arizona demand that around-the-clock shifts of ballot processing be pressed into service until all votes have been counted, accompanied by complete transparency and regular, accurate public updates,” Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney for the RNC, said in an emailed statement. “We will not hesitate to take legal action if necessary to protect Arizona voters’ right to have their ballots counted.” 

Gates replied to that in an emailed statement on Friday night, calling the criticism “one more political stunt to try and distract us,” and noting that the county has averaged 12.5 days to post final election results in races since 2006. 

“Changing processes or adding untrained personnel would only slow the counting at this point and we will not deny the voters of Maricopa County an accurate tabulation of their votes,” he added. 


Arizona charter school legislation appears dead

Rusty Bowers
Rusty Bowers

A bill imposing new rules on Arizona charter schools is likely dead for the year after House Speaker Rusty Bowers declined to move it forward, saying it doesn’t have enough support to pass.

The legislation was prompted by growing public scrutiny of charter schools, their finances and their owners. News reports have highlighted instances of charter operators enriching themselves, falling short academically or failing financially.

Bowers, a Mesa Republican, declined to assign the legislation to the House on Monday, saying the bill “was intended to be a meaningful, bipartisan bill to increase accountability and transparency in charter schools,” but “failed to achieve those goals.”

He walked that back Monday night, issuing a statement blaming Democrats who he said “would rather see the charter school model fail than be improved.”

“Members of both parties now feel the bill either goes too far or not far enough,” Bowers said in his statement. “Unfortunately, the bill doesn’t have the votes to pass in the House because partisan gamesmanship is more important to some than improved accountability.”

Republicans in the Senate approved the bill earlier this month despite many expressing deep misgivings about extending some of the regulations of public schools to charter schools, which they said were intended to maintain flexibility from red tape. Charters are privately run schools funded with state education dollars. They have grown precipitously over the past two decades.

Democrats said the legislation was written by the charter industry and gives the false impression that lawmakers are resolving problems with charter schools. They said it would do little to prevent charter owners from enriching themselves with public money intended to educate children.

The legislation by Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee would limit the number of family members who can serve on a charter board and require the disclosure of contracts with companies owned by board members. It also would give the attorney general more authority to investigate questionable purchasing decisions.

Democrats tried unsuccessfully to put additional restrictions into the legislation, including a ban on new for-profit charters and a limit on the amount of money that can go to a so-called charter management organization. Critics say some charter operators have issued no-bid management contracts to companies they own, allowing them to hide spending details from public view.

Arizona Democratic Party seeks to overturn ‘ballot harvesting’ ban

The Arizona Democratic Party goes to federal court today in a bid to overturn a ban on “ballot harvesting” and ensure that ballots cast in the wrong precinct are counted anyway.

Attorney Bruce Spiva contends that the Republican-controlled Legislature acted illegally last year in making it a felony for an individual to take anyone else’s early ballot to a polling place. Spiva said he will present evidence that the measure will cause undue harm to minorities and other groups.

But Sara Agne, attorney for the Arizona Republican Party, which is defending the law, will argue that lawmakers are entitled to put procedures in place designed to prevent fraud.

Spiva could have an uphill battle.

U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Rayes last year refused to stop the state from enforcing the law while its legal merits are being debated. He concluded there was no “quantitative evidence” to show minorities were more likely to be harmed than anyone else.

The full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard arguments last year in San Francisco, thought otherwise and agreed to enjoin enforcement. But that decision was stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court, with the justices concluding they did not want to make such a radical change so close to last year’s election.

In the meantime, the appellate court sent the case back to Rayes to take a closer look. Rayes now has set aside 10 days to hear evidence.

The law criminalizes what had been a practice by civic and political groups of going out to see if people who had requested early ballots had remembered to return them by mail. If they had not, group members would offer to take it to the polling place themselves.

Now, such action could result in a presumptive one-year prison term and potential $150,000 fine.

There are exceptions. The law does not apply to family members, those living in the same household or certain caregivers who provide assistance to voters in various institutions.

The legislation is based on claims of fraud – or at least the potential for that.

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

Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, a member of the Senate in 2016, said there are “a lot of shenanigans… down in my neck of the woods.”

“I’ve been told the way they do it is they collect the ballots early. They put them in a microwave with a bowl of water, steam them open, [and] take the ballots,” he said during debate. “If they like the way it’’s voted they put them back in. If they don’t like the way it’s voted, they lose the ballot.”

But Shooter, who said he passed the tip on to state election officials, acknowledged nothing ever came of it.

Spiva told Capitol Media Services he intends to prove otherwise.

“There’s no evidence of fraud in the legislative record,” he said. “And there’s no evidence anywhere.”

But Republicans contend they do not need proof of actual fraud to justify the law. Agne said the statute is justified because it helps protect against election fraud.

“It’s in the state’s interest to have that chain of custody information,” she told the appellate court during last year’s hearing. “That’s one of the reasons the state has implemented this sensible election regulation.”

Agne also said a majority of other states have similar laws, though only a handful make it a felony like Arizona.

The lack of any actual evidence was not only an issue in court. It also came up when the measure was first debated in the House.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler)
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler)

Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, who is now House speaker, said it is irrelevant whether there is fraud or not.

“What is indisputable is that many people believe it’s happening,” he said in voting for the measure. “And I think that matters.”

Spiva has one other argument. He said the evidence will show the Arizona law has a disproportionate impact on minorities, meaning it runs afoul of federal voting rights laws.

His other legal challenge is to a law that governs what happens when people show up at polling places on Election Day and their names are not on the list of those registered to vote there.

If the would-be voter is simply at the wrong place, poll workers can – but are not required to – direct them to where they need to go. Voters who insist they are registered and entitled to vote there are given a “provisional ballot.”

After other ballots are counted, county election officials go through their records to see if that person was entitled to vote at that place. If not, the ballot is not counted.

Spiva contends this law disproportionately affects minorities. So, he wants Rayes to rule that counties must count any vote that the person was entitled to make had he or she gone to the proper polling place.

So, for example, a voter who should have been in Tempe but ended up in Glendale would not have votes counted for city elections or school boards. But under Spiva’s argument, that person’s vote would be counted for statewide offices like governor and U.S. senator.

Arizona Rep. McSally tells colleagues she’ll run for Senate

In this June 14, 2017 file photo Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz. speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta,File)
In this June 14, 2017 file photo Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz. speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta,File)

U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, Congressional District 2, has told Republican colleagues that she will enter the race for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by fellow Republican Jeff Flake, a move that puts a mainstream candidate who could win backing from President Donald Trump into the primary race.

McSally hasn’t made a formal announcement of her intention to run in next year’s Republican primary. But U.S. Rep. David Schweikert, Congressional District 6, said Tuesday that she told fellow Arizona GOP members of Congress that she was running.

“She said she’s in for Senate,” Schweikert said of the talk he had with the southern Arizona congresswoman on Monday. “It was one of those just sort of as you’re running around from votes, so there wasn’t much of a conversation on my part.”

McSally’s staff didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

A former Air Force fighter pilot who represents a moderate district, McSally would face off against former state Sen. Kelli Ward and could face other Republicans who have been considering getting into the race.

Ward lost badly in a challenge to Sen. John McCain last year.

Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema is seeking her party’s nomination along with several lesser-known Democrats.

Flake announced last month that he would not seek re-election. He has been an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump and acknowledged that he could not win a GOP primary in the current political climate.

Mainstream Republicans in Arizona have been searching for another primary candidate because they believe Ward cannot beat Sinema.

Ward discounts talk that she’s unelectable, saying in a recent interview that people are rallying behind her.

“The people who are dismissive, some of them have sour grapes because they didn’t get in at the right time to be able to build the organization that I’ve built,” she said.

Even ahead of an expected McSally announcement, she was targeted by conservative groups. A group affiliated with former Trump strategist Steve Bannon launched a website last week attacking what it called “McSally’s troubling history of supporting amnesty and being weak on illegal immigration.”

If McSally formally enters the race, it could make it easier for Democrats to retake her seat representing Arizona’s 2nd District.

The seat had been held by former Rep. Gabby Giffords, then won by Democrat Ron Barber when she stepped down in 2012 following an assassination attempt that left her badly injured. McSally defeated Barber by 167 votes when he sought re-election in 2014.

She handily won re-election last year by a 14 percentage point margin.

A House re-election may be tougher next year, with former U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick seeking her party’s nomination.

McSally has threaded a needle in her Tucson-area district, pushing border security and veterans issues while fighting to save the jet she flew in combat, the A-10, from retirement by the Air Force.

In May, she was quoted using an expletive urging fellow Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act in advance of a vote. She took heat back in her district for the vote and has worked since then to moderate her stance.

Arizona Republicans censure Cindy McCain, GOP governor

From left are former U.S. Senator Jeff Flake, Cindi McCain, Gov. Doug Ducey at the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Biden. The Arizona Republican Party censured them Jan. 23. (Photo Twitter)

Arizona Republicans voted Saturday to censure Cindy McCain and two prominent GOP members who have found themselves crosswise with former President Donald Trump.

The censures of Sen. John McCain’s widow, former Sen. Jeff Flake and Gov. Doug Ducey are merely symbolic. But they show the party’s foot soldiers are focused on enforcing loyalty to Trump, even in the wake of an election that saw Arizona inch away from its staunchly Republican roots.

Party activists also reelected Chairwoman Kelli Ward, who has been one of Trump’s most unflinching supporters and among the most prolific promoters of his unproven allegations of election fraud.

The Arizona GOP’s combative focus has delighted Trump’s staunchest supporters and worried Republican insiders who have watched the party lose ground in the suburbs as the influence of its traditional conservative establishment has faded in favor of Trump. A growing electorate of young Latinos and newcomers bringing their more liberal politics from back home have further hurt the GOP.

“This is a time for choosing for Republicans. Are we going to be the conservative party?” said Kirk Adams, a former state House speaker and chief of staff to Ducey. “Or is this a party … that’s loyal to a single person?”

It’s a question of Republican identity that party officials and activists are facing across the country following Trump’s 2020 loss, and particularly after a mob of his supporters laid siege on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Nowhere is the question more acute than Arizona, where the state GOP’s unflinching loyalty to Trump stands out even in a party that’s been remade everywhere in the image of the former president.

Ward has relentlessly — but unsuccessfully — sued to overturn the election results. The party has used its social media accounts to urge followers to fight and perhaps even to die in support of Trump’s false claims of victory. Two of the state’s four Republican congressmen are accused of playing a role in organizing the Jan. 6 rally that turned violent.

After dominating Arizona politics for decades, Republicans now find themselves on their heels in the state’s highest offices. President Joe Biden narrowly eked out a victory here, becoming just the second Democrat in more than five decades to win the state. Consecutive victories in 2018 and 2020 gave Democrats control of both U.S. Senate seats for the first time in nearly 70 years.

Ward, a physician and former state legislator who lost two Republican primaries for the U.S. Senate, defeated three challengers to win a second term.

In a brief interview, Ward acknowledged “disappointment at the top of the ticket” but said she and many other Republicans still question the results showing victories for Biden and Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly. Judges have rejected eight lawsuits challenging Arizona’s election results.

Ward pointed to GOP successes down the ballot, noting Republicans defied expectations in local races.

Ward said she’s a “Trump Republican” who will “always put America first, who believes in faith, family and freedom.” The way forward for the GOP, she said, is keeping Trump’s 74 million voters engaged.

“Yes, I will be radical about those things because those are the things that keep this country great,” Ward said. “The people who are complaining are the people who actually put us in this spot where we are in Arizona, people who have been mamby pamby, lie down and allow the Democrats to walk all over them.”

The censures target some of Arizona’s most prominent Republicans,

Cindy McCain endorsed Biden and became a powerful surrogate for the Democrat following years of attacks by Trump on her husband. After the vote, she wrote on Twitter that “it is a high honor to be included in a group of Arizonans who have served our state and our nation so well.”

“I’ll wear this as a badge of honor,” she wrote.

Also after the vote, Flake tweeted a photo of him with McCain and Ducey at Biden’s inauguration and wrote: “Good company.”

Flake was one of the few congressional Republicans who was openly critical of Trump for failing to adhere to conservative values. He declined to run for reelection in 2018 and endorsed Biden in last year’s election.

“If condoning the President’s behavior is required to stay in the Party’s good graces, I’m just fine being on the outs,” Flake wrote on Twitter before and after the vote.

Ducey is being targeted for his restrictions on individuals and businesses to contain the spread of Covid. While it’s not mentioned in the proposed censure, he had a high-profile break with the president when he signed the certification of Biden’s victory.

“These resolutions are of no consequence whatsoever and the people behind them have lost whatever little moral authority they may have once had,” said Sara Mueller, Ducey’s political director.

Many traditional conservatives fret that the censures and Ward’s combative style turn off the swing voters and ticket-splitters who handed Democrats their recent victories. But they say the party’s decisions will reflect only the views of about 1,500 committed activists.

John McCain was censured by the state GOP in 2014 and went on to comfortably win a Republican primary over Ward and a general election. The self-described maverick, known best for his willingness to buck his party, had strained relations with the state party for much of his career but was consistently reelected by wide margins.


Associated Press writer Paul Davenport in Phoenix contributed.

Arizona resistant to change in ‘tough-on-crime’ sentencing laws

A lingering “tough-on-crime” mentality in Arizona is hampering efforts to reconstruct the state’s criminal justice system.

Several measures introduced this session address fines, fees and probation, but affording more discretion to courts during sentencing and eliminating mandatory minimums has eluded those pushing for a “smart on crime” approach, a buzzword used by a wide range of groups seeking change.

That approach, according to some lawmakers and advocates for change, has been resisted by conservative politicians and prosecutors who have been elected with the help of scare tactics for generations.

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

Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, said though many of his colleagues are interested in discussing changes to the criminal justice system, not all are open to it. After all, he said, Republicans have run on a “tough-on-crime” platform for years.

“There’s resistance to reform and I have to say running on cracking down on crime, tough on crime, these have been Republican issues for a long time. They’ve helped Republicans get elected,” he said. “But I’m distressed that a lot of my colleagues continue to run on this issue.

“Some of them don’t know how to talk any other language.”.

Caroline Isaacs of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group focused on criminal justice reform, said GOP legislators haven’t gotten out in front of the issue because of a “lingering and false belief that this is a political liability.”

Stringer and Isaacs are frustrated with how slow the process has been in Arizona, especially given that more conservative states, like Louisiana, tackled the issue in just one session.

But not everyone believes greater changes are needed.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said Arizona is already ahead of the rest of the country.

On March 16, the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council said in a news release accompanying the 2017 “Prisoners in Arizona” report that the state has been a “front-runner in criminal justice reform” for 20 years.

The report says the state prison population has declined by 1.1 percent since June 2016, “a trend that is (in) sharp contrast to an annual uptick in prison population from July 2012 through April 2016.”

The researchers also determined that the number of first-time offenders incarcerated decreased by 3.3 percent from 2011 to 2017 because of intervention programs to treat drug and alcohol addiction or mental health issues, which Montgomery said prosecutors have championed for years.

Bill Montgomery
Bill Montgomery

Montgomery called other ideas being pushed by the smart-on-crime crowd “pet projects” that are “based on myths and rhetoric.”

“Most of the folks who call criminal justice reform ‘reform’ – all they’re really out to do is arbitrarily adjust sentencing statutes or adjust truth-in-sentencing with no data to support it,” he said.

But advocates for change say those adjustments will make a real impact, and they point to Montgomery and other county attorneys as one reason why the effort has stalled statewide.


Groups all along the political spectrum agree something must be done to improve Arizona’s criminal justice system. But they haven’t yet reached a consensus on what specifically should be done.

Progressive groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and American Friends Service Committee, and conservative groups, like Families Against Mandatory Minimums, are calling for changes to the state’s sentencing statutes.

The groups have also called for an end to mandatory minimum sentences, especially for drug offenses.

But Montgomery scoffed at their ideas of “so-called reform,” arguing that they’re trying to overlay other states’ solutions on Arizona.

He said the reality is other states either face different problems or are simply implementing measures Arizona embraced years ago, such as diverting first-time drug offenders to treatment instead of prison.

“And because we weren’t part of the so-called reform wave, we don’t get credit for what we did,”

Montgomery said.

He said the first step in the public policy conversation must be to define the problem and determine what resources are needed to solve it.

“For so many, and this is what has been a frustration of mine, they don’t understand the problem,” he said.

“We need to come to a common understanding of the criminal environment we actually have, the types of crimes we have to deal with, and then what makes for the most effective policy. … What do we want to define as success for the criminal justice system in Arizona?”

For Montgomery, success would mean reducing recidivism, a goal he shares with Gov. Doug Ducey.

Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said the governor approaches the issue from a public safety perspective. The governor’s priority, he said, has been to provide people who have already served their time with opportunities to get back on their feet by helping them get jobs, government benefits, and treatment.

Those efforts, Scarpinato said, will help reduce recidivism rates and the state’s prison population, while still “making sure we’re enforcing the rule of law and still being tough on crime.”

Montgomery also said he wants more punitive sanctions in place for drug traffickers to deter them.

Will Gaona
Will Gaona (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

And on that point, his views and those of change advocates, like the ACLU’s Will Gaona, could not be more different.

According to the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council’s updated Prisoners in Arizona report, 84 percent of state prisoners are repeat offenders.

Gaona said it “demonstrates the failure of our criminal justice system” – those offenders knew they could go back to prison, yet that didn’t stop them from committing new crimes.

“Obviously, this is not an effective intervention, and we’re just going to try it again for longer periods of time for something that has already been demonstrated not to work,” he said.


Lawmakers introduced more than a dozen bills this session seeking to improve the criminal justice system. Few of them, however, went anywhere in the legislative process.

For example, Stringer introduced HB2303 seeking to reduce the penalties for possession of substances such as marijuana, heroin and cocaine, from felonies to misdemeanors. It would have also expanded the list of mitigating factors considered at sentencing to include documented mental illness, addiction, trauma resulting from military service and victimization.

Several bills introduced in both chambers, like HB2621 by Rep. Tony Rivero, R-Peoria, or SB1094 from Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, sought to address the expungement or sealing of criminal records.

None received a committee hearing.

Other bills were more successful.

Right on Crime, a campaign affiliated with a conservative Texas think tank, introduced a package of five bills this session that among other things, seeks to give the courts greater discretion to impose alternative sanctions, like community restitution, rather than hefty fines or prison time. It also seeks to establish a list of factors the court must consider when vacating and setting aside convictions, and makes administrative fixes to the intensive probation program.

Though a similar package of bills was introduced in 2017, the effort failed after Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, refused to hear the legislation in the House Judiciary Committee.

This session, nearly all of the bills, which were written and vetted by the Arizona Supreme Court’s Task Force on Fair Justice for All, were unanimously approved by the House and have faced relatively little opposition in the Senate.

Kurt Altman
Kurt Altman

As Right on Crime Director Kurt Altman, sees it, the bills have been successful so far because they seek to halt unfair penalties on the poor and reduce recidivism, ideas he thinks the GOP and Ducey can get behind.

Altman, a former county and federal prosecutor whose practice now includes criminal defense, said while the measures don’t make any major changes to the state’s sentencing statutes, they’re still effective.

Large-scale changes to the criminal justice system, such as changes to sentencing laws, will take more time and buy-in, he said.

“It’s part of the long-term process,” he said. “Are we there yet in Arizona? Probably not. But we’re trying to get there.”

That may be easier said than done.

Advocates have highlighted that there’s still a strong resistance from prosecutors, like Montgomery, who might stand to lose some power if more moderate measures successfully move through the Legislature.

Stringer said one of the problems he has faced is that despite proposing what he called “modest reforms,” he said there is still “tremendous resistance.”

“Some of the prosecutors are very, very adamantly against it because the current system gives prosecutors a tremendous amount of discretion,” he said.

He declined to name which prosecutors are opposed to making greater changes.

Gaona said like in other conservative states, elected prosecutors are working to derail efforts to improve the criminal justice system. In Arizona, he said, the biggest obstacle is Montgomery.

“Prosecutors take issue with criminal justice reform because it often reduces the power that they hold.” he said. “Looking at just his actions, it’s pretty clear that he’s an opponent to reform.”

He said Montgomery drastically amended one of the Fair Justice for All bills, HB2312, which establishes factors the court must consider when determining whether to set aside a conviction, despite having helped draft the original bill.

The original language of the bill, Gaona said, would have led to “real second chances,” and would have helped reduce recidivism by giving ex-offenders the opportunity to have their criminal records sealed.

Gaona said Montgomery’s office is also a proponent of a bill that would create new mandatory minimums for heroin and fentanyl possession – despite touting in public that Arizona “doesn’t incarcerate low-level drug offenders.”

But he pointed out that the state has already tried that with methamphetamine, and Gaona said the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council’s own report seems to suggest that has not been successful in preventing trafficking.

The report indicates that three of the top six offenses for which people are incarcerated are drug related.

At the same time, during a roundtable presentation of the report, Montgomery noted the amount of methamphetamine seized near the border has increased. Increasing amounts of heroin and fentanyl are also trafficked through Arizona.

And Montgomery says tougher sentencing laws are the answer.

Yet the data says otherwise, Gaona said. More people have been incarcerated for related offenses, according to the data, but the amount of drugs trafficked hasn’t been negatively impacted.

Gaona said that indicates to him that drugs continue to be a major driver of incarceration.

Montgomery rejected any suggestion that he and his fellow prosecutors have been standing in the way, calling that “nonsense.”

“I really believe that those who keep pushing that narrative do so because they can’t accept the fact that their ideas are bad,” he said.

If prosecutors had control over the process, he added, drastic changes to Arizona’s asset forfeiture laws never would have passed last session.

Farnsworth’s HB2477 increased the standard of evidence required for authorities to seize property and strengthened reporting requirements. It was nearly universally opposed by law enforcement.

Montgomery argued this is simply what the public policy process looks like – “like making sausage.”

“Prosecutors don’t have a vote at the Legislature,” he said. “We don’t sit on committees. We don’t sponsor bills. We don’t get to vote on the floor. They want to say that there’s a wall. There’s not a wall. It’s a gate. And it’s a gate that requires careful analysis and review because we can’t gamble on public safety.”

Arizona Senate backs charter oversight legislation

Arizona charter schools oppose more state regulation

Republicans in the Arizona Senate voted Thursday to impose new rules in charter schools over the objections of Democrats who said the legislation doesn’t do enough to end problems.

The legislation was prompted by news reports about instances of charter operators enriching themselves, falling short academically or failing financially.

Democrats said the legislation was written by the charter industry and gives the false impression that the Legislature has resolved problems with charter schools.

“This is just so frustrating,” said Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, a Democrat from Green Valley. “It is merely an illusion of doing something. It has no teeth in it, and I think we’re just disappointing the voters that have asked us to do reform.”

Sen. Kate Brophy McGee disagreed, acknowledging the bill “does not solve every problem in the charter spectrum” but saying it’s a compromise that makes improvements. The Legislature can’t go too far in erasing the flexibility that defines charters, she said.

“We need to preserve school choice,” said Brophy McGee, a Phoenix Republican who sponsored the legislation.

Brophy McGee’s bill would limit the number of family members that can serve on a charter board and require disclosure of contracts with companies owned by board members. It also would give the attorney general more authority to investigate questionable purchasing decisions.

Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, a Gilbert Republican who made millions selling his for-profit charter school to a nonprofit organization, said the legislation was not needed, though he voted for it anyway.

He said he and other charter operators are the victims of anti-charter activists who want to impose their agenda.

He said critics misunderstand the point of charters, which he says is that they not be governed like district schools.

“I don’t think this bill is necessary because I don’t think there are major broken issues with charter schools,” Farnsworth said.

He lashed out The Arizona Republic, which has reported aggressively on the charter industry and Farnsworth’s nonprofit conversion.

Democrats tried unsuccessfully Wednesday to put additional restrictions into the legislation, including a ban on new for-profit charters and a limit on the amount of money that can go to a so-called charter management organization.

Critics say some charter operators have issued no-bid management contracts to companies they own.

Arizona Supreme Court upholds Medicaid expansion

The Arizona Supreme Court from left are Robert Brutinel, John Lopez, John Pelander, Scott Bales, Andrew Gould, Clint Bolick, Ann Scott Timmer.
The Arizona Supreme Court from left are Robert Brutinel, John Lopez, John Pelander, Scott Bales, Andrew Gould, Clint Bolick and Ann Scott Timmer. Bolick disqualified himself in the Medicaid ruling because he used to work for the Goldwater Institute, the organization that brought the legal action. 

The state’s high court on Friday upheld the legality of an assessment on hospitals that helps pay for health care for 400,000 Arizonans.

In a unanimous decision, the justices rejected the contention by the lawyer for some Republican lawmakers that the levy, approved by the Legislature in 2013, was illegally enacted.

Attorney Christina Sandefur of the Goldwater Institute argued that it really was a tax, making it subject to a 1992 voter-approved constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate. The levy passed with a simple majority.

But Chief Justice Scott Bales, writing for the court, said the assessment does not fit within the legal definition of what is a “tax” subject to the supermajority requirement.

He also said the constitutional provision does not apply in cases of assessments approved not by lawmakers but instead by a state agency. That, Bales said, is the case with the $290 million being raised here, with the levy being imposed on hospitals by the director of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s Medicaid program.

And the justices also rejected Sandefur’s arguments that even if the assessment is imposed by the director, the authorization for the director should have been approved by a two-thirds vote in the first place. The justices said that’s not the way the constitution is worded.

Sandefur blasted the ruling, calling it “a major blow to taxpayer rights.”

“Essentially what this court has done is created a very dangerous loophole,” she told Capitol Media Services.

“It allows legislators to call taxes ‘assessments’ and give away the taxing power to an unelected and unaccountable administrator,” Sandefur said. “We believe this is exactly the opposite of what the voters intended.”

She said voters who want to plug that loophole will need to go back to the ballot with a new amendment.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, who opposed the Medicaid expansion and was one of the lawmakers who sued to overturn the levy, said he does not think voters wanted the exception to the supermajority requirement that the high court says exists.

“It is clear Arizonans support requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature when taking more of their money,” he said. And Mesnard said that’s particularly true in cases like this involving hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

But Mesnard said he’s not sure at this point if it will take yet another constitutional amendment to cure the problem.

“It will be incumbent on the Legislature moving forward to resist the temptation to use the court’s opinion in this case to circumvent the taxpayer protections intended,” he said. “We must not abuse the flexibility they have given us.”

Friday’s ruling is more than an assurance that government-paid healthcare will continue for the nearly 400,000 Arizonans who were added to the state’s Medicaid rolls because of the assessment. It also is a significant victory for former Gov. Jan Brewer who came up with the plan to expand the state’s Medicaid program.

“Medicaid restoration honored the will of the voters, saved lives, prevented rural hospitals from closing and preserved the Arizona economy,” the former governor said in a statement.

But the ruling is more mixed for current Gov. Doug Ducey.

On one hand, Ducey’s administration defended the legality of the assessment in court.

But Ducey, who was state treasurer at the time of the 2013 vote, never wanted the expansion of Medicaid, actively opposing the legislation. In fact, he charged that Scott Smith, his foe in the 2014 Republican gubernatorial primary, was too liberal on Medicaid expansion.

That ambivalence was reflected in Ducey’s own statement.

“The court has spoken, and I respect its ruling,” the governor said. “The state of Arizona will continue to follow the law passed by the Legislature in 2013.”

It was Brewer who decided in 2013 to take advantage of a provision of the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid coverage.

That law provided for the federal government to pick up most of the costs for expanding health coverage to those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, currently about $28,180 for a family of three. Before expansion, AHCCCS covered only those below the poverty line, or $20,420 at current levels for the same-size family.

But to qualify for those federal dollars, the state had to first restore coverage for childless adults. Enrollment for them had been frozen years earlier in a budget-savings maneuver.

To cover that cost and other state expenses, Brewer proposed giving Betlach authority to impose a charge on hospitals.

Hospitals did not object because Betlach crafted the levy so that every hospital chain actually would make money from the deal: More patients with government-provided insurance coverage means fewer bills written off as bad debt because of a person’s inability to pay.

The plan was adopted by a simple majority of the House and Senate, with the Republican governor cobbling together a coalition of Democrats and some members of her own party to vote for it.

But the Republican lawmakers who voted against expansion sued, contending the levy was illegally enacted. And enough of them opposed the assessment to block it if it actually required a two-thirds vote.

Sandefur told the justice at arguments last month that 1992 constitutional amendment requires a supermajority for anything that increases state revenues. But the high court did not see it that way.

Bales said the mandate first applies to “the imposition of any new tax.”

He conceded that word is not defined. But Bales said he and his colleagues said they do not believe it applies in this case.

“The assessment is imposed only on hospitals, which cannot pass on the costs to patients or third-party payors,” Bales wrote. And he noted the director even was given the power to exempt certain hospitals who might not benefit because they take few Medicaid patients, like the Mayo Clinic.

And Bales said while the levy does serve a broad public purpose — more people with health insurance — it was designed to provide financial relief to hospitals, the very group paying it.

The justices also dismissed Sandefur’s contention that it takes a two-thirds vote for the Legislature to authorize a state agency to impose a fee in the first place. They said that’s not the way the 1992 amendment is worded.

That leads back to Sandefur’s belief that another amendment may be necessary.

“It’s important to go back to the voters and make sure that their voice, which they made loud and clear over 25 years ago, is actually heard,” she said. “It’s a shame that the voters would have to do that and would have to clarify to the court that when they said that a two-thirds supermajority should be required for any revenue-raising measures, that they meant it.”

Arizona’s senators must reject Biden’s latest radical nominee

Colin Kahl (Wikimedia Commons)
Colin Kahl (Wikimedia Commons)

For those of us who have spent our careers defending America’s borders, and those of us who live along them, there really is no denying the border crisis the country is facing today.   

The headlines are all too familiar to us: “Hundreds of migrants set out from Honduras, dreaming of U.S.” as reported by the Associated Press. Or a recent Washington Post report that found that the Biden administration was now “holding record numbers of unaccompanied migrant teens and children in detention cells for far longer than legally allowed”. This is a crisis by any definition.    

Tom Homan

Many Americans are rightly paying attention to Biden White House policies, including its policies at the border. But they also need to be paying attention to the people he is choosing for senior positions in his administration.    

I spent a year and a half of my 34-year career in public service as acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). I led and served with thousands of patriots and heroes every day. This was the high point in a career in government that started in 1983 when I was sworn in as a local law enforcement officer.    

I served under Republicans and Democrats. I served under those who prioritized border security and those who had other immigration priorities. I was even honored for my service by President Obama.   

I know what it takes to be effective in government in pursuit of the public good. And I know when someone doesn’t have what it takes to put disagreement aside, admit you’re wrong, and reach compromise because it’s good for the country.   

And that’s why I know that one of President Biden’s nominees to one of the most senior and influential positions in the Pentagon, Colin Kahl, is the wrong man for the job.   

Mr. Kahl has never met a disagreement he couldn’t further antagonize with a snarky one-liner. He’s referred to his political opponents on Twitter as being “guilty of ethnic cleansing” and described the Republican party as a “death cult”.   

His position, if confirmed by the Senate, in the Department of Defense will make him the Pentagon’s representative to the White House. He’ll not only have a voice in matters of peace and war, he will be involved in the highest-level decisions of our government on securing the border, detaining illegal immigrants, and asylum policy.    

If confirmed, Mr. Kahl’s position would require him to work with people who may disagree with him, to make compromises and see issues from perspectives other than his own. Mr. Kahl has no record of being able to do that.  

And of specific interest to me, especially given the crisis unfolding today on the border, Mr. Kahl’s record is especially alarming.    

He repeatedly opposed efforts to secure the border in the prior administration, such as building the wall and sending troops to the border to stem the flow of caravans of immigrants seeking to illegally cross the border or abuse the asylum process. Additional presence of enforcement on the border has most importantly, saved lives.   

While people like those I led at ICE were risking their lives to protect our country, secure the border, and deport criminal illegal immigrants who posed a public safety threat, Mr. Kahl was lobbing insults at them through the safety of Twitter by telling them they were dealing with a “fake crisis at the border”.   

But, thankfully, in our system, there’s a check on presidential nominees, and it’s the U.S. Senate.    

It is now up to the Senate, and Arizona’s two U.S. Senators, to do the right thing for America’s security, including her border security. Arizona’s senators pride themselves on their moderation and centrism; they pride themselves on bipartisan votes and policies. They can prove those reputations by rejecting a nominee who has shown he lacks the policy judgment and temperament to serve at the highest levels of our government.    

We are counting on Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly to do the right thing and put Arizona’s interests over politics and loyalty to Biden and Majority Leader Schumer.  

Tom Homan is the former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and currently a senior fellow at the Immigration Reform Law Institute.  

AZ leaders must be honest, transparent, listen to public health experts

Winged Victory atop the Arizona Capitol Building (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Winged Victory atop the Arizona Capitol Building (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

In the last year, Arizonans have seen more than 16,000 of our family members, loved ones, and neighbors die as a result of Covid. This fact cannot be separated from the reality that throughout the pandemic, our state has consistently ranked as one of the worst areas in the nation, with no meaningful action by state leaders to stop the spread. The pandemic became so dire for Arizona’s tribal neighbors that Doctors Without Borders were deployed to assist last summer.

Despite the dire situation in Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey and Republican leaders have done little to mitigate the spread of Covid. They have ignored the advice of public health experts urging the mandate of statewide mask usage in public and other high-risk situations. They have ignored requests for financial support from cash-strapped local communities. They have put politics ahead of Arizona’s safety, failed to support those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, and recklessly reopened the state, without regard to Arizonans’ safety, which led to a precipitous spike in cases and deaths last summer.

We are grateful to U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly for wasting no time and working in Washington D.C. to address the serious concerns of Arizonans who have struggled throughout this pandemic.

Kelly made the economic rescue of Arizona’s families and small businesses a top priority, fighting for $50 billion in grants and loans for small businesses to stay afloat and keep people employed. Additionally, we thank the Biden administration and the members of the Arizona congressional delegation who are working to ensure that Arizonans can recover from this crisis as quickly as possible. But this rescue plan can only be the beginning.

We are joining Honest Arizona to hold our elected leaders accountable. Arizonans have endured far too much this past year, and we continue to face serious problems. If we’re going to get past this pandemic and get Arizona working families the opportunities they need, our leaders must be honest and transparent, follow the advice of public health experts, and respond to the needs of their constituents.

This commentary is signed by Honest Arizona advisory board members U.S. Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick, Ruben Gallego, former Attorney General Grant Woods, State Sens. Tony Navarrette, Jamescita Peshlakai, State Reps. Reginald Bolding, Cesar Chavez, Director of Arizona Public Health Association Will Humble, Cadey Lawless Harrell, M.D., Hunter Henderson – veteran living with a pre-existing condition, Marcos Castillo – living with two pre-existing conditions, Marked by Covid co-founder Kristin Urquiza

Bad blood, ineffective legislating threaten Mosley in LD5 primary

Rep. Paul Mosley (R-Lake Havasu City) (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)
Rep. Paul Mosley (R-Lake Havasu City) (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

A crowded Republican primary race in Legislative District 5 and friction among the candidates could pose a threat to Rep. Paul Mosley’s run for a second term in the House.

The Lake Havasu City Republican is facing off against seatmate Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, political newcomer Leo Biasiucci and Jennifer Jones-Esposito, who is making a third attempt for a seat in the Arizona House, in the August 28 primary.

Republican political consultant Chuck Coughlin said while it’s hard to knock out an incumbent in a primary, the LD5 GOP primary is a competitive race.

He said Mosley is a freshman lawmaker, which is generally when incumbents are most vulnerable, and he hasn’t made many friends at the Capitol.

Laurence Schiff, chairman of the Mohave County Republican Party, said that while incumbents tend to win because they have name recognition, an established voting record and financial support from lobbyists and political action committees, Mosley could face an uphill battle.

Schiff said Mosley is the most conservative of the four candidates, a plus in one of the reddest districts statewide, but he has been criticized for being hard to work with at the Legislature. That reputation has made it difficult for Mosley to get bills onto the governor’s desk, Schiff said.

Just a few of Mosley’s bills were signed into law this year. One of his measures, HB2459, which would establish a $250 individual income tax credit for each qualifying child a taxpayer claims as a dependent, was defeated in the House, 18-39, on reconsideration, faring worse than it did the first time around when it failed 20-38. He had tried all that week but failed to garner enough support for the bill, he told colleagues on the floor the day of the vote.

Mosley has also been slammed with allegations of financial impropriety during his time at a brokerage firm, Schiff said, and challenger Biasiucci accused Mosley earlier this year of stealing his nominating petitions from a Lake Havasu City gun shop. Mosley has denied both allegations.

Schiff said while those claims have mostly blown over, there are people in Lake Havasu City who don’t support Mosley and who could give an edge to Biasiucci or Jones-Esposito.

When Jones-Esposito ran in 2012, Schiff said, she lived on the southern end of LD5 in Quartzite and was relatively unknown in Mohave County. Since moving to Kingman, he said, she has gained name recognition and now she also has more experience running a political campaign.

Schiff said Biasiucci has also positioned himself as a serious candidate this year. He described Biasiucci as “a very attractive candidate,” adding that he is young, charismatic, and well-spoken. And he said the Lake Havasu City resident is getting help from Rep. Cobb and Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, who have “taken him under their wing.”

Cobb told the Arizona Capitol Times that she urged Biasiucci to run for the House. Though she said she isn’t running on a slate with him, she has held meet-and-greet and fundraising events with him and Borrelli throughout the district.

However, Schiff said Biasiucci ran as a Green Party candidate for the House in 2014 and only recently became a Republican, also at Cobb’s urging, and that could hurt his chances in the extremely conservative district.

“He talks about taking conservative positions but he doesn’t have a voting record, so you never know,” he said.

Former state Sen. Ron Gould, a Lake Havasu City Republican, is less convinced that the crowded field will impact Mosley’s re-election chances.

He said any allegations that have been leveled against Mosley are most likely only known among political insiders, and he said people who are attending events put on by the other candidates were likely already supporters.

He said the race will come down to who has the most money and how effective the candidates are at getting their message out to voters.

“The real battle is in the mailbox and in the media,” he said.

Mosley said he’s unfazed by the competition or by Cobb’s and Borrelli’s apparent support for Biasiucci in the LD5 House race. He said his relationship with Cobb has never been great and he isn’t surprised she urged Biasiucci to run.

He said he is far more conservative than the other candidates and said his voting record speaks for itself. He pointed to his A+ rating with the Center for Arizona Policy, Arizona Free Enterprise Club and the National Rifle Association as examples of his conservative record.

Still, he was snubbed by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which only endorsed Cobb for LD5 House, and the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, which endorsed Cobb and Biasiucci. Neither group endorsed Mosley in 2016.

“I don’t see them as a threat,” Mosley said. “I’m on the right side of all of the issues. As long as the voters know my ratings and where I stand on the issues, I’m not threatened at all.”

Ballot order law constitutional, federal judge rules


A federal judge has tossed a bid by Democrats to get their candidates a higher spot on the ballot in Republican-dominated counties.

U.S. District Court Judge Diane Humetewa, a President Obama appointee, ruled June 25 that the individuals who challenged the way state law determines ballot order have no legal standing to sue because they are not injured in any way. She said they still have the right to vote for any candidate.

Similarly, she said claims by the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee were flawed because they failed to show that the current system frustrates their bid to get Democrats elected to statewide office. And Exhibit No. 1, Humetewa said, was the 2018 election of Kyrsten Sinema to the U.S. Senate.

Finally, Humetewa said even if they did have a right to sue, it is not within the legal authority of courts in cases like this to come up with a “fairer” alternative.

The decision is a setback for the challengers who said the current system is not just unfair but also illegal.

Diane Humetewa
Diane Humetewa

Under that system, candidates on the general election ballot are listed in each county in order based on how well the governor did in that county in the last general election.

What that means in 2020 is that Republicans will be listed ahead of Democrats in 11 of the state’s 15 counties — including Maricopa which has more voters than the other 14 combined. And the reason that’s important, challengers argued, is there is research which shows there is a tendency of voters, all else being equal, to choose the first candidate on a list.

Humetewa said all that is irrelevant, saying she has no legal basis to consider the claim.

She said anyone seeking federal court intervention must demonstrate “a personal stake in the outcome.” And that, the judge said, means showing that they would be injured “in a personal and individual way.”

That isn’t the case here.

“The harm that plaintiffs allege is not harm to themselves, but rather an alleged harm to the Democratic candidates whom they intend, at this juncture, to support,” Humetewa wrote. And she said that a candidate’s failure to get elected does not injure those who voted for that person.

Nor, the judge said, can they show other harms by the law.

“They do not argue that the ballot order statute prevents them from casting a ballot for their intended candidate, nor do they argue that their lawfully cast votes will not be counted,” she said. And she brushed aside any arguments about the fact that some people were having their votes for the candidates diluted because others were simply picking the first name they saw.

“Plaintiffs will not be injured simply because other voters may act ‘irrationally’ in the ballot box by exercising their right to choose the first-listed candidate,” Humetewa said.

She also took a slap of sorts at the Democrats for their proposed solution: rotating the position of Democrats and Republicans on the general election ballot.

“Their definition of ‘fairness’ does not require rotation of independent party candidates, write-in candidates from the primary election, or other third-party candidates in their ballot scheme, meaning that those candidates would never be listed first on the ballot,” the judge said.

There was no immediate response from attorneys for the challengers.

Barto holds slim lead in LD15 showdown

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

A battle over the ideological heart of the Republican Party remains too close to call in Legislative District 15, where challenging Rep. Nancy Barto holds a narrow lead over incumbent Sen. Heather Carter. 

Barto held 50.6% of votes to 49.4% for Carter shortly after 8 p.m., with an unknown number of votes left to count. 

The most expensive and closely watched primary race this year was a clash between contrasting visions of the Repulican Party.  Carter is a moderate lawmaker and prolific bill writer, who isn’t afraid of breaking with her party, particularly on health care issues. Barto is an ideological purist always willing to do the bidding of influential Christian social policy organization the Center for Arizona Policy.

Roughly $1.6 million has been spent on the race, most of it to aid Carter or hammer Barto. With no Democratic opponent in the general election, centrist groups and unions have instead poured money into electing Carter, whose policies frequently put her more in line with Democrats than the more conservative members of her caucus. 

Carter is in some ways the last true moderate Republican in the state Legislature. Her frequent partners in crime, Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, and Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, get away with bucking the party because they’re in precarious seats, but LD15 is decidedly red.

Barto and Carter have been uneasy seatmates since 2010 and swapped seats because of term limits in 2018. Barto shocked the political world in September 2019 when she announced her challenge. Carter responded hours later with an attack on Barto’s record on vaping and vaccines, and the race has been heated since.

The COVID-19 pandemic added a dimension, as both candidates are highly involved in health policy. Carter, a college professor, is a champion of the health care industry, and she and Boyer were the first lawmakers to practice social distancing in the early stages of the pandemic.

Barto, chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, has alienated many medical professionals through her sponsorship of anti-vaccine measures and support for vaping legislation backed by the tobacco industry. She used her committee to amplify voices of a few contrarian doctors who opposed stay-at-home orders, has shared unfounded claims that hydroxychloroquine will cure COVID-19 and recently said she may not personally take a coronavirus vaccine when it becomes available and certainly will not encourage her constituents to do so.

But while Barto isn’t supported by health professionals, she was the preferred candidate of many current Republican lawmakers, some of whom have spent the better part of a decade furious at Carter.

Current margins in the Senate enable any two Republicans to kill a bill that doesn’t have bipartisan support, and Carter, Brophy McGee and Boyer have used those numbers to their advantage over the past two years. Carter and Brophy McGee have killed controversial anti-abortion legislation, Carter and Boyer held the 2019 budget hostage until the Senate passed legislation for child survivors of sexual abuse and the three senators joined with Democrats to force a sine die vote this year. 

Behind the Ballot: Down-ballot drama


Tracy Livingston, a Republican candidate for superintendent of public instruction, greets voters at the Arizona Capitol Times’ Meet the Candidates event on Aug. 1. Livingston has been embraced by many in her party as the GOP’s best hope at keeping the office red. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

The race for superintendent of public instruction has historically struggled to garner voters’ attention and donors’ dollars.

And this election cycle is proving no different even with the energy that erupted from Red for Ed earlier this year.

But in allowing that old attitude to take hold, the GOP is failing to capitalize on the moment, and that could cost Republicans the office responsible for implementing education policy and distributing billions in school funding.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes.


Music in this episode included “Creative Minds,” “Funky Element” and “Energy” by Bensound.

Behind the Ballot: Riding the wave


Lynsey Robinson
Lynsey Robinson

Democrats are fielding a candidate in nearly every federal, statewide and legislative race this year, using a strategy of saturation that has been successful elsewhere.

But there’s no guarantee the much-anticipated “blue wave” will lead to victory in Arizona.

Still, novice candidates like Lynsey Robinson have learned one thing over the years – they’ll never know whether they can win if they don’t even try.

Robinson’s road to candidacy has not been easy. And she’s hoping her narrative will resonate with voters who share in her concerns for Arizona and the state of politics in the era of President Trump.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes.


Music in this episode included “Little Idea,” “Funky Element” and “Energy” by Bensound.

Behind the Ballot: Spread thin


Stacks of voters' signatures were delivered to the Arizona Secretary of State's Office on Aug. 8 after Save Our Schools Arizona collected more than 110,000 signatures in three months. If it survives legal challenges, the referendum will appear on the 2018 general election ballot as Proposition 305. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Stacks of voters’ signatures were delivered to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office on Aug. 8, 2018, after Save Our Schools Arizona collected more than 110,000 signatures in three months. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Arizona voters will be asked to decide the fate of multiple high-profile ballot initiatives on the November ballot.

At the same time, a slew of high-priority races for elected office are vying for their attention – and their money.

If donors are asked repeatedly to open their wallets for both the candidates and the causes they care most about, will the available dollars be spread too thin?

There may be one campaign that they can sit out, at least, as the debate over school choice takes an unexpected turn toward common ground.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes.


Music in this episode included “Creative Minds,” “Funky Element” and “Energy” by Bensound.

Behind the Ballot: Toxic


toxicArizona is no stranger to legislative candidates with baggage, but this election cycle stands out for the number of candidates, namely Republicans, who are seeking office despite their tarnished reputations.

Candidates like Don Shooter who was expelled from the state House just this year and Representative David Stringer who made comments widely condemned as racist want a second chance.

And in a year when promises of a blue wave were already being made, Democrats are practically salivating at the chance to flip the seats these toxic candidates seek.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes and Stitcher.


Music in this episode included “Creative Minds,” “Funky Element” and “Energy” by Bensound.

Bennett lacks campaign funds, criticizes Ducey in Clean Elections forum

Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett (AP Photo/The Arizona Daily Sun, Jake Bacon)
Ken Bennett (AP Photo/The Arizona Daily Sun, Jake Bacon)

Ken Bennett compared his campaign against Gov. Doug Ducey to Donald Trump taking on the GOP establishment during the 2016 presidential race.

Bennett, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, likened himself to Trump and lashed out at Ducey on education, taxes and the governor’s record in a televised question-and-answer session August 1 on Arizona PBS.

In the half hour interview with “Arizona Horizon” host Ted Simons, the former secretary of state and Arizona Senate president dismissed the idea that he was ever an establishment Republican.

Bennett, who used to be seen as a folksy and well-liked character within the Republican Party, has taken a hard-right turn as he takes on Ducey in the August 28 primary.

He copied a tactic out of Trump’s playbook as Arizona GOP leaders have urged Bennett to exit the race.

“President Trump beat the Republican establishment and I’m offering myself as a similar option,” he said.

In the interview, Bennett called out his opponent for not cutting income taxes — a pledge Ducey made on the campaign trail in 2014. He also criticized Ducey for raising taxes this year.

Specifically, Bennett was talking about a new car registration fee that will cost all Arizona motorists approximately $18 per year. Some legislative Republicans also cried foul when it passed the Legislature, labeling it a tax. Ducey has disputed claims that the new, annual fee is a tax.

Bennett — who came in fourth in the six-way gubernatorial primary that Ducey won in 2014 — cited the new fee as one of the accounting “tricks and gimmicks” Ducey used to pay for lofty teacher pay hikes spread out over the next few years.

Ducey’s plan for teacher pay raises is what incited Bennett to jump into the gubernatorial race.

In the televised interview, Bennett said Ducey “caved” to the “Red for Ed” movement by offering teachers pay bumps after saying the state could not afford such hefty raises for months prior.

“On April 12, he was saying one thing and on April 14, all of a sudden he says something totally different,” Bennett said. “My question was: ‘How are we going to pay for it?’”

Bennett also doubled down on false statements that Ducey told Sen. John McCain to oppose the so-called “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act, which caused the ailing senator to cast a decisive vote against the bill.

He also expressed no remorse for tweeting that Ducey should not appoint Cindy McCain to her husband’s U.S. Senate seat should he vacate the position, which rankled Republicans across the state. Bennett’s tweet was based off unverified reports.

“I think the people of Arizona want transparency from our governor as to who’s on his list,” he said.

Bennett appeared on Arizona PBS as part of a Clean Elections Commission forum. What was initially billed as a debate turned into a question-and-answer session between Bennett and Simons, the host, when Ducey declined to participate.

Candidates seeking public financing for their campaigns are required to participate in the televised Clean Elections forums. With less than a month until the primary election, Bennett still has not turned in enough certified $5 contributions to qualify for $839,704 in public financing he could use in his primary race.

Bennett’s campaign must provide a status report on his contributions to Clean Elections by August 6.

Bet on it – sports wagering to become law

Oakland Athletics' Mark Canha (20) steals third base as Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Eduardo Escobar leaps for a high pickoff throw during the first inning of a baseball game Monday, April 12, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Oakland Athletics’ Mark Canha (20) steals third base as Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Eduardo Escobar leaps for a high pickoff throw during the first inning of a baseball game Monday, April 12, 2021, in Phoenix. On the same day, the Arizona Legislature passed a Senate bill to legalize sports wagering in Arizona. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Sports betting in Arizona is a signature away from becoming legal after a lengthy and dramatic vote in the state Senate.  

The measure was one of Gov. Doug Ducey’s top priorities of the legislative sessionand with the emergency clause threshold reached, it becomes law with his signature rather than waiting for 90 days after the session ends 

The Senate voted 23-7 on HB2772, which followed the House’s 48-12 approval on March 4.  

The Senate’s vote came after a lengthy debate trying to add “hostile” amendments from Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson and Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, two senators who oppose the measure in its current form.  

All proposed amendments from the pair failed and the Senate continued on to pass the legislation.  

Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, was the prime sponsor of the bill and Sen. T.J. Shope sponsored a mirror bill in the Senate, but it was Weninger’s that got the final approval.  

Some of the floor debate centered around the inference Democrats accepted $90 million in discretionary funds in exchange for their support. The money will come from the federal allocation for Covid relief and can only be spent that way.  

Democrat votes were needed not only for the emergency clause, but approval itself since there weren’t 16 Republican votes.  

Sen. Martin Quezada, a co-whip, told Yellow Sheet Report last week that he was not part of the discussion and that it was only Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios and her assistant leader Lupe Contreras who worked out receiving the money.  

Quezada and other Democrats were unhappy with the minimal amount they got since their votes were needed.  

He said he did not think it was enough of a win, but that he trusted the leadership team did the best they could.  

“If my caucus is supportive of the bill, I’m gonna stick with my caucus,” he said, adding that the tribes want it done and that’s a deciding factor for him.  

That’s an important point, as Dems were likely to support the legislation with or without concessions, because it’s a top priority for tribes. 

Still, Quezada said he wishes they could have gotten more out of the deal since it needed Democratic support to pass.  

“I think we probably should have got a little bit more than that. Probably a lot more than that, but it is what it is,” he said. 

Rios, while explaining her vote late Monday, pushed back on that claim saying she takes “great offense at saying that my vote to support Indian Gaming has been bought. She mentioned how her caucus all supported the bill already (save for Gonzales) and that it’s a lie to say it was in exchange for votes. 

“So let me set the record straight. That is not the truth,” Rios said.  

Sally Ann Gonzales
Sally Ann Gonzales

However, she did not offer up an explanation for why Ducey granted them the $90 million out of the blue – the same day Senate President Karen Fann pulled Shope’s bill out of the Senate Appropriations Committee to officially move it forward after it stalled for more than one month.  

Gonzales didn’t mince her words about Rios’ explanation. 

“I hope you write about the lie that was told there,” she told Capitol Times after the floor vote. “That was a [expletive] lie. Just incredible.” 

Ducey’s office was ready to react as soon as the voting was complete, not wasting anytime sending out a tweet about the historic news. 

“A new tribal-state gaming compact just passed the legislature! The updated agreement is a win-win for Arizonans, tribal members, and sports leagues and teams,” he wrote. “Thank you to everyone who worked to improve Arizona’s gaming compact!” 

A lot of the opposition – mostly from Gonzales and Ugenti-Rita – surrounded favoring Arizona’s sports franchise owners who serve to greatly benefit from this once it becomes law and the gaming compact gets signed.  

As written, 10 licenses are up for grabs for sports owners like the Arizona Cardinals and Arizona Diamondbacks and 10 licenses will also become available for Arizona’s tribes. 

Ugenti was not in favor of helping out those winners who already win in the game of life.”  

“We are going to award people who have monopolies, more monopolies. I just fundamentally don’t agree with that approach,” Ugenti told her fellow senators. “We now are doing something that’s unprecedented. This is a once every 20-year deal, we should be taking our time. Instead of rubber stamping something we should be putting our stamp on something.” 

She wanted the process to be opened up so anyone can bid to operate one of the 10 off-reservation operations, but her colleagues shot that down. She also wanted some of the money to be earmarked for education funding, but again was turned down despite winning support from nine others.  

All of the money the bill will bring in, which is currently estimated at around $100 million annually, will go straight to the state’s general fund. Opponents also argue that $100 million is likely on the very low end of the expected revenue.  

Gonzales pointed to a similar bill in Colorado that brought in $1.2 billion during the pandemic in 2020.  

Ultimately, once Ducey signs HB2772, the 20-year compact can also become official which is a top revenue earner for Arizona’s 23 tribes – or at least the ones who sign on. Currently, 16 tribes run 25 casinos in Arizona. 

The win-win situation Ducey referenced in his immediate statement is likely referring to a win for him, Shope and Weninger successfully expanding off-reservation gaming, and a win for the tribes to get their new compact, which was set to start expiring in 2023. Voters approved the last compact on the ballot in 2002 that permitted gambling to only happen on the reservation.  

The bill allows sports and fantasy betting in Arizona, along with a new Keno game run by the lottery 

And the current compact says the tribes can offer only card games such as blackjack and poker, but the amendments Ducey is negotiating could include new games such as baccarat, craps and roulette. 

Bill gives recounts to anyone who can pay


A worker prepares volunteers to verify ballots at the Maricopa County Recorder's Office Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, in Phoenix. There are several races too close to call in Arizona, especially the Senate race between Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema and Republican candidate Martha McSally. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
A worker prepares volunteers to verify ballots at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, in Phoenix. Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, proposes a law that would allow anyone to call for a recount of any election in Arizona if they bear the costs. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

If you can afford it, then you can get a recount.

At least that’s what could happen in the 2020 election cycle if lawmakers approve SB1484, a bill sponsored by Sen. J.D. Mesnard that would allow anyone to call for a recount of any election in Arizona, so long as they can pony up the cash to pay elections officials to conduct it.

There’s no restriction on who can demand a recount, and no limit on which elections would be subject to a recount.

Mesnard, R-Chandler, said “widespread angst” and “irritation” about election results in 2018 prompted his proposal, particularly Republican discontent with election results that favored GOP candidates on election night, but turned in favor of Democrats as ballots were counted post-election day.

“I’m not making any accusations,” Mesnard said. “But I did hear from a lot of people who had their questions or doubts, and that troubles me.”

Recounts are a scarcity in Arizona, thanks to state law that only triggers an automatic recount if the margin goes as low as one-tenth of 1 percent of the total votes cast for the top two candidates, or 200 votes, whichever number is lower. If fewer than 25,000 votes are cast in a race, that threshold drops to 50 votes.

The same 200 vote threshold also applies to ballot measures and constitutional amendments.

For legislators, the threshold is 50 votes. At the municipal level, the threshold is a mere 10 votes.

SB1484 would allow individuals to questions the results of the election “for their own piece of mind, if they’re willing to put up the resources,” Mesnard said.

As long as they can file a bond in the superior court where the election occurred that sufficiently covers the cost of the recount, elections officials would be responsible for conducting one. In most cases, counties incur the cost of conducting a recount, including for statewide elections. Cities and towns bear the cost of recounts for municipal elections.

That cost could be prohibitively expensive and limit demands for a recount to wealthy individuals or organizations. The last statewide recount, triggered in 2010, cost between $150,000 and $200,000.

Mesnard said it’s not his intent for recounts to be a tool used exclusively by the wealthy, but doesn’t favor the alternative: Increasing the threshold at which automatic recounts are triggered.

“Either you force taxpayers to do it, or you force private interests to do it,” he said.

Bill to free hairstylists from state regulation on Ducey’s desk

(Deposit Photos/Nemar)
(Deposit Photos/Nemar)

Arizonans who are having a bad hair day could soon get relief from people who are not licensed by the state.

On a 31-26 margin the House on Tuesday gave final approval to legislation that says people can wash, dry and style someone else’s hair without being licensed as a cosmetologist. That includes the use of curling irons and hair dryers, but no chemicals or scissors.

More to the point, these stylists would legally be able to charge for their services despite the lack of a state license.

Within minutes of that final approval, Gov. Doug Ducey sent out a Twitter message calling SB 1401 a “big win for freedom and Arizona workers,” saying he is “looking forward to signing this bill!”

Tuesday’s vote came over multiple objections from Democrats who pointed out there are diseases that can be spread from customer to customer. They said that a fully trained cosmetologist gets extensive training on not just identifying disease but safe practices.

Instead, SB 1401 would require only that stylists take a course on safety.

But Republicans called the concerns overblown

“You would think we were talking about operating a nuclear reactor here,” complained Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills. He said that hundreds of millions of Americans manage to shampoo and dry their own hair daily without any training “beyond reading the label.”

“This is like a total no-brainer,” Kavanagh said.

But Kavanagh, under questioning from Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, conceded he never had his hair blown dry or styled with a curling iron. She and others talked about the chances of being burned by someone without training.

Other foes mentioned of diseases like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA, which they said can be spread by using the same styling tools on customers. But Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, who is a doctor, conceded he has never treated anyone who caught MRSA from a hair stylist.

The legislation is the latest move to carve out exceptions to state laws that can require upwards of 1,000 hours of training at a state-licensed school to be a cosmetologist.

Lawmakers already decided more than a decade ago that people who do nothing but braid hair for a living do not need state-mandated training and licensing. And the Board of Cosmetology, facing a lawsuit, has stopped trying to enforce training requirements on those whose total practice consists of plucking eyebrows.

This, however, goes too far for some Democrats.

Powers Hannley said people who go to a hair salon expect that everyone working there is both trained and regulated by the state. This legislation, she said, would require only that any salon employing a hair stylist post a sign informing consumers that isn’t the case.

“The idea that a sign on the wall saying, ‘This activity is unregulated,’ they’re not going to understand that,” she said. Powers Hannley said if her Republican colleagues are determined to go this route the sign should read, “This person has not been trained to do your hair, so buyer beware.”

That, she said, customers would understand.

“This puts the public at an unnecessary risk,” Powers Hannley said.

Others, however, didn’t see the danger.

Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, pointed out that nearly every hotel provides shampoo, conditioner and hair dryers for guests.

“Maybe we should look at removing those for safety,” he said.

For Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, the issue was more basic than who is qualified to style hair.

“What we’re really talking about is the right to work,” he said, without being regulated.

Campbell said he has talked with cosmetologists and does understand their belief that only those with proper training should be doing this kind of work. And he said that there are arguments to be made for training.

But he said that is not enough to overcome his philosophical objections to regulation.

“I’m going to choose the side of free enterprise, workers’ rights to work without being encumbered,” Campbell said.

That philosophy did not sit well with Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe.

“When I hear ‘free enterprise’ and when I also hear ‘deregulation,’ … that is code for low wages,” she said.


Billionaire Tom Steyer to spend $2 million on AZ youth vote initiative

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 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)

Hoping to incite a blue wave in Arizona, billionaire mega-donor Tom Steyer will pour at least $2 million into state elections this year.

Steyer’s youth vote program will focus on keeping Democratic control of Arizona’s 1st and 9th Congressional Districts and flipping the 2nd Congressional District seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, a Republican running for U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat.

Steyer is also aiming to propel Democrat Kyrsten Sinema to victory in the open U.S. Senate race and unseat Gov. Doug Ducey, who is up for re-election this year.

While Steyer has poured money into Democratic causes for several election cycles, this will mark the first year Arizona will be included in Steyer’s youth organizing movement NextGen Rising. Steyer is investing $30 million in 10 states to push Democrats to victory in the midterm elections.

“We’ll see if we’re right, but we think that there is an aura around Arizona being a bright red state that is out of date,” Steyer said in an interview with the Arizona Capitol Times.

Steyer’s strategy is to get young voters, largely those on college campuses and those between the ages of 18 and 35, registered to vote and politically engaged. Polls show President Donald Trump is especially unpopular among young voters, who tend to skew more liberal.

The Democratic activist, who made his wealth managing a hedge fund, may have political aspirations of his own. Steyer’s campaign to impeach President Donald Trump and his recently launched series of town hall meetings with voters have boosted speculation that he may run for president in 2020.

NextGen Arizona already has 19 paid staffers on the ground, and they expect to have 55 in the state by November. In addition to targeting nearly 800,000 young voters through direct mail and digital advertising, NextGen will work on 24 Arizona college campuses, including 12 community colleges and Diné College.

Arizona GOP spokeswoman Ayshia Connors called Steyer’s plans a waste of money.

“We are aware that he’s doing this and launching campaigns here to try and butt in, but every time he sticks his nose into business in other states it hasn’t paid off for him,” she said.

The conservative Koch Brothers have their own youth organizing group called Generation Opportunity, a sister organization to Americans for Prosperity. But the Arizona chapter has no plans to get involved in 2018 elections at this time, said Chalon Hutson, the group’s field director.

NextGen prides itself on using new digital strategies and unique tactics to appeal to millennial voters.

On Tuesday, the group will hold a music festival at Northern Arizona University and host a petting zoo at Arizona State University to entice students to register to vote.

But NextGen doesn’t forsake traditional get-out-the-vote strategies. The group plans to knock on at least 43,000 doors, and will focus on issues such as immigration, access to affordable healthcare, making higher education more affordable and climate change.

Funneling young voters’ passion on the issues incites them to vote in large, statewide races, but also gets them fired up about down ballot races and initiatives, Steyer said.

“The great thing about doing grassroots [organizing], particularly for young voters, is it’s really a turnout question to a great extent,” Steyer said. “If you get people into the issues, if you get people engaged in the political process and they subsequently participate at the polls, then they’re going to vote in every single one of those elections.”

Steyer has seen mixed results with his NextGen program. While the organization saw great success in Virginia in 2016, the group has suffered political losses in some redder states.

In Virginia last year, the youth vote program helped catapult Democrat Ralph Northam to victory in the governor’s race and played a role in electing an unprecedented number of Democrats to Virginia’s House of Delegates — drastically altering the makeup of the state legislature. Young voters, who are typically fair-weather voters, turned out in record numbers.

NextGen will base its Arizona strategy off what they did in Virginia, but the progressive political group will have more time in this state. NextGen embedded in Virginia approximately four months before the general election. Seven months out from the general election, NextGen is already making its presence known in Arizona.

Tom Steyer is also pushing a renewable energy ballot initiative that would force Arizona utilities to get half their energy from renewable sources by 2030. Getting the 225,953 valid signatures by July 5 to put the measure on the ballot will likely cost millions, but climate issues are near and dear to Steyer’s advocacy. He initially formed NextGen Climate (now NextGen America) as an initiative to fight climate change.

But Arizona utilities are putting up a fight against Steyer’s Clean Energy for Healthy Arizona Amendment. The state’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service Co., worked with lawmakers to pass legislation that would essentially nullify the ballot measure by reducing the fines on utility companies failing to comply down to a minimum of $100 and a maximum of $500.

APS also crafted it’s own ballot initiative that on paper, looks nearly identical to the clean energy amendment, but gives electric utilities an out because it prohibits the Arizona Corporation Commission from implementing the renewable energy mandate should it have any effect on customers’ bills.

“Obviously, it’s a very confusing time because of what APS has done,” Steyer said. “They’re making this a very confusing thing.”

Steyer’s initiative would tie the commission’s hands, but the opposing ballot measure empowers the corporation commission to do what they were authorized to do by evaluating energy projects and regulating utilities, said Arizonans for Affordable Energy spokesman Matt Benson.

The APS-backed measure is still making its way through the legislature.

“I think the point is to give voters a choice and to highlight for voters the unintended consequences of approving Tom Steyer’s initiative, Benson said.

Should both initiatives make it on the November ballot, the one with the most votes will become law.

Bipartisan ‘political science experiment’ plays in Legislature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lela Alston
Lela Alston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staff writer Nathan Brown contributed reporting.


Bipartisanship to be tested in House with 31-29 split

(Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
(Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

No election cycle would be complete without a cadre of candidates preaching about the importance of working across the aisle.

But that line will really be put to the test in the Arizona House of Representatives in 2019.

Nineteen true freshmen will join the chamber, 13 of whom are Democrats. And four of those Democrats represent districts where the minority party was able to flip a seat out of Republican hands. Their combined effort now leaves the House with a 31-29 split.

That means Republicans still have the majority, but their losses this year significantly reduced their ability to pass legislation without Democratic support. Just one or two stray Republicans who disagree with their party on, say, funding for public education could upset that delicate balance of power.

For now, plenty of current and incoming representatives are still promising bipartisan efforts in the next legislative session. But it’s no surprise they rarely agree, and it doesn’t take much to coax the party politics out again.

That was evident when a panel of lawmakers talked about the next legislative session at a November 16 conference of public school board members, administrators, and finance officials.

Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, was optimistic about bipartisanship.

“Everything good about the state of Arizona has happened because Democrats and Republicans worked on it together,” she said.

Fernandez will lead Democrats in her chamber as House minority leader starting in January.

Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, will serve in leadership with her as co-whip.

He said Democrats are open and ready to work with the majority from day one, but he put the onus on the Republicans to include them.

“Members of the majority will have to step back and ask themselves if they want to really work with the other side,” he said.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, was the contrarian.

Mesnard will be joining the Senate in 2019 after fending off a challenge by Democrat Steve Weichert in Legislative District 17, but he had some parting thoughts for the House and its new dynamic.

Despite the tight split coming to the House, he said Republicans would still be in the majority in both chambers. Conversations will have to happen on both sides, but he said they’re bound to diverge.

“That’s just the way politics is,” he said. “We’ll get along when we can. … Obviously, we have disagreements, and I think that will continue to be the case.”

He certainly had his disagreements with Bolding, who placed blame for Arizona’s education funding crisis squarely on the shoulders of the GOP.

“If you consistently are cutting taxes 25 of the last 26 years, you don’t have revenue, and then a crisis occurs, then you have to sell the buildings – you were in the majority,” Bolding said. “You made the decision, and now we have to suffer.”

Mesnard did not take the critique lightly.

“Time and again, this is the Republican perspective, we see the Democrats being late to the game, saying, ‘Oh, you should’ve done this.’ Except when we tried to do that, you opposed it,” Mesnard said, referring to a proposed temporary tax increase that went to the voters during the recession. “Whatever we do is wrong, according to you.”

Mesnard offered the 20 by 2020 teacher pay raise plan as an example.

He said Democrats would never say the plan was a good thing, and he criticized them for characterizing the plan as a drop in the bucket.

Fernandez did applaud Republicans for the raise, but not without a caveat.

“Yes, the Republicans did pass the 20 by 2020 plan,” she said. “But by golly, it took about 70,000 people in red to come to state Legislature to make it happen.”

And she said the people who marched on the Capitol were there for much more.

“It wasn’t just teacher pay raises that they were coming for,” she said. “They were talking about their classrooms not being equipped with the resources that they need. They were talking about their roofs leaking. They were talking about classrooms that had 30 kids and 25 desks. This is what the teachers asked of us. … Our constituents wanted public education funded.”

Mesnard acknowledged the Red for Ed movement had an effect on everyone, not just lawmakers, but he said to suggest Republicans weren’t already heading in that direction before the teachers’ strike earlier this year was factually inaccurate.

Ultimately, it was just another disagreement not likely to be resolved anytime soon, with or without Democrats closing in on the majority.

And it’s a disagreement that is sure to arise again in the upcoming session.

Blackman prisoner release bill fails – again

This June 24, 2021, file photo shows, Rep. Walter Blackman, R-Snowflake, right, and Rep. Diego Espinoza, D-Tolleson, talking during a vote on the Arizona budget at the Arizona Capitol. The Arizona House voted June 28 to allow some people convicted of certain crimes to earn time off their sentences for participating in work training, substance-abuse treatment or other prison programs, as Blackman worked for years on the legislation, but the Senate never put the measure to a vote.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
This June 24, 2021, file photo shows, Rep. Walter Blackman, R-Snowflake, right, and Rep. Diego Espinoza, D-Tolleson, talking during a vote on the Arizona budget at the Arizona Capitol. The Arizona House voted June 28 to allow some people convicted of certain crimes to earn time off their sentences for participating in work training, substance-abuse treatment or other prison programs, as Blackman worked for years on the legislation, but the Senate never put the measure to a vote.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

There were plenty of issues taken up during the 171-day legislative session that ended June 30 that everyone knew would be contentious, even in January. However, leaders from both parties did see one major area of potential bipartisan cooperation – revamping the criminal code. 

“Criminal justice has always been a hot thing,” House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, said. “I shouldn’t say always, it has been growing over time among many of our members. … It seems to resonate in our district meetings and elsewhere. It’s not just a one-party issue. We need to look at it that way.” 

House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, agreed.  

And it did work out this way – kind of. The House Criminal Justice Reform Committee created this year, headed by Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, perhaps the Legislature’s most vocal Republican advocate on the issue, took up a plethora of bills, many of which passed the House. Some became law. But others either stalled in that committee or passed the House only to die in the Senate. 

“We did do some good things this year,” said House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria. “Blackman’s earned release credits (bill) – I truthfully kind of had hoped we would find a way to get that across the finish line as well, or some version of that.” 

The session ended on something of a high note and a low note for advocates. Gov. Doug Ducey did sign a long-sought measure to improve the treatment of pregnant inmates and ensure female prisoners are provided with enough feminine hygiene products.  

Ducey also signed SB1294 July 9. The bill allows people to petition for certain criminal records to be sealed and their rights restored – a “groundbreaking” move, according to criminal defense attorney Steven Scharboneau Jr., who has advocated for Arizona to move toward more options for expungement. Arizona did not allow any criminal records to be expunged before Proposition 207, which legalized recreational-use marijuana and took effect this year, instead offering a more symbolic “set-aside” option. The voter-approved initiative allows people to petition for expungement of certain marijuana-related offenses.  

The broader record-sealing legislation takes effect January 2023. 

“The idea that people deserve a second chance is becoming more and more universally accepted as true,” Scharboneau said. 

However, earned release credit expansion, which passed the House 50-8 two days before sine die, never got a Senate vote. Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said in a tweet the bill failed because a majority of Republicans there opposed it. 

“Defunding the police, lack of probation officers and the list of horrible offenses that allowed criminals back on the street was a bridge too far,” Fann wrote. 

Blackman said the claims in Fann’s tweet weren’t true, and that the bill not only had nothing to do with “defunding the police” but, by reducing the prison population, would have saved an estimated $680 million over 10 years that could have gone back into funding probation and job placement and drug training programs.  

“Every statement she made was inaccurate, because she got bad information, or she knew it was inaccurate and she said it anyway,” he said.  

Blackman said he reached out to Fann, who didn’t return a call from the Arizona Capitol Times, to discuss why the bill didn’t move forward, but she never got back to him  after a week. He asked her in a Facebook post to explain to him how the bill would have defunded the police. In an interview with the Capitol Times, Blackman criticized both her and Ducey, who he said has never met with him to discuss the issue over the three-and-a-half years he has been working on it. Blackman said Bowers is the only person in top leadership who has met with him about it.  

“He is the only one out of the three who has been truly supportive of criminal justice reform, not just through words but through action also,” Blackman said. 

The bill would have let certain drug offenders who completed the bill’s programming requirements earn five days of earned release credits for every six days served, and others would have been able to earn two days for every six days served. A long list of violent and more serious offenders would have been excluded from the opportunity to get earned release credits. 

Currently, certain drug offenders are eligible for earned release credits but others generally need to serve at least 85% of their sentences, due to a truth-in-sentencing law passed in 1993. An initial version of earned release credit expansion passed the House 47-11 in February, but it stalled in the Senate. In late March, Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, revived it as a strike-everything amendment to another bill and subsequently engaged in months of negotiations with law enforcement and other stakeholders to try to craft something that addressed their concerns. 

The year was a mixed bag for Middle Ground Prison Reform Director Donna Leone Hamm. She applauded the passage of a civil asset forfeiture law that requires a conviction before someone’s property can be seized. The end of sentencing people for prior convictions when they are convicted of multiple charges stemming from a singular incident was also a win.  

“That is going to make a major difference in sentencing and in plea negotiations, so that will have an impact,” Hamm said. 

Hamm was surprised that the Legislature didn’t pass the earned released credits expansion, especially after seeing the language from the Second Chances, Rehabilitation and Public Safety Act, an initiative that missed the 2020 ballot after failing to clear signature review. 

“I thought that legislators would be anxious to try and pass a bill on their own rather than allowing the general public to decide what the criminal code would be because the citizens’ initiative proposed a much more liberal package of reforms,” Hamm said. “If that comes up again in 2024 and they still haven’t done anything in the Legislature, then I think they’re going to be very, very sorry.” 

Rebecca Fealk, policy program coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee, said it was confusing and concerning that earned release credits measure didn’t move at the end of session. 

“I do wonder if perhaps this more incremental approach is part of the reason that some of these things are stalling,” she said. “Arizona is so far behind that we really need to play catch up.” 

Fealk did say she was heartened by the passage of a bill to decriminalize fentanyl testing strips, sponsored by Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Paradise Valley. Marsh ran the bill in honor of her son, who died of an overdose last year. 

“Just being able to have a harm reduction approach to people who are struggling with substance use disorder is so important to actually addressing the root causes and issues,” Fealk said. 

Another positive, Fealk said, was HB2162, which will let some Class 6 felons have their offenses recorded as misdemeanors either upon sentencing or if they successfully completed probation. 

Blame falls on Fernandez for Dems not taking House

Voters deliver their ballot to a polling station, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Voters deliver their ballot to a polling station, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Editor’s note: This is a developing story that will be updated as more results become available. This story was first published Nov. 3 at 8:45 p.m. This most recent update occurred Nov. 5 at 7:51 p.m.       

House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez looked far and wide for opportunities to knock off Republican incumbents and take control of the state House. But, at least if results as of November 5 hold, Fernandez missed something right under her nose – the vulnerability of her seatmate. 

With an additional 138,000 votes that came in from Maricopa County late November 4, Republicans have solidified their lead over Democratic challengers in most key races in the state House, and in one instance, knocked off a Democratic incumbent: Rep. Gerae Peten, D-Buckeye – Fernandez’s seatmate. If those leads hold, the House will remain in Republican hands with the same slim margin as last session. 

As late at November 5, Democrats were still holding on hope that they’ll take control of the chamber for the first time since the 1960s, especially after suffering under a tantalizingly tenuous 31-29 GOP majority last session. Central to this goal is a handful of Republican-held districts with changing electorates that seem primed to elect new leadership, especially with a highly motivating presidential race at the top of the ballot.

In each, single-shot Democratic candidates with tremendous resources are vying for open seats or challenging potentially weak incumbents. The party is hoping to take this strategy to the bank even in ruby-red districts in Scottsdale and southern Arizona, where not long ago fielding any kind of candidate would have come as a surprise. 

But only in LD20 has the tactic so far borne fruit. In Legislative District 6, Legislative District 11, Legislative District 21, and Legislative District 23 – the rest of the districts that, to varying degrees, made up the party’s map this year – Democrats have fallen behind their Republican opponents.

These results could change, as Maricopa County alone still has to count hundreds of thousands of ballots. In a reversal from previous cycles, many Republicans held onto their ballots until Election Day, creating a phenomenon in which healthy Democratic leads evaporated in the middle of the night as more results poured in. 

But even if Democrats are able to surge from behind in LD6 and LD21, the most they can get in the House is 30 seats, barring a major comeback from Peten. 

Fernandez’s detractors within the caucus – a growing group that has coalesced behind Rep. Diego Espinoza, D-Tolleson – were quick to put the blame at her feet, lamenting that she should have done more to fundraise for Peten, given her influence with the Arizona Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. 

“I think we gave it 110 percent,” Fernandez said. “Any time I could raise money for Dr. Peten, I did.” 

Ben Scheel, a consultant for Fernandez, pushed back against the criticism, noting that state statute bans direct contributions from one candidate committee to another. 

“Everything that Peten could spend, we matched with slate mail pieces etc.,” he said in a text.

“Fernandez gave $26,000 to ADLCC from her account. She also raised huge amounts for ADLCC working with (Rep. Raquel) Teran.”  


Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, edged ahead in LD6 with 28% of the vote. Trailing him is former lawmaker Brenda Barton, who is running to solidify Republican control of the northern Arizona district. Latest returns show she has 26% of the vote. Just 267 votes separate her from Democratic Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans, who led in early votes and seemed to be comfortably in second place heading into November 4. In fourth place is Art Babbott, a Coconino County supervisor running as an independent, with 20%.

LD6 is a district of political poles with a large contingent of independents. Flagstaff, a college town, is reliably Democratic, as is Sedona and the parts of the district that intersect with tribal nations. Towns like Payson, where Barton’s from, are fiercely conservative, along with the rural sections and the dozens of little unincorporated settlements, retirement communities and census designated places that fill out LD6’s emptier stretches. 

Blackman’s seatmate, Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, left the Legislature after last session to run for a seat on the Coconino County Board of Supervisors. 

This created an obvious opportunity for the Democratic Party, with Evans as an obvious champion. She led the House in fundraising this cycle, taking in a massive $717,018.25 – a sum eclipsed only by the more than $1 million that Republican LD6 Senate hopeful Wendy Rogers raised, which seems to suggest something about the district’s competitiveness. Evans also benefited from independent expenditure groups, which put enormous amounts into supporting Evans and attacking her opponents.  

Democrats led in early ballot returns for much of last week, but saw that lead close as Election Day neared – an inversion of the trend in previous elections, which saw Democrats take the edge late in the game. Republicans went into November 5 leading by roughly 1,500 ballots in LD6, with 60% turnout.  


Democrat Judy Schwiebert is leading in LD20 House, a widely-watched race that will serve as a test case of the Democratic Party’s suburban strategy. She has 36% of the vote in the West Valley district, three percentage points ahead of the incumbent, Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix. 

Rep. Anthony Kern, the district’s other incumbent, a Republican from Glendale, follows in third place, with 31%. He trails his seatmate by around 1700 votes. Like in LD6, Democrats began early voting with a sizable lead in returns, an advantage that diminished heading into Election Day. 

LD20 is one of two districts that President Donald Trump carried in 2016, but that supported Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema two years later, a sign to Democrats that they might be able to flip a seat in the Legislature. It’s the kind of suburban district that has peeled away from the GOP in recent years, with demographic shifts that narrowed the Republican voter registration advantage to only around 6,000. 

Schwiebert, like Evans, has proven a prodigious fundraiser and a magnet for outside spenders. She’s raised $551,464 as of November 3, surpassing both Bolick and Kern by hundreds of thousands of dollars.  


In LD21, Republican Beverly Pingerelli sits in first, with 35% of the vote. She’s two percentage points ahead of the incumbent Rep. Kevin Payne, R-Peoria, who in turn leads Democratic challenger Kathy Knecht by 1,264 votes. 

LD21 is a district of similar characteristics to the neighboring LD20: It spans the suburban West Valley and has new residents that Democrats hope can give them an edge. 

But the electorate hasn’t shifted to the same degree as LD20, and the Democratic registration disadvantage has remained relatively stable between last election and this one: around 14,000 voters. LD21 is also the home of deep-red retirement communities like Sun City. 

However, unlike LD20, LD21 has an open seat, as Rep. Tony Rivero, R-Peoria, chose not to run for re-election. This could make it possible for Knecht to edge out Pingerelli, even if Payne’s seat remains secure.  Knecht also has a track record in over-performing expectations. In 2018, she was only around 3,500 votes from winning the LD21 Senate race as an independent. 

Knecht, as with most of the other single-shot Democrats running this year, has vastly outraised her opponents – around $300,000 to Payne’s $72,000 and Pingerelli’s $47,594. If either of the Republicans is worried about their chances, that fear isn’t reflected in their fundraising. 


Republican Reps. Bret Roberts and Mark Finchem pulled ahead with a solid lead in LD11. Roberts has 34% of the vote, with Finchem not far behind. Democrat Felipe Perez, a medical doctor, has 32% of the vote. He’s separated from Finchem by around 3,400 votes. 

The map for Democrats has grown as the election cycle has gone on – or so they believe, at least. LD11, an expansive southern Arizona district that has elected some of the House’s most conservative members, is at the heart of that expansion. 

Democrats poured money into the district, especially in the late stages, seeing a potential for gains in the LD11’s increasingly blue Pima County section. Perez raised more money in the third quarter than he did in all of the election cycle previously. 

Independent expenditure groups played an outsized role, as the local party infrastructure is largely focused on more achievable districts. They spent almost $300,000 in Perez’s favor, and have invested around $250,000 to attack Finchem – not huge sums compared to LD6, but for a district where Democratic registration lags by almost 20,000 voters, it’s money that has turned heads southward. 

However, this money doesn’t necessarily translate into results, and the astronomically high turnout rates of southern Arizona retirement communities like SaddleBrooke could secure the Republican position.  


Republican Rep. John Kavanagh and Joseph Chaplik are leading over two-time Democratic challenger Eric Kurland in LD23. Kavanagh has 37% of the vote, leading Chaplik by three points. Kurland is in third with 29%. 

Kurland conceded on Twitter November 5, saying that “all of the fine people from Scottsdale, Fountain Hills, Rio Verde and Fort McDowell deserve nothing but your very best.”

Chaplik threw doors to the district wide open when he defeated Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, in the primary. 

Kurland has aimed his challenge almost solely at Chaplik, needling him for avoiding debates, suing political opponents and making claims of campaign sign vandalism. 

Only Kurland and Chaplik bothered to seriously fundraise, bringing in $266,157.40 and $187,662.76, respectively. (As a note: $80,000 of Chaplik’s haul came in the form of money he loaned his own committee). 

Kurland first ran on his “Time for a Teacher” platform in 2018, when he came within 3 percentage points of unseating Lawrence. 

Two Public Policy Polling surveys showed Kurland as the first pick of a plurality of LD23 voters, though more voters picked Kavanagh as either their first or second preference. 


House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, has a comfortable lead in LD4, but her seatmate is on track to lose. 

Fernandez has 40% of the early votes, while Republican farm business owner Joel John has surged into second, with 31%

He leads incumbent Peten, a Buckeye Democrat, by around two percentage points, or nearly 2,000 votes. 

John represents one of the few serious chances Republicans have of flipping a Democratic district this year. LD4 has conservative hotspots around Buckeye and the neighboring exurbs, as well as among the district’s farming communities.  

In Peten, the GOP saw a Democratic incumbent who generally has not performed as well as Fernandez, her seatmate, and who has yet to face a serious opponent since her appointment in 2017 and first election the following year. 

Republicans have come close in the district before. In 2014, Fernandez defeated Richard Hopkins by fewer than 200 votes. That said, the Democratic registration advantage – which now sits at around 16,000 voters – has grown considerably in the subsequent six years. 

Borrelli badgers woman over ballots, ridicules Republicans

File photo of Rep. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City (Cronkite News Service Photo by Jessica Boehm)
File photo of Rep. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City (Cronkite News Service Photo by Jessica Boehm)

The Arizona Senate’s Republican whip attempted to pressure a woman who went dumpster-diving for ballots into handing documents she found over to him instead of law enforcement and implied both of them could be killed for trying to expose fraud.

During the 30-minute conversation, a recording of which was shared with the Arizona Capitol Times, Borrelli called multiple other Republican politicians “corrupt cowards,” said he was the sole senator pushing to investigate the 2020 election and repeatedly told Staci Burk, a plaintiff in an losing lawsuit to overturn election results, that she could be arrested or killed. 

“I might get arrested or whatever,” Borrelli said. “I’m going to get ridiculed in the press. I don’t give a damn. I wanna save this fricking country.” 

Over the weekend, Burk posted photos of two men, one of whom has since been identified as Vietnam veteran Earl Shafer, climbing into a set of dumpsters outside the Maricopa County elections department, removing a yellow trash bag of shredded paper and piecing together documents that appeared to be completed 2020 ballots. 

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer said the county’s 2.1 million completed 2020 ballots were still locked in a vault, as required by state law, adding that the shredded papers could have been ballots cast by deceased voters. 

“I have no explanation for how a voted ballot could be there and we do not believe there were voted ballots in there,” he said. “We’re 100 percent confident that they’re not part of the 2.1 million voted ballots.”

Upon learning about the incident — which was first published in right-wing websites that did not give the county a chance to respond — the Attorney General’s Office tried contacting Burk and Shafer to obtain the shredded papers. So far, they have not handed over the documents, a spokesman said.  

Borrelli did not return multiple phone calls about the recording.

Burk, after speaking to Borrelli, created a GoFundMe account asking for $20,000 to cover her legal costs and saying senators warned her that she would be killed or arrested on false charges. So far, she has raised just $200.

Burk is also self-funding a lawsuit against Gov. Doug Ducey, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, all five Maricopa County supervisors and former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes. Her lawsuit, dubbed the “Arizona Kraken 2.0” made claims that ballots were delivered from South Korea.

A Pinal County judge threw out her lawsuit because Burk was not a registered voter. It’s pending appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court. 

During their call, Borrelli repeatedly warned Burk that she was in danger. Arizona is the “domino” that will expose corruption across the country and overturn the election, he insisted. 

“This is so high level that they want this to go away,” he said. “They can try to silence you – you’re a private citizen. They can’t do anything to me. They can bully me all they want but they know they can’t take me out except if they whack me or I have a suicide.”

“If anything fricking happened to me, if I got hurt, if I got killed, this whole thing would go away because there’s nobody in the Senate that would push,” he added.  

During the call, Borrelli called multiple fellow Republicans, including the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and new county recorder Stephen Richer “corrupt cowards,” said he was “really disappointed” in former lawmaker and new Maricopa County treasurer John Allen.

He also mentioned Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert,  and criticized Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale. 

“Warren? Heh. I don’t want to go on and on about Warren. He’s the chairman of the judiciary committee, he inherited this and he reluctantly got involved.” Borrelli said. 

It was Boyer’s  “no” vote on a contempt resolution that stopped the Senate from sending its sergeant at arms to arrest the county supervisors for not turning over ballots and election equipment they contended they could not legally provide.

“He stabbed us all in the back,” he said. 

And he let his feelings known about the Maricopa County supervisors, who fought the senate subpoenas.  

“They’re the corrupt bastards that I want to go — I want them in freaking jail,” Borrelli said. “I want them in jail, you have no idea how much.”

He also repeatedly claimed that Attorney General Mark Brnovich, also a Republican, would let the election materials “evaporate” if Burk shared them. 

“Do you turn it over to the attorney general that’s been turning his back and not lifting a finger?” Borrelli asked. “By the way, they probably have an incentive to make it all go away. I don’t.”

Later in the conversation, he said he couldn’t get other senators, including Senate President Karen Fann, to commit to investigating and protecting Burk as a whistleblower.

“I don’t trust any of those people,” he said. “The reason why we are where we are is because I’ve been a pain in the ass in the Senate and wasn’t going to let this go. Trust me, there are people who would fold like a lawn chair if I let this go.”

Borrelli said he has been in touch with Sidney Powell and Kurt Olsen, two attorneys who worked on multiple lawsuits filed by Trump allies trying to overturn election results. Olsen told him about new technology that would piece together shredded documents, which Borrelli compared to Iranian rugmakers reassembling shredded CIA documents after seizing the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979.

At other points in the conversation, Borrelli lost his temper with Burk, who insisted that the Senate wouldn’t do anything to help her and claimed to have heard two weeks before the Senate’s failed contempt vote — and therefore more than a week before the Senate drafted its contempt resolution — that lawmakers had a secret meeting in which they decided to stage a 15-15 vote. 

“You don’t think this is part of a cover-up?” Borrelli asked her at one point. 

“Oh, I think it’s a cover-up,” she responded. “But I think the whole legislature is involved.”

Borrelli has insisted that the election was fraudulent since early November. On Nov. 10, he caused callers from across the country to flood a fellow senator’s legislative office, campaign phone number and personal cell phone with irate messages interrogating whether his race was proof of fraud — all because incumbent Republican Sen. J.D. Mesnard won his East Valley swing district when Trump lost it. 

More recently, he has made multiple appearances on conservative podcasts and radio shows complaining that Boyer “betrayed the caucus,” contributing to a rash of threats against Boyer that got so bad he briefly moved his family out of their home.

Borrelli’s comments also run in opposition to what other Senate Republicans have tried hard to argue: that their attempts to audit the 2020 election have nothing to do with changing the results.

Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray said in a floor speech he and others were never trying to overturn the election. The Peoria Republican said he was “inundated with people’s input” and it was mostly about an audit.

“You didn’t see any of us trying to change electors,” Gray said on Feb. 4.

Fontes, the former Democratic Maricopa County recorder who lost his re-election bid, said Borrelli should apologize. 

“Mr. Borrelli’s suicide jokes during this incredibly stressful pandemic are irresponsible and lack the maturity, empathy and leadership we should expect from our public officials,”  he said. 

Boyer gives caucus price for vote on budget

In this April 16, 2016, photo, Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, attends a panel discussion hosted by the Center for Political Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/Flickr
In this April 16, 2016, photo, Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, attends a panel discussion hosted by the Center for Political Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/Flickr

A Republican senator is prepared to withhold his crucial vote on the state’s budget unless it contains at least $160 million in ongoing funding for higher education and another $20 million for firefighters with cancer.  

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, told the Arizona Capitol Times he won’t vote for a budget without that roughly $180 million in ongoing funding. Legislative Republicans cannot afford to lose a single vote on any bill because of the close margins in the House and Senate. 

If his Republican colleagues balk at the price tag, Boyer said they could consider reducing the hundreds of millions of dollars they want to give away in permanent tax cuts. The economic benefits of cutting taxes are speculative at best, he said, while he has a study that predicts more than $14 billion in new state and local revenue as a result of the higher education funding he wants.  

“I don’t know why we would put all of our eggs in one basket with a questionable return on investment when we have a clear return on investment,” Boyer said.  

The higher education funding package Boyer supports contains $100 million divvied up among the three universities, $50 million for statewide financial aid for would-be university students and $12.5 million for a similar financial aid program for community college students. All of that funding would be ongoing, a tough sell to a conservative Legislature that prefers one-time funding increases.  

Gov. Doug Ducey’s January budget proposal called for $35 million in ongoing funding for the three universities – making permanent one-time spending they received in prior years but didn’t get in 2020. A budget framework released by Senate Republicans in January had no additional funding for universities. 

Ducey’s budget also noted that universities received about $115 million through federal Covid relief funds, but Boyer said that one-time windfall from the feds doesn’t replace a need for ongoing state spending on higher education. Universities had to pivot to largely online learning and Arizona State University led on Covid testing in the state, and the federal money can help with those one-time expenses.  

“I just don’t see why we should think that one-time funding from the feds is sufficient when a lot of my caucus wants to do permanent tax cuts,” Boyer said. “I don’t know why we would do something speculative when we know what the return on investment will be with targeted investments.” 

An economic impact study commissioned by the Arizona Board of Regents from Rounds Consulting Group, which Boyer said he’s sharing with other senators, predicts the $100 million per year given to the three universities would result in $14.4 billion in state and local tax revenues over the course of 20 years. 

All three universities would break even, with revenues generated surpassing the cumulative amount spent, by year 10 at the latest, according to Rounds’ analysis. 

Universities and community colleges have struggled to recover from budget cuts during the recession, including a budget deal in Ducey’s first term that cut $104 million from universities and zeroed out state funding for Maricopa and Pima community college districts 

The largest community college districts now only receive state funding for specific projects. Universities received $8 million in FY2019 and $35 million in FY2020, but nothing last year after the Legislature rejected nearly all one-time spending to pass its “skinny” budget at the start of the pandemic.  

“They have to fight for it every single year,” Boyer said. “Last year they were asked to do more with less.” 

His other budget demand is for $20 million in ongoing funding for firefighters with cancer, but he said that can be accomplished without directly appropriating money from the General Fund. Instead, he would divert money cities now pay the Department of Revenue for administering transaction privilege tax on their behalf.  

As part of 2015 changes to sales tax laws, the department’ General Fund appropriation was reduced by roughly $20 million per year, with cities paying that amount in fees to cover the department’s costs administering sales taxes assessed by cities and towns.  

There was an understanding that after three years cities would stop paying those fees and the General Fund money would again be used, but almost six years later that still hasn’t happened, Boyer said. Now, he has cities on board with continuing to pay the same fees, provided those fees are used for aid for firefighters who contract cancer from fighting fires. 

 “Cities are fine with continuing being taxed, but they want to spend it on what is a priority for them,” he said. 

The plan would result in the Dept of Revenue likely needing about $20 million more from the General Fund, but Boyer said lawmakers had already committed to doing that in 2015.   

This is the third year in a row that Boyer has threatened to withhold his budget vote to force concessions from his caucus, with varying success. In 2019, he and then-Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, successfully extracted more opportunities for survivors of sexual abuse to seek justice in civil court, and millions more for affordable housing, school counselors and doctor training. 

The two came prepared to fight again, this time for funding for firefighters and universities, in 2020, but then-Democratic leader David Bradley gave Republicans the 16th vote they needed on the “skinny” budget. Carter lost her primary to conservative Nancy Barto in part because of her budget tactics, while Boyer won re-election in his increasingly moderate district.  

He now faces two separate recall attempts, tied to his decision earlier this year to block his caucus from moving to arrest Maricopa County’s elected supervisors when the supervisors stood in the way of senators completing another audit of the 2020 election. Boyer acknowledged that his new push for higher spending and fewer tax cuts won’t win him many friends in his party, but he said he wasn’t worried.  

“I’m always prepared for blowback when it’s the right thing to do,” he said.  






Boyer kills Senate bid to force supervisors to comply with subpoenas

Paul Boyer
Paul Boyer

A Republican senator single-handedly killed a resolution that could have sent Maricopa county supervisors to jail, arguing that the Senate and the county need more time to reach a compromise over a proposed election audit. 

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, joined all 14 Senate Democrats to vote against the contempt resolution, killing it with a 15-15 vote. If it had passed, the resolution would have authorized Senate President Karen Fann to send the chamber’s sergeant at arms to arrest the five members of the GOP-controlled county board.

Supervisors have been in the county’s crosshairs since shortly after the election, when they certified election results that many legislative Republicans refused to accept. Boyer was the first Republican lawmaker to publicly state that the election was over and call for his peers to accept President Biden’s victory. 

Boyer said he had made up his mind last week to vote for the resolution, but he changed it after thinking about the contempt vote all weekend. His vote will buy more time for the two parties to work out an agreement, he said. 

“Today’s ‘no’ vote merely provides a little bit more time for us to work together charitably and as friends for the sole purpose of gaining more clarity,” Boyer said. “This is not a final determination, nor is this the end of the process.”

It took his fellow Republicans by surprise, and clearly irritated Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, who summoned Boyer to her desk to privately lecture him and then used part of her own speaking time to plead with him to change his vote. 

“I am hoping someone might change their vote and let this pass so we can move forward,” Fann said.

Boyer looked up from his cell phone and shook his head near the end of the debate as a failed Republican legislative candidate tweeted his personal cell number and urged her followers to inundate him with calls . 

Fann’s plea followed more than an hour of debate, during which Democrats stayed silent while Republicans tried to alternately cajole and coerce Boyer into changing his vote. Republican Sens. Rick Gray, Vince Leach, J.D. Mesnard, Michelle Ugenti-Rita and Warren Petersen each spent several minutes kneeling beside Boyer’s desk or bending over to talk to him.

Petersen said the county has no interest in working with the Senate and accused the board members of lying. As Senate Judiciary committee chairman, he has been most involved in the months-long court battle with the board of supervisors.

“When it comes to obstruction, lies and deception, the Maricopa County Board gets an A-plus,” he said.

Petersen also spoke directly to Boyer, asking him whether the supervisors fulfilled the subpoena the Senate issued. The supervisors maintain that they cannot legally turn over ballots because of an Arizona law that states that ballots must be kept private. Absent a court order, the supervisors have declared they will not share the materials.  

 “They thought they could peel off one of our Republican Senators. It sounds like they may have. I hope that’s not the case,” Petersen said.

Sen. Kelly Townsend, participating by Zoom because she refuses to wear a mask in the chamber, chimed in “They did.” She berated Boyer during her own comments as well. 

“If you say you’re going to vote with your caucus and you don’t, your word is never going to be trusted again,” she said.

And in a statement several senators took as an incitement to political violence, Townsend ended her speech by saying the public would take care of what the Senate wouldn’t. 

“This shouldn’t fall into the hands of the public… when they’re so lathered up. So public, do what you gotta do,” she said. 

Her on-mic comments followed an offhand utterance from Sen. David Gowan that the county supervisors should “vote right” after Boyer said no elected officials should face harassment at their homes or receive death threats. 

While the contempt resolution is dead — at least for now — the battle over legislative subpoenas and audits continues. Supervisors have asked the Maricopa County Superior Court to weigh in on whether the Senate’s subpoena is lawful, and the two parties are expected to return to court in the coming weeks. 

Meanwhile, the county’s own audits into election equipment, which began last week, continued today.  

Budget calls for school districts to divvy up pay increase

MRebuffing last-minute protests by educators picketing the Capitol, Republican lawmakers took the first steps Monday to providing a 9 percent raise this coming year for teachers.

But not necessarily all teachers.

The final version of the budget deal negotiated between GOP leaders and Gov. Doug Ducey puts $273 million into the $10.4 billion spending plan for the coming year specifically for teacher pay hikes.

But unlike Ducey’s original proposal, each school district will get its share as a bulk dollar amount. That, then leaves it up to board members to decide how to divide it up.

What that could mean is a larger bump at the bottom of the pay scale, both to attract new teachers and keep them in the profession. The state Department of Education estimates that 40 percent of new teachers leave after two years.

Some of that is because the job isn’t what they expected or other non-financial issues like workload. But state schools chief Diane Douglas, who has been a prime proponent of higher pay for teachers for years, has said that money is clearly a factor.

That same plan for bulk salary grants to school districts also will apply for the 5 percent pay hike proposed for the following school year and an additional 5 percent the year after that.

Along with that flexibility, the spending plan unveiled Monday also calls for more transparency, with new requirements for school districts to annually report on their web sites their average teacher salaries. House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said that ensures “this is all out there for people to see.”

Teachers rally outside the Arizona House of Representatives Monday, April 30, 2018, in Phoenix on their third day of walk outs. Teachers in Arizona and Colorado walked out of their classes over low salaries keeping hundreds of thousands of students out of school. It's the latest in a series of strikes across the nation over low teacher pay. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Teachers rally outside the Arizona House of Representatives Monday, April 30, 2018, in Phoenix on their third day of walk outs. Teachers in Arizona and Colorado walked out of their classes over low salaries keeping hundreds of thousands of students out of school. It’s the latest in a series of strikes across the nation over low teacher pay. (AP Photo/Matt York)

None of this satisfied educators who remained on strike for a third day on Monday as they marched around the Capitol in what they hope will be a successful effort to convince lawmakers not to adopt the budget and pay-hike plan that Ducey has proposed. And all indications are that many teachers will remain on strike through at least today — and possibly until the budget is enacted at the end of the week.

Ducey and Republican lawmakers question the protests, pointing out it provides for a 19 percent increase in teacher pay, at least on average. But education groups are not confident that the funds will be there, particularly in later years, leaving open the possibility a future governor and future lawmakers could rescind the promise.

What’s also missing as far as educators are concerned are specific dollars earmarked for support personnel like janitors, reading specialists, counselors and bus drivers.

Ducey counters that his budget includes $100 million in additional district assistance, money that schools can spend on whatever priorities they have, whether repairs or other pay increases. But that, however, is only part of $371 million a year schools are supposed to have been getting all along for books, computers, buses and other minor repairs.

But the biggest complaint is that state aid on a per-student basis is less now than it was a decade ago, even before the effects of inflation are considered. The education groups want that $1 billion difference restored.

That question of whether the funds will be there to finance higher teacher pay is what’s behind an initiative to hike personal income taxes, at least on the wealthiest Arizonans, in an effort to raise $620 million.

But David Lujan, who chairs the Invest in Education campaign, denied Monday that financing increased aid to education this way is a kind of class warfare.

“Right now, lower and middle-income people are paying a larger portion of their income in taxes,” he said. “I think this is a fair way to go.”

In criticizing the plan, Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that one big flaw is that there are not that many people in Arizona who are in those top tax brackets. The result, he contends, is that it would take only a few of the richest choosing to move — or find other ways of shielding their income — to drop the bottom out of the anticipated $620 million in annual revenues.

Lujan brushed that concern aside.

“The answer to volatility is making a more diverse economy,” he said.

“How do you get a more diverse economy?” Lujan continued. “One of the biggest ways is to invest in your public education system.”

But the most recent figures from the state Department of Revenue — from 2012 — suggest there aren’t a lot of people at the top end of the income scale to bear the burden. It found there were fewer than 15,000 filers in Arizona with a federal adjusted gross income of more than $500,000 out of more than 2.4 million tax returns.

Lujan also said that the proposal simply brings the taxes back to where they were before lawmakers started making cuts.

That, however, is not true. The tax rates that the initiative seeks to impose are actually higher than they’ve been in decades.

Prior to 1990, couples with taxable income of more than $15,480 paid income taxes at a rate of 8 percent. That year the Legislature put in a tax schedule closer to what exists now, with the top bracket being 7 percent for couples with taxable income of more than $300,000.

The initiative spells out that couples earning more than $500,000 pay $20,622 — a 4.1 percent blended rate for that first $500,000 that is identical to what they pay now — plus 8 percent of anything over that figure.

And at $1 million the tax bill becomes $60,622, a 6.1 percent blended rate for that first $1 million, as compared to a current bill of $43,322. Plus they would owe 9 percent of anything in excess.

“We wanted to hit it where it was people who were going to be able to afford it, who benefited from past tax cuts,” Lujan said.

The initiative actually differs in one key way from the original plan that had been unveiled late last week.

That would have required school boards to get approval from teachers and support staff for how they spend the money, essentially mandating collective bargaining on school districts. Lujan said Monday that controversial language now is gone.

Campaign to give DREAMers in-state tuition begins

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) supporters march in Phoenix on Sept. 5, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) supporters march in Phoenix on Sept. 5, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Supporters of a ballot measure to let immigrants living in Arizona without authorization pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities have formed a political action committee to get their message out.  

The Become Arizona PAC registered with the Secretary of State’s Office on May 27. The Legislature voted earlier this year, with a handful of Republicans joining all the Democrats to get it passed, to ask voters in November 2022 if they want to partially repeal a 2006 ballot measure that banned immigrants living here illegally from benefitting from in-state tuition rates. If voters pass it, immigrants who are living in Arizona illegally could pay in-state rates if they graduated from high school here and attended school here, while having lived in Arizona for at least two years. 

“We’re forming a pretty broad coalition with recognized leaders across the political spectrum and from the business and faith communities,” said Tyler Montague, the PAC’s executive director. 

Montague said the PAC will likely announce its executive committee in July, and will have the support of unions, non-governmental organizations and business groups such as the American Business Immigration Coalition. 

“We already have a lot of interest,” he said. 

Montague said they plan to run a “traditional campaign” and get their message out via methods such as mailers and TV and digital ads. 

“We’re planning that there won’t be an organized opposition,” he said. “A funded, organized opposition is unlikely to this one. So, I don’t know how much we’ll need it, but we’re going to play it like we need to.” 

Senate Concurrent Resolution 1044 cleared that chamber in early March with just three Republicans in support. It was never assigned to a committee in the House and appeared to be dead for two months, until Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, won a series of procedural motions with the support of just one other Republican to force a vote on the measure. Four Republicans ended up joining all of the House’s Democrats to support its final passage.  

Opponents objected that the bill would extend in-state tuition to a larger group than just the so-called “DREAMers,” or immigrants who were brought here illegally as children, and argued against the idea of giving any kind of benefit to people living in the U.S. without legal authorization. Opponents also worried it would encourage illegal immigration, pointing to the increase in the number of people crossing into the U.S. from Mexico since President Biden took office. 

“All illegal aliens are … under this current SCR1044, allowed in-state tuition,” Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, said at the time. “I have some obvious problems with that.” 

Blackman said he would support giving in-state tuition to beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, who are immigrants whose parents brought them here illegally as children but whose deportation is on hold under the Obama-initiated program. This bill would affect a much larger group than that, he said.  

He said it is unfair that they would qualify for in-state tuition while, after he moved to Arizona and became a state resident and taxpayer, his own son didn’t qualify because Blackman had joined the U.S. Army in Texas and wasn’t considered an Arizona resident yet. 

Montague said in-state polling has shown 62% support for letting people who are living here illegally to pay in-state tuition and just 29% opposition. While 71% of voters approved the original restriction in 2006, Montague thinks the state has changed enough that a majority will want to reverse course next year. 

“Things have changed significantly,” Montague said. “In 2006 we were in the middle of a massive wave of illegal immigration, and since the last decade or so we’ve been net negative to neutral with Mexico. … Overall, it’s been stable. And (in 2006), we had 1.5 million voters in that election. The last election, we had 3.5 million voters. Arizona has grown, and grown with people from different parts of the country and grown in births. So, this electorate is different from that electorate. And I think collectively, as a society, people regretted the DREAMer thing.” 

The 2006 ban on undocumented immigrants getting in-state tuition came during a time of anti-illegal immigration sentiment in Arizona that peaked with the Legislature’s passage of SB1070 in 2010. Montague would know – a moderate Republican, he helped with the effort to recall former state Sen. Russell Pearce, the sponsor of SB1070. One of the factors behind Arizona’s shift from a red state to a more purple one is the progressive activism that was fueled by opposition to the anti-illegal immigration measures of that era. 

“It passed in a time when a whole lot of other measures were being passed,” Montague said. “People were frustrated. … There are several reasons why I think what happened then doesn’t apply to today’s environment.” 


Candidate says no coordination with Worsley for LD25 senate seat

Mesa Republican Tyler Pace knew that Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, was considering retirement before he filed to run against the incumbent for the state Senate.

But the 29-year-old candidate in Legislative District 25 said he had nothing to do with Worsley’s decision to withdraw from the campaign, which Worsley timed perfectly to ensure that Pace would go unchallenged in the GOP primary election.

Pace said he met with Worsley before he began his campaign for the LD25 Senate seat, and that the senator told him he was thinking about calling it quits.

Tyler Pace
Tyler Pace

“Bob and I met before I filed my signatures, before I filed my candidacy,” Pace told the Arizona Capitol Times on June 21. “And at that point, I had become aware, and from Bob, he told me when we were meeting that he was considering retiring. And people, several other people we’ve met were like, ‘Oh we’ve heard him say that.’”

Worsley has openly acknowledged that he’s only retiring from the Legislature because he’s comfortable with Pace as his replacement.

By withdrawing from the race on June 18, after filing signatures to run on May 30 and past the June 13 deadline to challenge the petitions of those seeking access to the ballot, Worsley ensured that no Republican other than Pace will be on the ballot in August. Only a write-in candidate could challenge Pace in the Republican Primary.

Pace adamantly denied that he coordinated with Worsley or with Gov. Doug Ducey’s Chief of Staff Kirk Adams, his uncle by marriage, to secure the GOP nomination.

He described himself as a newcomer who stumbled into a perfect storm that created a clear path for his ascension to the Senate.

“Bob didn’t recruit me. He didn’t solicit me or hunt me out. I think it kind of was mostly circumstantial what was going on,” Pace said. “And as we now know, Bob was wanting a way out. And I think to sum it up, I was the only person who was available and there. No one else was running against him.”

The timing of Pace’s decision to enter the race has left some Mesa Republicans skeptical of his candidacy.

Pace registered his website’s domain name on May 25, the same day he created a campaign committee with the Secretary of State’s Office. He then collected 1,461 signatures in just five days, a staggering pace of roughly 292 signatures a day.

Pace credited a team of family volunteers and friends, and paid signature gatherers, for gathering his nominating petitions.

And he credited his grandfather, who served for decades in Utah’s Legislature, for the idea to run for the state Senate. Pace initially explored running for Congress against U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Mesa. But Pace said he settled on Worsley because, like Biggs, the senator faced no opposition from his own party.

“You can see with Andy Biggs. Nobody was running against Andy Biggs and I thought, we can have some discrepancies on what we agree, on little things,” he said. “Competition in politics gives people options, so I figured, it’s last second and everyone’s thinking I’m a bit crazy, so I jumped in.”

The circumstances around Worsley’s retirement have left LD25 Republicans suspicious, according to Kathleen Winn, first vice chair of the district’s Republican Party. Their party members are having a tough time separating Worsley’s maneuver from Pace’s candidacy, she said.

Pace had a chance to win over those Republicans at a meeting on June 21. The Capitol Times was barred from the meeting, but Winn said Pace spent the night answering questions about his political views, the circumstances surrounding his entry into the race and his connection to Worsley and the outgoing senator’s allies.

Winn said the crowd received him politely and didn’t go on the attack, but remained skeptical.

“He didn’t win over the crowd, but they didn’t try to attack him and shout him down, which I’ve seen happen,” she said. “I don’t think that they were 100 percent trusting of what he had to say, but I think that really goes way more to Bob Worsley than it does to Tyler Pace.”

Had Worsley been more open with the district’s political leaders about his desire to retire, some LD25 Republicans may have put another candidate forward. Winn said Dr. Ralph Heap, a Mesa Republican who challenged Worsley in the 2014 primary, likely would have made another run and probably would have gotten the support of many in the district.

Yet had a candidate like Heap run against Worsley, the senator had indicated he would have stayed in the race.

Worsley only ran for re-election against Heap in 2014 because wasn’t satisfied that Heap would represent the district appropriately, according to Tyler Montague, a consultant who helped recruit Worsley for office.

Now the district’s Republicans are left to decide whether to support Pace, or scramble to find a write-in candidate. Winn downplayed that possibility, calling discussions about a write-in a “knee jerk reaction” to Worsley’s announcement.

Nonetheless, Pace is at a disadvantage while introducing himself to the district.

“Tyler is very politically naive, but he’s very intelligent. And I think he represents a lot of our viewpoints, so we’ll see,” Winn said. “Unfortunately the way that Bob did this, he left Tyler in a  compromised position, which is unfortunate because now Tyler’s starting at a deficit… He’s getting any angst that people have against Sen. Worsley is now getting projected onto him, because people don’t trust Sen. Worsley.”

CD8 results give Democrats confidence for midterm elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A win is a win is a win,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Census data for redistricting, apportionment delayed


The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission won’t be able to draw new boundaries for congressional and legislative districts until the summer at the earliest due to a delay of the U.S. Census data.

The new goal for finishing data processing for the apportionment numbers is now April 30, said Kathleen Styles, a top bureau official. It was previously expected at the end of February.

The deadline for turning in the apportionment numbers has been a moving target since the pandemic upended the Census Bureau’s once-a-decade head count of every U.S. resident. The numbers were supposed to be turned in at the end of last year, but the Census Bureau requested a delay to the end of April after the virus outbreak caused the bureau to suspend operations.

The deadline switched back to December 31 after President Donald Trump issued a directive to exclude people in the U.S. illegally from the numbers used for divvying up congressional seats.

President Joe Biden rescinded that order on his first day taking office last week. Government attorneys most recently had said that the numbers wouldn’t be ready until early March because the Census Bureau needed to fix data irregularities.

The Trump-appointed director of the Census Bureau also recently resigned roughly a year before his term was set to expire over a whistleblower complaint alleging he tried to rush out an incomplete data report about noncitizens.

The IRC is scheduled to meet on February 2 to go over key hires the commission must make such as an executive director, mapping consultants and legal counsels.

Doug Cole, the COO of Highground Public Affair, said the commission’s focus will now have more time to complete these tasks as is required by law.

They will hire an executive director and work with the Arizona Department of Administration on procuring office space and other tasks involved with setting up an agency, Cole said.

“They can also start putting together requests for proposals – RFPs – for vendors,” he said, adding that everything in the process can be pretty time consuming. The vendors would be employed as mapping consultants and two legal teams would be brought on, one representing Democrats and the other Republicans.

This IRC was already working far ahead of schedule than the last run a decade ago, a lot having to do with the quick appointment process of the four partisan picks, which was completed late last year.

It’s unclear how much the Census delay will affect statutory and constitutional deadlines, but it’s likely to be addressed when the IRC meets next week.

The Associated Press contributed to this article. 

Correction: The opening sentence of a previous version of this story erroneously stated that census data to be used for drawing congressional and legislative boundaries and apportionment wouldn’t be available until April 30. The data for congressional and legislative district boundaries won’t be available until the summer of 2021 while the data for apportionment will be available on April 30. 

Choice of getting Covid shots related to politics

Mesa Fire Department Capt. Jeff Stieber, right, receives the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19 at the Arizona Department of Health Services State Laboratory from nurse Machrina Leach, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020, in Phoenix. The Pfizer vaccine was almost 95 percent effective at preventing patients from contracting COVID-19 and caused no major side effects in a trial of nearly 44,000 people. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Mesa Fire Department Capt. Jeff Stieber, right, receives the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19 at the Arizona Department of Health Services State Laboratory from nurse Machrina Leach, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020, in Phoenix. The Pfizer vaccine was almost 95 percent effective at preventing patients from contracting COVID-19 and caused no major side effects in a trial of nearly 44,000 people. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Nearly a month after vaccines have become available here a quarter of Arizonans remain unwilling to get inoculated against Covid.

And there is a political component to all of this.

A new survey by OH Predictive Insights finds that those who identify as Democrats are more likely to roll up their sleeves for a vaccine approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration than Republicans. Just 17% of Democrats told pollster Mike Noble they have no intention of getting inoculated versus 29% of Republicans.

Still, the numbers in the survey conducted earlier this month show some progress. When Noble last ran the poll in September, before there was an approved vaccine, 38% of Arizonans said they wouldn’t take it, even if offered for free.

But the director of the Arizona Public Health Association said the 25% overall refusal rate that remains among Arizonans, even after inoculations have started, could delay the state reaching “herd immunity.” That’s the point at which sufficient people have either been vaccinated or already have contracted the virus to prevent wholesale spread among those who have not.

And Will Humble said this could become even more crucial now that new more contagious strains of the virus are now beginning to pop up in the United States.

Noble’s poll shows much of the attitude about getting inoculated is linked to how much risk anyone believes the virus poses.

Mike Noble
Mike Noble

He found that 68% of those who are extremely or moderately concerned about contracting Covid are willing to get vaccinated. By contrast, 44% of those who express only slight or no concern will agree to inoculation.

And that, Noble found, has a high correlation with politics – fewer than half of Republicans say they’re concerned, versus 82% of Democrats.

“Probably, a lot of that’s tied back to the former president,” Humble said.

“He has made many statements suggesting that this was not a serious thing in terms of public health,” Humble continued. “And there are so many people who see him as an oracle of knowledge that they adopted what he has said.”

There have been efforts to convince people about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.

“Governor Ducey wants Arizonans to get vaccinated,” said C.J. Karamargin, press aide to the Republican governor. “When it’s his turn, the governor will be getting the vaccine.”

Ducey has in some ways staked his reputation in fighting the virus on people getting vaccinated.

He has refused to implement new mitigation measures and restrictions on individual and business activities even as the state entered a second wave of infection, relying on the virus being tamped down by Arizonans getting inoculated.

Through January 27, the state Department of Health Services reported there were 459,399 individuals who had received just their first of two doses. Another 85,533 had gotten both shots.

“It is, as the governor has said many times, the light at the end of the tunnel,” Karamargin said.

Steve Elliott, spokesman for the health department, said one thing that may build confidence is that, as more people get inoculated, they share their stories.

“Arizona will have large numbers of influencers sharing that the vaccines are safe and effective,” he said. And Elliott said his agency will have its own campaign explaining the benefits, both broadly and with messages targeted to specific groups and those disproportionately impacted by the virus.

Will Humble
Will Humble

But Humble said none of that may matter among people who, vaccine safety or not, don’t see Covid as a risk.

“For people of a certain age that have established their opinion about this, I don’t think there’s much that can shift them short of perhaps former President Trump sounding the alarm,” he said. “That might change the minds of some of them.”

Noble agrees, suggesting that much of the change has to start at the national level, but that it goes all the way down the chain.

“It hinges very much on Republican leadership talking about the virus and the issues in order to ultimately mitigate or change perceptions of Covid among the GOP,” Noble said.

All that still leaves the question of whether Arizona can reach herd immunity given the number of nay-sayers to vaccines.

The good news, Humble said, is that Covid is not as communicable as measles.

That particular disease, he said, requires a 95% vaccination rate to keep it from spreading like wildfire. And while there are families that decide not to vaccinate their children – and Arizona has among the broadest exceptions parents can claim – “the families that do vaccinate their kids carry the load.”

The same is true, Humble said, of what will happen with the coronavirus.

“Those of us who do get the vaccine are going to carry the load and those who have been infected,” he said. “That’s going to take us halfway to herd immunity.”

Still unclear, though is at what point the state and the country get there.

Drivers wait in line to get the COVID-19 vaccine in the parking lot of the State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. The Arizona Cardinals' stadium opened as a vaccination site Monday that will be a 24-7 operation. (AP Photo/Terry Tang)
Drivers wait in line to get the COVID-19 vaccine in the parking lot of the State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. The Arizona Cardinals’ stadium opened as a vaccination site Monday that will be a 24-7 operation. (AP Photo/Terry Tang)

“What we had believed is that we needed to get to 65% to 70%,” Humble said. But that was before the virus started mutating into new, more contagious strains, with the UK variant believed to be 40% more transmissible.

“That might move our herd immunity up to 80%,” he said.

Humble said one other problem of getting to that point goes beyond personal desires.

He said it appears that many of the people who have so far managed to get appointments are those who may be more educated and affluent – and capable of navigating what has often been confusing websites and getting the slots as they have opened up.

“Well, if you’re a working person or if you don’t have good WiFi or a new computer or any of the above, you missed your opportunity to get that February appointment,” Humble said.

“And even if you did get an appointment, these are mostly drive-up pods,” he continued, further exacerbating the disparity between the haves and the have-nots.

The online opt-in survey of 1,022 individuals was conducted from January 11 to January 18 from a statewide voter registration sample and was weighted to reflect gender, region, age, party affiliation and ethnicity. It has a margin of error of 3.1%.

Clean energy investment, economic development go hand-in-hand


For years, there has been a running narrative that conservatives are not committed to addressing our real and pressing climate challenges. 

That is, in part, because the conversation has been dominated by those on the far left who advocate for extreme environmental policies that fail to account for the harsh economic consequences that would inevitably result.

What we have heard less frequently are the conversations about environmental solutions that both drive clean energy innovation and support economic development.

But those conversations are happening every day here in Arizona, and those solutions are supported by a wide swath of Arizona voters, including conservatives.

Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, a conservative organization advancing clean energy policies, and The Western Way, a free-market conservation organization, recently released the results of a poll showing that a majority of Republican voters in Arizona believe climate change is a serious problem and strongly favor investment in the renewable energy sector.

Doran Arik Miller
Doran Arik Miller

Fully two-thirds of conservative voters in Arizona support accelerating the growth of clean energy in the United States, helping us become a world leader in green economic development. This growth has already begun in Arizona, where individuals and businesses large and small are demanding clean energy sources, our largest utility companies are making robust strides in clean energy production, and innovative companies developing clean energy solutions, like Nikola Corporation and Lucid Motors, are locating their headquarters here.

What’s more, support for clean energy spans age demographics, with both older and younger conservative voters in agreement about the importance of implementing clean energy policies. For example, older and younger conservative voters are in strong agreement about the importance of domestic energy production, energy independence, and cleaner sources of energy production: 100% of voters aged 18 to 29; 82% of voters aged 30 to 44; and 77% of voters aged 45 and above believe support for clean energy production is important when deciding on a candidate. Similarly, more than 70% of voters aged 18 to 44 support proposals to make the country’s economy carbon neutral by 2050; 60% of voters aged 45 to 54 agree.

And, Arizonans understand how to get us there. Unsurprisingly, Arizona voters strongly favor government incentives over government mandates — more than 70% of conservative voters in Arizona support incentives to drive clean energy production and adoption, as well as tax reform and streamlined permitting processes to encourage businesses and organizations to begin a shift to more sustainable energy options. These could include financial incentives to reduce the cost of energy efficiency improvements, and tax credits and matching rates for construction, which, in conjunction with permitting reforms, can significantly enhance the feasibility and appeal of developing clean energy projects.

Arizonans also understand the connection between investment in renewable energy infrastructure and economic development, and that increasing the number of rural renewable energy facilities in rural regions will help our local rural economies.

As COVID-19 continues to wreak economic havoc across the country, elected officials and policymakers are understandably focused on managing the present crisis. But they also recognize that we need to look to the future, and clean energy investment should be part of our effort to rebuild our post-COVID economy. As polling shows, Arizona voters agree:  When The Western Way surveyed conservative Arizona voters, respondents made it clear that they want to see elected leaders support policies that encourage energy efficiency and renewable energy in Arizona, and support research and development for new innovation in energy production, including things like nuclear, renewables, and battery storage.

When we talk about clean and renewable energy, it is important to recognize that clean energy investment and economic development are not mutually exclusive — in fact, to the contrary, the two go hand-in-hand. Conservative voters in Arizona place a high value on policies that benefit the economy and create jobs, but they also believe in the importance of protecting our natural environment and quality of life. That is why they overwhelmingly support accelerating the growth of the clean energy sector. Western states’ policymakers have long understood this balance, and these latest polls make clear that conservative Arizonans are looking for elected leaders to deliver commonsense solutions to address our pressing environmental challenges.

Doran Arik Miller is state director for The Western Way.

COMMENTARY: A tale of 2 GOP-controlled legislatures

Charles Nielsen, 58, and his 11-year-old granddaughter, Bailey Nielsen, testify before a House panel at the Idaho Statehouse on February 24, 2020, in Boise, Idaho. Visitors to the Idaho Legislature are allowed to open-carry firearms, one of the differences between Arizona’s Capitol and Idaho’s. (AP Photo/Keith Ridler)
Charles Nielsen, 58, and his 11-year-old granddaughter, Bailey Nielsen, testify before a House panel at the Idaho Statehouse on February 24, 2020, in Boise, Idaho. Visitors to the Idaho Legislature are allowed to open-carry firearms, one of the differences between Arizona’s Capitol and Idaho’s. (AP Photo/Keith Ridler)

One of my longer days on the Arizona House floor this year was May 5, when lawmakers voted to pass two controversial bills that supporters said would ban “critical race theory” in schools and government employee trainings. As I listened to the Democrats and Republicans argue, live tweeting as I did, I wondered if I had even left my previous job of covering the Idaho Legislature, where that session was dragging on as legislators were mired in similar debates. The similarities weren’t lost on my Twitter followers. 

“Although you have moved to Arizona your reporting could still be for Idaho,” one of them said. 

When I first announced I was moving here, some people tried to impress me with how kooky the state’s politics are.  

“So do you have any experience covering the mentally disturbed????” Howie Fischer, an Arizona Capitol reporter for almost 50 years tweeted at me.  

Someone else said: “As the old cliché goes, you can’t spell ‘Crazy’ without AZ. Welcome to the madhouse!”  

I wasn’t that worried. I spent five years covering politics in Idaho. While it doesn’t get as much outside attention as Arizona due to its small size and safe Republican status, Idaho still occasionally draws national attention. My first year there, I covered a special session that had to be called because some legislators voted down a child support bill over fears it could be used to enforce rulings by foreign Shariah law courts. 

The last special session I covered before moving to Arizona, made for a perfect bookend – rowdy opponents of Covid restrictions broke a door to get into the House gallery and shut down committee meetings. Ammon Bundy, the leader of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, who is now running for governor of Idaho, was arrested for trespassing twice. Photos of a dejected, handcuffed Bundy being wheeled to a police cruiser in an office chair were shared by news outlets and meme makers around the world. 

Anti-government activist Ammon Bundy is wheeled from the Idaho Statehouse in Boise, Idaho, on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, following his second arrest for trespassing in two days. Bundy was arrested Tuesday in a committee room and charged with trespassing. (AP Photo/Keith Ridler)
Anti-government activist Ammon Bundy is wheeled from the Idaho Statehouse in Boise, Idaho, on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, following his second arrest for trespassing in two days. Bundy was arrested Tuesday in a committee room and charged with trespassing. (AP Photo/Keith Ridler)

 I quickly noticed some obvious parallels between the politics of my old home and my new one. Both states have business-friendly, center-right governors who sometimes seem out of step with what the Republican Party has become since first the Tea Party and then Donald Trump sought to reshape the meaning of conservatism.  

Republican politics in both states is dominated by the split between an “establishment” faction that espouses a more traditional, Reagan/Bush style of Republicanism and a more hard-right one that is ascendant within the party organizations but doesn’t have as much influence over actual governance. The left has its divides too, although given the Democrats’ minority status in both states the squabbles between Bernie Bros and Blue Dogs don’t have the same impact on policymaking. 

And the legislatures in both states are very polarized. Given Arizona’s status as America’s newest swing state, I expected to see both more Democrats playing to the disaffected Republicans who put Kyrsten Sinema, Joe Biden and Mark Kelly over the top and more Republicans trying to bring those voters back into the flock. Not really, as it turned out.  

Most of the Republicans in the Arizona Legislature are conservative enough to fit right into rural Idaho, and most of the Democrats are pretty progressive. Some of them have publicly split with Arizona’s more moderate senators on issues such as the filibuster and whether to send the National Guard to the border. It makes sense when you think about it. The handful of McCain/Biden voters might decide who wins statewide office in a state that’s split almost 50/50, but most lawmakers represent safe districts where the primary is effectively the election.  

But having so many more Democrats does make a difference. In Idaho, the GOP holds more than 80% of the Legislature’s seats. Bills can and do pass there even when a noticeable minority of Republicans oppose them – neither the moderates nor the libertarian-lite wing have the votes to impose their will on the rest of the caucus.  

In Arizona, Republicans literally cannot lose a single vote if they want to pass a bill without Democratic support. One Republican opposing a controversial bill means it isn’t going to pass. One Republican absence can mean the Legislature cannot conduct business. And the Republicans themselves, having watched their majorities shrink over the past decade, don’t know how much longer they will control things. 

 In this Thursday, June 24, 2021, file photo, Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, speaks during a vote on the Arizona budget at the Capitol.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
In this Thursday, June 24, 2021, file photo, Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, speaks during a vote on the Arizona budget at the Capitol. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

“We had supermajorities,” Rep. John Kavanagh reminisced at a caucus meeting in May as he urged his colleagues to pass a flat tax while they still could. “I never thought we’d be here. Next year we may not be in the majority, and then you’ll never get 2.5%.” 

While this fear of a possible impending loss of power may be part of why the GOP rammed through some controversial measures this year while it still could, it also means the Arizona Legislature effectively has “48 governors with veto power,” as Kavanagh also put it.  

A handful of holdouts delayed the budget for a month, ultimately forcing leadership to agree to their condition for supporting the flat tax. Reps. Michelle Udall and Joel John, in particular, exercised this veto repeatedly, blocking a school voucher expansion and forcing, against the will of most of their caucus, a ballot measure that will let voters decide whether undocumented immigrants should be allowed to attend college at in-state tuition rates. 

The razor-thin Republican majorities here do lead to different policy outcomes than in Idaho. Another difference is that the more hardline right wing of the GOP is better organized in Idaho, and more able to wield power as a result. This year’s anti-critical race theory push in Idaho was largely led by the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which was attacking pro-diversity efforts for a year before other conservative media and politicians latched onto the cause nationally. 

Perhaps the IFF’s best-known project is the “Freedom Index,” where it ranks lawmakers based on their votes. The handful with consistently high scores tout it as evidence of their conservative bona fides. The more establishment-oriented Republicans, who think of themselves as plenty conservative but who are liberals in disguise in the IFF’s telling because they vote for things like education funding or regulating medical debt collectors, have a different view of it. 

 The foundation doesn’t get everything it wants, but it still has an ability to shape the agenda in Boise that is unmatched by any similar group in Arizona. 

There are, of course, procedural differences between the two legislatures, and little things such as the stricter dress code in Idaho. (Every male lawmaker wears a tie on the floor there.) Perhaps the difference I noticed first was how much more seriously Covid was taken in Arizona. While Gov. Doug Ducey and the Republican House and Senate leadership have certainly gotten plenty of criticism from people who say they didn’t do enough, they were much more restrictive than their counterparts in Idaho, who did almost nothing to require Covid precautions. 

The historic Arizona Capitol building. Arizona legislators have introduced several bills this year to allow the Legislature to have greater control over state agencies and other elected bodies. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR
The historic Arizona Capitol building.  PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR

A mask was practically the equivalent of a Biden-Harris pin in Idaho. The Idaho Legislature had to recess for two weeks in the middle of the session because too many lawmakers had Covid. Covid rules aside, the Idaho Capitol has a freer and more open feel than Arizona’s, which with its security and limited access can feel more like an airport or police station than the people’s house. Public access to the Idaho Capitol is basically unrestricted. There are no security checks when you walk in. You can bring an AR-15 into the House gallery if you want, and some people do. In fact, you see people openly carrying guns in the Idaho Capitol often enough that you don’t really notice it after a while. 

In many ways, our two major political parties are both more different from each other and more ideologically homogenous than ever, coalitions of people who, whatever their disagreements on taxes or government spending, are largely united on cultural and social issues. Their members sometimes seem to exist in different realities, increasingly viewing the other side as enemies whose ability to wield power is an existential threat. This really comes across when you’re watching a vote on, say, a bill relaxing gun laws or making it harder to get an abortion. In either Arizona or Idaho – and most other places for that matter – those votes are almost always party-line. There aren’t many conservative Democrats or liberal Republicans anymore. 

Legislatures reflect the people who elect them. Those people are getting increasingly partisan and preoccupied with national politics and more interested in using the power of the government to win culture war fights. Perhaps the most striking thing I’ve noticed moving from covering Idaho’s Legislature to Arizona’s is how similar they are in this regard, and how what happens at the legislative level here, there and in every other state, reflects the divided nation we’ve become. 

Consultant says Dems need to be lucky and good to win CD8

In these early days of the 8th Congressional District special election, little attention – if any – has been paid to the two Democratic candidates running in the overwhelmingly red stronghold.

Dr. Hiral Tipirneni, an emergency room physician, and Brianna Westbrook, a transgender woman working in the automotive industry, according to her campaign bio, entered the race while Franks was still in office and was presumed to be running for re-election. And both are still in now that Franks is out and an expedited process to replace him is in full-swing.

Both claim strong grassroots support and hope to ride on their image as political outsiders making their first runs for office.

Unfortunately for them, even Democratic consultants don’t think that will be enough to make CD8 a real contest.

The special election already features an increasingly crowded Republican field, which as of publication includes state Sen. Steve Montenegro and former legislators Phil Lovas and Bob Stump. Others are expected to join the hunt in the coming days.

The special primary will be held on February 27, followed by the general election on April 24. Candidates have until January 10 to file paperwork to officially enter the race.

Chad Campbell
Chad Campbell

Former House Minority Leader Chad Campbell said chances are slim that a Democrat stands a chance in the special general election.

The numbers certainly don’t bode well. Republicans outnumber Democrats, 187,234 to 109,467, according to the most recent voter registration numbers from the Secretary of State’s Office.

And Campbell said there isn’t likely to be much Dem money funneled into that race, especially considering more competitive congressional districts may be up for grabs.

Instead, he said the focus will be on Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema’s seat and, presumably, Republican Rep. Martha McSally’s, who is expected to vacate for a Senate run.

Campbell said those seats are must-wins for Democrats if they want any shot at getting a majority in the House, so there won’t be much to spare for CD8 in terms of resources.

Even if there was, neither Tipirneni nor Westbrook is likely to be the right candidate when even a higher profile contender would have little chance at success.

“You need a rural Democrat for that district,” Campbell said. “But again, I’m not sure that candidate exists right now. And even if that candidate did exist, I don’t know that there would be money there.”

Consultant Andy Barr said Democrats’ ability to make a stand will depend heavily on who wins the Republican nomination, as demonstrated in Alabama, and he suspects donors will need to see reliable data showing a competitive general election before serious money comes into play.

“There is just such an appetite for wins right now on our side,” he said. “But we have a lot of objectives this cycle and very real objectives. These guys [running in CD8] are going to struggle.”

But Barr also said Republican candidates will likely find more of a challenge than they’re expecting.

“These guys coming over from the Legislature are in for a rude awakening because nobody knows who the hell they are,” he said. “They’ll think they’re starting with an advantage, but the truth is they’re not. The name ID on these guys is going to be nonexistent.”

Barr did predict one advantage for both candidates from his side of the aisle: They’re women. He said much of the recent energy in the party has been sparked by women activists.

Still, the special primary winner will have to prove she can inspire a movement and bring together the other pieces of a true contender.

“If we have a superior candidate in a superior campaign and get lucky, we can win this seat. But we need those things to align,” Barr said.

“They’re going to have to get good really quick, and that’s true of both the candidates and the campaigns. These guys are going to go from obscurity to having to perform at a very high level very quickly.”

Westbrook said she’s been “playing to win” since March when she filed to take on Franks.

She’s not especially concerned about Tipirneni, and she disagrees with the assumption that the district will swing Republican even if that’s what the numbers show.

“They’re looking for someone to believe in,” she said. “We just haven’t ran a candidate here in two election cycles, so the Democratic Party has nothing really to stand on in this district.”

But while Westbrook said she has focused more on reaching the people of CD8 and less on money – “I’m not buying my way through this election” – Tipirneni may have a funding advantage.

Consultant DJ Quinlan, who’s working for Tipirneni’s campaign, said she has fundraising powers and a story that will resonate with voters.

Tipirneni has more than $120,000 on-hand, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission data.

Quinlan pointed to Democrat Doug Jones’ upset victory over staunch Republican Roy Moore in Alabama’s special election for U.S. Senate as proof that even Republican bases cannot be written off as sure things for conservative candidates.

“A creepy congressman in a scandal is the context by which you have the special election,” he said, drawing a connection to the circumstances under which Jones was elected and Franks, who resigned last week after two women said he discussed surrogacy with them.

Consultant: data hard to find on ESA program

The first of several planned legislative hearings to study Arizona’s growing Empowerment Scholarship Account program ended Wednesday with many unanswered questions.  

The House ad hoc Study Committee on Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Governance and Oversight heard a presentation from Phoenix-based economist and public policy consultant Alan Maguire, who was hired to investigate data related to the administration of the ESA program. 

Maguire said there are limitations with how the state collects ESA-related data related to ESA recipients and student tuition organization scholarships. He also said reporting differences in birth and death records and no information available for in-migration into the state and outmigration also have led to data limitations which could be helpful for ESA oversight.  

One of the main issues Maguire highlighted was the limited history of ESA recipients. In particular, he said it’s difficult to identify if a student attended a private school because of differing standards for getting information out of private organizations. 

“We have some idea of where these students are coming from, but only some idea,” Maguire said. 

Rep. Beverly Pingerelli, R-Peoria, left, speaks with House Speaker Ben Toma, R-Peoria, during an ad-hoc committee on Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. (Staff photo)

The committee was formed to fulfill an agreement legislative Republicans and Democrats made during the session to pass the state budget in exchange for greater oversight into the ESA program, projected by the Arizona Department of Education to cost taxpayers $900 million in 2024. 

Rep. Nancy Gutierrez, D-Tucson, said it was a problem that the state does not ask income-related data for families that have student voucher enrollments and information on prior school attendance.  

“When we don’t have that data, that is trouble for our state budget,” Gutierrez said. 

Maguire projected ESA voucher enrollment to slow down now that the school year has started and said the state officials needed to give more time to continue collecting data and see how the program compares to other large governmental programs like the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, which saw a large boom in enrollment during early years. 

Another issue Maguire raised was duplicate student tuition organization scholarships being awarded to students, but privacy laws have led to issues in narrowing down details of the scholarships.  

“We know there’s some double counting in there,” Maguire said.  

After the hearing, Toma said other presentations from the Department of Education could help clarify a lot of missing information from Maguire’s presentation. He also said Maguire isn’t finished examining ESA-related data that would give a “fair” representation of the total cost and benefit of the ESA program to the state. 

While Gov. Katie Hobbs was offered a seat on the committee, Hobbs went on an overseas trip to Taiwan and South Korea and couldn’t attend. Hobbs spokesman Christian Slater told The Arizona Capitol Times Hobbs’ office pitched Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, to represent Hobbs on the committee but the House rejected her. 

“Teacher of the Year Christine Marsh is highly qualified for the ESA ad gov committee, but Republicans refused to allow her as the office designee,” Slater said. “Thus, the office requested to be removed from this ad hoc committee. Governor Hobbs is committed to protecting taxpayer dollars and stopping the unsustainable spending on private school tuition, but this ad hoc committee is not the right venue for finding bipartisan solutions.” 

Marsh criticized the decision to exclude her in a statement on Wednesday.  

“This ad hoc committee was designed to allow the Governor to appoint any designee of her choosing. Any indication that it was not is a false narrative crafted by House Republican Leadership to justify their decision to move the goalposts after an agreement we made,” Marsh said. “We had the chance to begin addressing this issue in a bipartisan and good-faith manner. However, the Republicans proved once again that politics outweigh policy for their caucus.” 

Toma said in a text to The Arizona Capitol Times that the committee’s intention was to have Hobbs’ representation come from the governor’s office, not the Senate.  

“The Governor was afforded on opportunity to participate or to choose a ‘designee’ which has always meant someone from her office, or at least the executive branch … Appointing [Marsh] would be effectively making an end run around the Senate President,” Toma said in a text. 



Corp Comm candidates debate dark money, renewable energy

Solar Potential

The three Republicans running to become state utility regulators warn that putting Democrats in charge of the regulatory panel would turn Arizona into California.

And they don’t mean that in a good way.

In a debate at KAET-TV on September 30, all three Republicans – Jim O’Connor, Eric Sloan and Lea Marquez Peterson – criticized the self-named “solar team” of Democrats Bill Mundell, Anna Tovar and Shea Stanfield. They said electing the Democrats would mean higher rates as consumers are forced to buy what they contend is more expensive power from renewable resources, just as what has happened in California.

“I am a free-market capitalist,” said O’Connor.

He said that the added costs borne by utilities to purchase power from wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable sources is passed on to consumers, complete with utilities even taking a markup.

“It’s a fantasy to believe that there’s some company with an endless pot of gold that can pick up the check for all this social redistribution,” O’Connor said.

“Any time the commission mandates or subsidizes something, Arizonans end up paying more for something than they should have,” said Sloan. He estimates the current requirement for utilities to purchase more solar power has cost ratepayers $1.2 billion.

Marquez Peterson, the lone incumbent seeking one of the three open seats, said she sees the issue through a different lens.

She said California has vigorously forced utilities to move away from fossil fuels. That, Marquez Peterson said, led to rolling blackouts this summer and utilities in that state trying to buy power from Arizona utilities.

Democrats have their own arguments.

On the financial side, Mundell, who was a commissioner for nearly a decade until 2009 – and a Republican at the time – argued that the mandates that he helped approve at the time actually have resulted in $2 billion in savings for customers. The key, he said, is encouraging things like rooftop solar.

“You don’t have to build big, gigantic new fossil fuel plants, you don’t have to build transmission lines,” Mundell said. And he pointed out that utilities are legally entitled to pass on the cost of new construction to ratepayers.

Tovar said it’s also good for the Arizona economy, making the state the “solar capital” of the nation.

“It will be a win-win situation,” she said. “It will create a new economy with green jobs … that will be creating the thousands of jobs that we desperately need.”

Stanfield took her own swipe at utilities, saying they don’t appear to be interested in providing clean and affordable energy. She said that’s why they need to be “strongly encouraged with mandates and standards and held accountable for steps to get to those mandates.”

Some of the debate about current and potential mandates could end up being academic.

In a recent ruling, the Arizona Supreme Court appears to have narrowed the legal role of the Corporation Commission strictly to setting rates.

That, in turn, could undermine the existing requirement by the commission that utilities generate 15% of their power from renewable sources by 2025. And it also would call into question other proposals – including some by Republicans – to wean utilities in Arizona away from fossil fuels.

Despite the differences over such mandates, five of the candidates say they do believe that climate change is real and that it is caused by human activity. Only O’Connor said he has his doubts.

The other key issue in the race could come down to who voters believe is least likely to be influenced by the utilities they are supposed to be regulating.

Next month’s election comes as the commission is coming off years of low public trust, much of that directly related to the fact that Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest electric utility, funneled millions of dollars into prior campaigns for Republicans in the 2014 and 2016 elections.

APS appears to have stayed out of the 2018 race after their practices were unveiled. And, to date, there is no evidence that they are backing any of the contenders, all of whom are running with public financing.

“The dark money has corrupted the commission,” Mundell said. “It’s led to those non-justified rate increases and the crushing of rooftop solar.”

Sloan countered that it hasn’t just been Republicans who have benefited from outside spending, mentioning the $2.8 million that Chispa Arizona, the political arm of the League of Conservation Voters, put into trying to elect Democrats in 2018.

But Sloan’s own background made him a target.

He ran the Arizona Coalition for Reliable Energy in 2016. That was the fund financed by APS that pushed for election of Republicans.

That $10,000 contract, said Mundell, makes him suspect as someone who could be an independent voice and properly regulate utilities.

Sloan described his activities as simply a “get-out-the-vote” effort. That drew a sharp retort from Tovar.

“It was a get-out-to-vote for three Republicans on the commission,” she said.

Both Mundell and Tovar did not dispute that they took money from an APS political action committee when they were members of the Legislature. But she said that was a different time.

“We didn’t have these issues with APS,” Tovar said.

Mundell also found himself defending his previous time on the commission, acknowledging he probably voted for some rate increases for APS but saying he also voted against others.

Prior cash from Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the parent company of APS, also became an issue during the debate. Marquez Peterson not only got $2,500 for her 2018 congressional race from the company, but also $5,000 from David Hutchens, chief executive of Tucson Electric Power.

She said that is irrelevant to the job she wants to keep after Gov. Doug Ducey appointed her to the commission, replacing Andy Tobin who left to become head of the state Department of Administration.

“It in no way unduly influences me as commissioner,” she said. And Marquez Peterson also said that she was involved since joining the commission in approving a new code of ethics for regulators.

“I think that we’ve turned the tide” on the commission’s reputation. Beyond that, Marquez Peterson said that the individuals who were leading APS at the time are since gone.

County election equipment deemed free of tampering

In this Nov. 4, 2020, file photo, Maricopa County elections officials count ballots in Phoenix.  (AP Photo/Matt York, File)
In this Nov. 4, 2020, file photo, Maricopa County elections officials count ballots in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

An audit of the Maricopa County voting equipment came up absolutely clean according to county officials.

But it’s not going to deter the demands by Republican senators to conduct their own review and get a court order to enforce their own subpoena. In fact, the lawmakers are going back to court Feb. 25 in their bid to get access to the equipment, the software — and the actual ballots.

The county report, released Tuesday, concluded that there was no evidence that:

– Votes were switched from one candidate to another;

– Equipment was using modified software;

– Voting machines were connected to the internet;

– Malicious software or hardware had been installed on tabulators or the system.

“These audits are an affirmation for everyone’s hard work and prove what my colleagues and I have been saying all along: Our elections were run with integrity and the results we canvassed were accurate,” said Supervisor Clint Hickman, one of four Republicans on the board.

Steve Gallardo, the lone Democrat supervisor, agreed.

“The audits clearly dispel the notion that somehow the November election was rigged,” he said.

The results of the audits — three of the four areas were reviewed separately by two different companies — come just days before the supervisors face off in court again with the Senate.

Attorneys for lawmakers contend they are entitled to have their own auditors have access not only to the equipment but also the 2.1 million ballots actually cast.

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

So far, though, their efforts have failed. And on Feb. 25, attorneys for the county will ask Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomasson to quash the legislative subpoenas and permanently bar Senate President Karen Fann and Sen. Warren Petersen, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, from taking any further action to enforce their subpoena.

All this is part of the leftovers from allegations that the returns reported from the Nov. 3 election were inaccurate and that Donald Trump actually won Arizona and should have received the state’s 11 electoral votes.

A series of lawsuit complaining of everything from improper procedures and the use of wrong marking pens to outright fraud all have so far been rejected by courts. And at this point the issue is legally moot as Joe Biden has been sworn in as president.

But Fann told Capitol Media Services more needs to be done.

“When there are this many questions that people are questioning our electoral system, I think we owe it to them to say ‘We’re going to get those answers for you, and we’re going to show that our system is good and secure,’ ” she said. “And if we find any irregularities, we are going to prove to you that we’re going to fix those irregularities.”

More to the point, Fann said, what the county performed doesn’t get to those questions.

Some of it, she said, is because the companies they hired are not certified forensic auditors.

Beyond that, Fann said there are other questions that the audit never addressed.

“I do know that they did not do an in-depth forensic audit enough to help us figure out how many mail-out ballots went out to people that do not live in Arizona any more,” she said. Then there are allegations about ballots that went to dead people or a large number of ballots showing up at a house where only two people live.

All that, Fann said, leads to questions about what happened to all those ballots.

But a key point in what Fann and her colleagues want is access to the actual ballots to determine if the count reported actually matches the votes counted.

A Dominion Voting ballot scanner is delivered to a polling location in Gwinnett County, Ga. outside of Atlanta on Monday,  Jan. 4, 2021, in advance of the Senate runoff election. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)
A Dominion Voting ballot scanner is delivered to a polling location in Gwinnett County, Ga. outside of Atlanta on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021, in advance of the Senate runoff election. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)

The audit done for the county does look at some of that — but only indirectly.

Auditors from Pro V & V looked at the question of whether the Dominion Voting Systems equipment or software was switching votes from one candidate to another, one of the charges leveled by Trump supporters, using what a “test deck” of ballots pre-marked with known results. All totaled, they said the tally of more than 1.5 million specific ballot positions came out 100% accurate.

Only thing is, these were not the actual ballots voted in November, in keeping with the county’s position that they have to be locked up.

The audit produced other results.

Pro V & V and SLI Compliance, the other firm hired by the county, also said they looked for evidence that the tabulation system was transmitting information outside what they said was an “air-gapped system” within the county. They said they found no issues.

Both also conducted what they called a “full forensic clone” of the hard drive on the equipment which allowed them to examine not just what was there but also look for evidence of deleted files or hidden data. Here, too, they said they found no issues.

All that, however, is not good enough as far as the Senate is concerned. And Fann said the only way the questions of constituents will be answered is if there is an actual examination of the equipment and the ballots by someone chosen by the Senate.

Whether lawmakers are entitled to that is exactly what Thomasson is being asked to decide.

The county’s refusal to turn over access is based on several arguments.

“The (Arizona) Constitution commands that ballots be kept secret,” attorney Steve Tully who represents the county told Thomasson in his legal filings. And he said Arizona law spells out that after the formal canvass of votes, the ballots are put into an envelope and kept unopened for up to 24 months, after which they must be destroyed.

None of this has stopped the Senate from issuing a subpoena for access to them.

But Tully said subpoenas are permissible only when there has been a vote of the full Senate to investigate the 2020 general election. That, he said, did not occur.

Instead, he said, the subpoenas all result from “months of conspiracy theories rejected by the courts and debunked by the press.”

There are provisions for a judge to decide whether to enforce a subpoena. But he said that first requires a vote of the Senate to hold the supervisors in contempt.

But that failed when Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, refused to go along with his GOP colleagues.


Court kills mask mandate ban, other new laws

Hand about to bang gavel on sounding block in the court room

A new state law barring schools from imposing mask mandates on students and staff is unconstitutional, a judge ruled Monday.

In a broad decision, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper, an appointee of Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, also voided a host of provisions in laws approved by the legislature and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey in the waning days of the session that all were supposed to take effect Wednesday. These range from requirements for anti-fraud measures for ballots and prohibitions against cities and towns from requiring face coverings or imposing curfews to banning proof of vaccination to attend universities or community colleges, and limits on teaching what lawmakers have incorrectly referred to as “critical race theory.”

Cooper did not find that any of these provisions, by themselves, is illegal.

What is, she said, was piling them into just four separate so-called “budget reconciliation” bills, each with what she said are broad, generic titles that fail to inform voters of the changes they enact.

And Cooper said there are separate constitutional requirements that legislation deal with only a single subject.

“Together these requirements promote transparency and the public’s access to information about legislative action,” she wrote.

Ducey press aide C.J. Karamargin called the ruling “clearly an example of judicial overreach” and promised an appeal.

“It’s the duty and authority of only the legislative branch to organize itself and make laws,” he continued. “Unfortunately, today’s decision is the result of a rogue judge interfering with the authority and processes of another branch of government.”

Ducey has one other time sharply criticized a judge after a ruling unfavorable to him, calling on the judge to resign.

In Monday’s ruling, Cooper addressed — and brushed aside — claims that how legislation is crafted is a “non-justiciable political question” beyond the reach of her and the courts to conclude whether lawmakers are exceeding their constitutional powers.

“The issue here is not what the legislature decided but how it decided what it did,” she wrote. “Whether the legislature complied with the requirements of (the Arizona Constitution) and whether a provision is reasonably related to ‘budget reconciliation’ are questions properly before the court.”

Attorney General Mark Brnovich, hoping to become the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, also vowed an appeal.

“It’s unfortunate that left-wing groups want to undermine the legislative process and indoctrinate our children with critical race theory and force vaccines on those who don’t want them,” he said.

But the decision, particularly about masks, cheered state schools chief Kathy Hoffman.

Kathy Hoffman

“With this ruling, Arizona school leaders, educators and community members can come together to make the best decisions on public health, safety and education,” she said in a prepared statement. And Hoffman urged supporters of the ban not to appeal.

“Our school communities are tired of being political pawns in dangerous attempts to subvert democracy and ignore science,” she said.

Monday’s ruling does more than void the challenged sections of the laws. Unless overturned, it also quashes the practice lawmakers use of piling apparently unrelated issues into bills in an effort to corral the votes for the entire package.

“This is classic logrolling — a medley of special interests cobbled together to force a vote for all or none,” the judge said. And banning that could result in difficulty in getting approval of future controversial measures.

At the heart of the legal fight are “reconciliation” bills.

The Arizona Constitution prohibits policy changes from being included in the actual budget. So, for example, allocating a certain amount of money for school construction goes into the budget. Instructions on guidelines for giving out the cash, however, go into a reconciliation bill.

Cooper, however, said what’s in these bills hardly qualifies. And she cited that constitutional requirement for a bill’s official title reflect what is included.

Attorneys for the state argued that she should interpret that requirement broadly. So, in the case of a “health” budget reconciliation bill, they said that can include anything related to health.

“That is not correct,” Cooper wrote. “The legislature has discretion to title a bill but, having picked a title, it must confine the contents to measures that reasonably relate to the title and each other to form one general subject.

More to the point, Cooper said, the title of the bill “must be worded so that it puts people on notice as to the contents of the bill.”

“It should enable legislators and the public upon the reading the title to know what to expect in the body of the act so that no one would be surprised as to the subjects dealt with by the act,” she said.

That, Cooper said, did not occur here.

Katherine Cooper

Consider the provision prohibiting schools from requiring students and staff to wear masks while on campus. It was enacted not as separate legislation but instead tucked into what was labeled “budget reconciliation for kindergarten through grade 12.” Ditto language forbidding schools from requiring proof of vaccines.

Also in that same bill, she noted, was the restrictions on what can be in public school curriculum — the so-called ban on teaching critical race theory — as well as authorizing lawsuits against public employees for what she called “vaguely defined conduct related to public schools.”

“What do these measures have to do with the budget?” Cooper asked.

And she took a particular umbrage with arguments that banning mask and vaccine mandates in public and charter schools is related to the budget because it may “potentially reduce overall enrollment and funding,” calling that “particularly disturbing” and unsupported by the legislative record.

“More concerning is the suggestion that the legislature would see this provision as a means to de-fund public and charter schools by discouraging staff and student attendance,” she continued. “There is no question that the bill’s title provide no notice of that policy measure.”

But Cooper did leave intact other provisions of that bill that she concluded did meet the constitutional requirements for a single subject and proper title, such as a change in the formula for state aid to schools.

The judge was no more impressed by arguments defending the legality of a separate bill labeled as “relating to budget procedures.”

Among its provisions are “fraud countermeasures” for paper ballots, stripping Secretary of State Katie Hobbs of her ability to defend challenges to state election laws, directing Hobbs to seek permission from the federal Election Assistance Commission to require proof of citizenship for those registering to vote only in federal elections, and even setting up a “special committee” to review the results of the audit of the 2020 election.

“So what do ‘fraud countermeasures’ in ballots have to do with a procedure for the budget?” Cooper said. “How does proof of citizenship on a federal form advance a budget procedure?”

And that, she said, does not address the separate violation of the constitutional requirement that all bills be limited to a single subject.

The judge said nothing in her ruling should come as a surprise to lawmakers.

“The Arizona Supreme Court has made it clear that logrolling is unlawful,” she wrote, citing a 2003 ruling in a fight between the legislature and then-Gov. Janet Napolitano. And as recently as 2018, Cooper said, the justices said the whole purpose of a single subject rule is to prevent lawmakers from “combining different measures into one bill so that a legislature must approve a disfavored proposition to secure passage of a favored proposition.”

In finding the method of enactment unconstitutional, Cooper said she does not need to rule on a separate argument that the ban on mask mandates at traditional public and charter schools violates constitutional requirements for equal protection because it does not apply to private and parochial schools.

Crowded write-in race in LD22 splits Dem party focus

A West Valley Senate race has gone from a sure win for an unopposed Democrat in the general election to a nineperson race of write-in candidates.

The Democrats in Legislative District 22 have been unsuccessful in narrowing the competition of their own party as the field has grown larger with Republicans. Democrats account for 36.3% of the voters in the West Valley district, compared to 17.3% of Republican voters. Independents and other parties account for 46% of registered voters.

The chaos began after former Rep. Diego Espinoza, D-Tolleson, defeated fellow Democrat Rep. Richard Andrade, D-Glendale, in the August primary election, leaving Espinoza unopposed in the general. However, Espinoza dropped out of the race on September 2 to take a job as the senior government and community relations representative for the Salt River Project.

Espinoza’s name is on the ballot, so the write-in candidate who gets the most votes wins.

Three Republicans, an independent and five Democrats are currently running in District 22.

The Democratic Precinct Committeemen held a meeting on September 14 to select a single Democrat as the party’s preferred candidate. The group heard presentations from Avondale City Councilmember Bryan Kilgore, Tolleson Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Evangeline “Eva” Diaz, school board member Steve Chapman and nonprofit operator Kenya Raymond.

Diaz received 14 votes in the meeting and was approved as the preferred nominee. “We have been presented with a golden opportunity to move our district in the right direction with refreshing new leadership,” Diaz told the committeemen at the meeting.

Kilgore quickly dropped out of the race to make way for Diaz, but Raymond – who had already filed to run as a write-in – still has not dropped out. On September 25, Chapman also filed to run against Diaz and the other candidates, much to the frustration of LD22 Chair Tina Gamez. In the meeting, Chapman received seven votes to Diaz’s 14.

“Needless to say, we are quite disappointed with his decision to run, putting our Democratic seat at risk to fall to a Republican,” Gamez said in a text. “Mr. Chapman participated in the vote process and our district chose Dr. Diaz, and he’s coming in now as a potential spoiler,” Gamez said.

This week a rumor started floating round the district that Diaz is a supporter of charter schools and private schools, but not public schools. Diaz heard the rumor third hand and tweeted that she does support public schools as a public-school teacher herself.

Diaz and her mother Ruth Diaz co-own a private preschool, but it stopped operating in 2020.

“As to who started this rumor, we don’t know, but we find it interesting considering that a school board member has thrown his hat in the ring. We find this is an attempt to confuse educators who will vote for the best public schools-supporting candidate,” Gamez said. She did not refer to Chapman by name, but he is a school board member.

Other Democrats including Andrade and Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale also expressed that the party should rally behind a single Democratic candidate.

Two more Democrats; Justin Crawford and Paul Valach, entered the race on September 28.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors appointed Devin Del Palacio, Tolleson Unified High School District Governing Board member and chair of the National Black Council of School Board Members, to finish out Espinoza’s current term as representative for the former Legislative District 19 in a meeting September 28.

LD 22 Write-in Candidates


Steve Chapman (Write-in)

Justin Crawford (Write-in)

Eva Diaz (Write-in)

Kenya Raymond (Write-in)

Paul Valach (Write-in)


Ryan Benson (Write-in)

Jeff Norwood (Write-in)

Steve Robinson (Write-in)


Stephen Diehl

Crowd’s treatment of Ugenti-Rita heightens Senate discord

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, angrily speaks during the vote of her bill to trim the Permanent Early Voting List while Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who voted against the measure, killing it, listens. SCREEN CAPTURE ARIZONA LEGISLATURE
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, angrily speaks April 22, 2021, during the vote of her bill to trim the Permanent Early Voting List while Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who voted against the measure, killing it, listens. SCREEN CAPTURE ARIZONA LEGISLATURE

The unfriendly crowd Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita encountered at a Trump rally July 24 may prove problematic for her secretary of state run, but what happened after may complicate the 2022 legislative session.  

After leaving the stage, Ugenti-Rita ran into a teenage provocateur working for a right-wing website whose approach of journalism consists of yelling at elected officials and bureaucrats he dislikes. She answered his first question – she blocked some of Sen. Kelly Townsend’s election bills because they were “bad” — and tried to walk away as the man yelled more questions after her. 

Ugenti-Rita eventually told event security the man was harassing her, at which point they asked him to leave. Townsend encouraged him to return. 

“This shows (Townsend’s) erratic emotional behavior & sick personal vendetta against me and others masked as caring about election integrity,” Ugenti-Rita tweeted. “If she isn’t stopped someone is going to get hurt.”  

Her message continued as a direct appeal to Senate President Karen Fann: “This is the 2nd Senate member (Townsend) has encouraged violence against and you continue to ignore the situation. You must deal with her behavior immediately for the safety of the public, staff and members.”  

Simmering tensions between Townsend and Ugenti-Rita have already killed multiple bills supported by the remainder of their caucuses. Townsend insists it won’t happen next year – but she also wants Ugenti-Rita to resign.  

“I don’t care how well she’s done with election issues, or for how long she’s done it or how well she’s done it,” Townsend said. “If she is abusive in her position of power, then she needs to resign. We’ll find somebody that respects the community enough to not do that to them.” 

Conflict within the caucus isn’t limited to the pair of senators. Senate Republicans can’t afford to lose a single vote on any legislation that Democrats won’t support, and leaders have continued to alienate Sen. Paul Boyer, the Glendale Republican most likely to balk on some issues – particularly the Senate’s ongoing audit of 2020 election results. 

This week alone, Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, went on a conservative talk show to complain that Boyer went “over to the dark side” and someone moved Boyer’s desk on the Senate floor to the Democratic side of the aisle. The desk-mover could be Senate Majority Whip Sonny Borrelli, who’s in charge of seating charts, but he didn’t return inquiries from Boyer or the Arizona Capitol Times. Fann and Ugenti-Rita also did not return phone calls.  

Longtime lobbyist Chuck Coughlin speculated that problems in the Senate Republican caucus may result in Fann’s ouster, or even a power-sharing agreement with Senate Democrats.  

“It’s the cannibalization of their own caucus,” he said. “I’m not clear that with these types of divisions going on and a one-seat majority that the leadership arrangement will persist.” 

The Senate stands in sharp contrast to the House, where Speaker Rusty Bowers has held a 31-member Republican caucus with a one-vote majority in check for the past three years. Bowers has had disputes in his own caucus, including threats to replace him as speaker and a failed recall attempt supported by some House Republicans, but the House’s conflicts have never boiled over in the same way. 

Coughlin attributes much of that success to Bowers’ even-keeled temperament. Like Coughlin’s former boss, Gov. Jan Brewer, and former President Ronald Reagan, the speaker seems to follow a rule of not publicly criticizing members of their own party.   

“Speaker Bowers has been around much longer, and his discipline with regard to internal disputes won’t allow those things to come out,” Coughlin said. “He’s a very grace-filled man. He’s a human punching bag, but he never reacts to that. And, (House Majority Leader Ben) Toma is same way.”  

Fann has been publicly critical of some of the senators in her caucus since shortly after she became president. During an end-of-session interview with the Arizona Capitol Times in 2019, Fann complained about a lack of “team spirit” from a group of new Republican senators who refused to vote for the budget plan she presented to them unless and until it included their priorities.  

“It’s very hurtful to think that you work very closely with people only to find out that their personal wishes are more important than that of the entire group,” she said.  

Prior to that, Ugenti-Rita said she asked Fann to let her preside over debate on some bills in committee of the whole, only to have Fann tell her that was a privilege reserved for “team players.”  

“I asked [Fann] specifically, and I was told that I’m not a team player and that I’m a smart girl and can figure it out,” Ugenti-Rita said in June 2019.  

Most of Fann’s comments have centered around Boyer, who began disappointing her before his first term in the Senate even began. He was one of several Republicans who voted for former House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, for Senate president, and in 2019 his crusade to secure expanded legal rights for survivors of childhood sex abuse delayed the state’s budget and led to a standdown where Boyer ultimately prevailed. 

In 2020, he joined two moderate Republicans who have since left the Senate in pushing for the Legislature to shut down during the height of the Covid pandemic. This year, he blocked Fann from arresting Maricopa County’s supervisors for contempt when they sought a court order affirming the Senate’s audit subpoenas and has become one of the most vocal Republican critics of the audit. 

Boyer said he won’t let conflicts within the Senate or pressure from outside change how he votes on legislation. If it’s a good policy, no matter who the sponsor is, he’ll vote for it, he said.  

“I’m not going to make my decision based on how I’m being treated,” he said. “I always looked at the argument. It doesn’t mean we’re going to go out for drinks after, but I don’t really do that anyways, so it’s not like I’m missing anything.” 

Curfew OK for conservatives who opposed stay-at-home order

Tucson Police Department officers guard firefighters approaching a dumpster lit on fire by protestors rallying over the death of George Floyd, Sunday, May 31, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. Protests were held throughout the country over the death of Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (Josh Galemore/Arizona Daily Star via AP)
Tucson Police Department officers guard firefighters approaching a dumpster lit on fire by protestors rallying over the death of George Floyd, Sunday, May 31, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. Protests were held throughout the country over the death of Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (Josh Galemore/Arizona Daily Star via AP)

Conservatives in the Arizona Legislature who held Gov. Doug Ducey’s feet to the fire over his COVID-19 stay-at-home order have had few qualms with the curfew he ordered in response to looting at a Scottsdale mall, despite his promises that he would not subject the state to a lockdown again.

Many Republicans, especially in the state House of Representatives, were harshly critical of the governor’s earlier response to the coronavirus, painting the lockdown as government overreach that hamstrung the state’s economy and limited the rights of Arizonans. This criticism persisted even as it became clear that most police departments were not taking advantage of the enforcement mechanism in the order, which classified violations as a Class 1 misdemeanor.

But whereas a month ago some legislative Republicans were hoping to pass a resolution overturning Ducey’s emergency declaration, they’ve been much more circumspect in their assessment of the curfew that Ducey ordered at the beginning of the week.

Mark Finchem
Mark Finchem

This more recent order, issued in the fallout of national demonstrations over racist and violent policing highlighted by the killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, bans Arizonans from going out into public — except to patronize private businesses, among other exceptions — between the hours of 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. The curfew is set to expire on June 8, though Ducey can extend it if he wishes.

Some Republicans, like Rep. Mark Finchem of Tucson, say the two situations aren’t comparable.

“On the one hand you had what was a public health emergency declaration,” he said. “My only complaint was that I thought it went on too long without informing the House and the Senate of where does this end, what are the terms and conditions of this.”

The curfew, he said, is a “whole different animal,” asserting that Ducey is using the main tool available to him to “protect state assets, lives and property.” He said the order is “distasteful,” but nonetheless necessary to stave off property damage and what he sees as a rising tide of communists and anti-fascists. “When you have people that are destroying other peoples’ property, that’s the leftist world,” he said.

Leaders of several Arizona city and county law enforcement departments have said they would not enforce the order. Finchem said those places — which include Yuma County, the town of Winslow and others — choose not to enforce the order at their own risk, though he acknowledged that many of these jurisdictions aren’t seeing mass protests anyhow.

This is not to say that some conservatives don’t think that cities should have that latitude.

Bob Thorpe
Bob Thorpe

Rep. Bob Thorpe, who was among the many GOP critics of Ducey’s stay-at-home order, said he supports the governor’s curfew, though he wishes it could be more narrowly targeted.

“What we saw, especially in Scottsdale, is extremely troubling and in that regard I’m glad they did the curfew,” he said, adding that he thinks local law enforcement should be able to ignore the curfew if it’s unnecessary in their communities.

He also suggested the curfew should apply only to 16 to 25 year olds, who he suspects are the driving force for the mayhem. Thorpe said he felt “absolutely horrible” for what happened to George Floyd and the anger that has spurred from it is “completely acceptable.” However, he thinks the protests are “being hijacked.”

“They’re looking at this as an opportunity to ramp it up way past a simple political protest,” he said.

Republicans are right that an apples-to-apples comparison between the stay-at-home order and the curfew is difficult, said Democratic Rep. Domingo Degrazia of Tucson — though perhaps not for the reasons they think.

“Remember that with COVID-19, we’ve had COVID viruses cruising around the planet for years,” Degrazia, an attorney who specializes in data privacy, said. “We know how they operate, how they spread. With something like a pandemic, it’s easier to point to the data and say this is where the public health issue is and this is what we should do.”

But the threat posed by protests is harder to quantify. Plus, there are legal questions to ponder, he said.

Kelly Townsend
Kelly Townsend

“Political speech is the most highly protected form of speech and protections go with the speech,” Degrazia said. “It’s hard to imagine the curfew would withstand strict scrutiny questions of whether it is necessary and narrowly tailored when mayors didn’t ask for it and rural police said they won’t enforce it.”

Ducey initially said that he issued the curfew at the behest of mayors throughout the state. But none of the mayors of large cities like Phoenix, Tucson, Yuma, Scottsdale or Flagstaff say they requested the order, and many police departments in rural Arizona have said they wouldn’t enforce it. Eventually, a spokesman for the Governor’s Office clarified that the curfew was recommended by Arizona Department of Public Safety Director Heston Silbert.

“We wanted this tool for law enforcement if they needed it.,” Ducey communications director Patrick Ptak told reporters. “It was never about, ‘Someone requested it so we did it.'”

Rep. Kelly Townsend, a Republican from Mesa who was a driving force behind an attempt to end the stay-at-home order with a concurrent resolution, has been mostly silent about the curfew, saying she has struggled to reach Ducey’s office to get more details.

“I understand why it was statewide, but I wish it was a little more clear,” she said.

Townsend said she wishes there was an option to allow cities to override the governor’s statewide order if they did not see criminal activity. “I would like to see the governor give relief to the towns that are not affected.”

Townsend said she didn’t want to condemn the governor before finding out more, since things may escalate to a point where the curfew would have been necessary. Still, she’s not comfortable with the state interfering with people’s First Amendment rights.

“But that doesn’t extend to criminal activity,” she said.

One distinction that may explain the different levels of Republican support is the impact the orders have on businesses, said Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, who supported both of the governor’s actions.

“There are no businesses being forced to shut down under this current thing, that’s probably the single biggest differentiator,” he said.

Either way, the curfew is troubling, Degrazia said, because of the “silence of lawmakers when the constitutional right to free speech is being infringed and their lack of willingness to address the underlying issues.”

He continued: “Worse yet is the abhorrent notion that all protesters are committing crimes – therefore protests should be limited. The exact opposite is true – crimes against the community sparked the protests. Instead of being silent, lawmakers should be vigilant in protecting the right to gather, march, rally, and protest peacefully.”

D.C. pundit has it wrong, Arizona Republicans ready for 2020


The Washington, D.C., pundit class has focused its sights on one of the fastest growing counties in the nation with the prediction that its voters could thwart the President’s re-election and jeopardize the chances of Republicans holding onto the U.S. Senate. Stuart Rothenberg penned an “analysis” for Roll Call, claiming that the Republicans’ chances in November look grim because of Maricopa County. Let me be unequivocally clear for the D.C. punditocracy: Arizona is Trump country and our Republican activists will keep it that way.

Maricopa County is one of the fastest growing counties because of opportunity. Despite the setback caused by the Coronavirus crisis that is impacting the entire country’s economy, the long-term outlook for both Arizona and Maricopa County is bright. We have a pro-business and pro-job growth environment. We are also considered to have among the strongest pro-life and Second Amendment laws in the nation. Going back to Barry Goldwater, Arizonans are known for passionately supporting individual liberties and limited government. This culture of freedom, combined with the historic accomplishments of President Trump and Republican leadership in our state, makes Arizona attractive to virtually all Americans.

Kelli Ward (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Kelli Ward (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

In his piece, Rothenberg attempts to juxtapose data from the 2016 and 2018 electoral cycles to make dire predictions for Republicans in 2020 but neglects to point out on-the-ground realities. In 2016, Donald Trump was still a political newcomer and was mostly known for his luxury hotels, reality TV shows, and candid demeanor. Some Republicans and conservative independents were uncertain of how a President Trump would govern if elected.

Now they know and are convinced. They have seen a president who promotes and delivers on tax cuts; continues to appoint judges who interpret the Constitution instead of trying to rewrite it; firmly supports religious freedom and pro-life policies; cuts red tape that strangles business; and, when facing challenges from China and other foreign threats, always places America first. Most importantly, they see a president who has kept his promises.

This is compared to a Democratic Party that has prioritized endless investigations and an utterly failed attempted impeachment, embraces socialism and government-run healthcare, scolds Americans for their patriotism, divides our nation into the favored “special interest” groups of their intersectional identity politics, and incessantly proposes economy crushing regulations and spending.

With that said, Republicans in Arizona are still expecting a serious challenge. That’s why there are already 60 field staff strategically placed across Arizona working hard at training grassroots volunteers. In the past 10 months, Republicans have held more than 670 MAGA Meet Ups. We have also switched to an online format of campaigning in response to the stay at home order and, since March 13, have successfully organized 325 digital meet ups with Arizonans. In addition, this week, we passed the milestone of 1 million phone calls made to Arizona voters, fueled by the Republican grassroots activists who signed up and attended one of our nearly 1,000 Trump Victory Leadership Initiative trainings that have been held this cycle to date.

In 2020, unlike 2016, the Trump campaign is bolstered by a Republican Party that is united and has an established grassroots infrastructure. The reality on the ground – and this is something the Beltway class fails to understand – is that we are more ready than we have ever been before.

While Arizona Republicans do not take the challenge presented to us in a Maricopa County and across the state lightly, we certainly take Rothenberg’s predictions with a grain of salt. After all, in April of 2009 he forecasted the Republican’s chances of recapturing the U.S. House in 2010 as “zero” and as late as October of 2016, he placed Donald Trump’s chances of a victory as “non-existent,” ridiculously declaring that Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin were never in play. With that sort of track record, perhaps we should be encouraged by his analysis.

Dr. Kelli Ward is a family physician, two-term Arizona state senator, and the chairwoman of the Republican Party or Arizona. On Twitter: @KelliWardAZ

Death threats, harassment plague Hobbs, staff

Katie Hobbs

Katie Hobbs was working late on November 17 when she got a disturbing call from her husband. There were protestors outside their home, and at least one was armed. They shouted that “we are watching you,” “we want an audit” and various expletives.  

Hobbs, Arizona’s secretary of state, has been dealing with this sort of fury and vitriol ever since Election Night, stirred by claims of widespread voter fraud pushed by President Trump and his legions of supporters. The incident at Hobbs’ house dissipated when a neighbor phoned the police, who eventually showed up and cleared out the crowd from her condominium complex in central Phoenix.  

But over the next six months, things didn’t lighten up.  

Hobbs, a Democrat, is one of many election officials, both local and national, who maintain that this was a clean and “secure election,” she said. 

That has made Hobbs and her family targets of death threats. In November, her address and son’s phone number were posted to Parler — a social media site billing itself a free speech alternative to Twitter — while also calling her “leftist scum” and that she likes to run “rigged elections.”  

Hobbs this month requested protection from the Department of Public Safety for the second time since the election. But that protection doesn’t extend to her staff who face a daily barrage of harassment over the phone, leaving them to feel vulnerable and unable to conduct the office’s business. 


“Someone sent me a screenshot of something from Parler where they said, ‘Let’s burn her house down and kill her family and teach these fraudsters a lesson,’” Hobbs told Arizona Capitol Times at the time. “But quite honestly they’re coming so fast and furious that I don’t even know them all.”  

Hobbs said she referred several of the threats to law enforcement. After looking into it, DPS did not escalate the complaints further than an initial investigation, but as of May 10 the law enforcement agency had new threats to look into. 

Hobbs wouldn’t go into detail about these new threats during an interview on May 10 because of pending investigations, but whatever was said warranted Gov. Doug Ducey, Republican, to grant Hobbs 24-hour security detail. 

She said she probably doesn’t even know about all of the threats as people have flooded all phone lines, emails and any other way of reaching her office. And it has affected the day-to-day operations, she added.  

“It’s definitely impacted all the public facing operations of our office, because, they’re just going to try to call in at any avenue that might be available …  and so, we had to go back to where people who are in the office are not answering their phones live because they’re being subjected to horribly harassing callers,” Hobbs said, adding that all calls are going to voicemail. “It takes longer for everyone to do their job because someone has to check the voicemails and it’s interfering with our ability to serve the public like we were supposed to.” 

Besides overseeing the state’s elections, the secretary of state has jurisdiction over notaries, lobbyists, and trade names and trademarks 

Hobbs said she’s unfortunately felt numb to it all at this point, but one part that still has taken a toll is how her family has dealt with it.  

She said what bothers her most at this point is her mother’s reaction to constantly seeing her name on the news following a barrage of threats.  

“I haven’t been able to spend a lot of time with her in the last year and a half,” Hobbs said, adding that she gets calls from her mom “really upset because she doesn’t know what’s going on and then spending Mother’s Day in that situation was really hard.” 

“Frankly, as an elected official, you can say that I signed up for this. But none of my staff did,” she said after the harassment in November.  


But it’s not just Hobbs who it has taken a toll on. 

Chris Rhode, a management analyst who left Hobbs’ office at the end of April, said he feared for his life while working this past election.  

“We turned off our phones because the volume of abuse was so high,” he told Capitol Times. “One that stuck in my memory was a guy that said he wanted to ‘hunt’ us [and] the secretary.”  

Rhode said that as one of the staff members who listened and read through threatening messages, it did not make him feel safe as a state employee, but that he wanted to share what he went through because his now-former colleagues are still dealing with it. 

Rhode said it was concerning to him that DPS did not do more with threats that came pouring in late last year. Going through the messages, he said, he wondered if someone was going to “track me down and shoot me through my apartment’s dining room window.” 

It’s far from only being a problem in Arizona, as election officials have experienced harassment throughout the country following the 2020 election. 

But with Arizona’s unprecedented audit at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the state has been in the national spotlight as conspiracy theorists and hardcore Trump supporters hope evidence of fraud appears so these challenges can continue into other states. 

This is a major reason why Hobbs is the only major election official in the country still receiving death threats months after the election. Other states – especially swing states like Pennsylvania and Georgia where election officials were subjects of threats – aren’t actively trying to keep the 2020 election in the news, at least not yet.  

The months-long saga resulted in veiled death threats made in public against Ducey for certifying the election; Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, for voting against holding the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in contempt; House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, for refusing to allow the use of the Arizona House for an unofficial hearing with Trump’s lawyers and lawmakers who advance the “Stop the Steal” premise; and all five Maricopa supervisors for certifying the election and fighting the Senate over the audit. 

Ken Bennett, the former Republican secretary of state and audit liaison, also said he received a threatening email and sent it to the Phoenix Police Department.  

On the same day that Hobbs received what her staff called a “really creepy and specific” threat and a freelancer for an ardently conservative media outlet aggressively accosted her, Hobbs asked for and received DPS protection.  

Murphy Hebert, Hobbs’ communications director, said the freelancer hovered around Hobbs during another interview on the Senate lawn.  

“My spidey senses just went up and I thought as soon as we’re done here, we need to get Hobbs back into the office because this guy is giving me the creeps, basically,” she said.  

Hebert tried to stall him by asking which outlet he was with, and he lied, claiming to be an “independent YouTuber named Jimmy.”  

Hebert said the Gateway Pundit freelancer then pushed past her to chase down Hobbs and another employee while yelling questions at Hobbs. Hobbs tweeted about the incident and recent threats she received.  

“Earlier today a man called my office saying I deserve to die and wanting to know ‘what she is wearing so she’ll be easy to get.’ It was one of at least three such threats today,” she tweeted on May 6. “Then a man who I’ve never seen before chased me and my staffer outside of our office.”  

And while he was quick to grant protection, Ducey had not reached out to Hobbs about the death threats, leading Hobbs to question his leadership. 

“The lack of leaders willing to stand up for what’s right despite the consequences is pretty alarming. And I know everybody’s afraid of what Trump and his base is going to do, but Trump’s already thrown Ducey under the bus 400 times,” Hobbs said. 

At least one Republican did reach out to Hobbs though, she said. It was Republican U.S. Rep. Debbie Lesko, who served in the Arizona Legislature with Hobbs for several years. 

Hobbs wouldn’t say what Lesko said, but told Capitol Times it was “a very thoughtful sentiment,” that she was sorry it was happening and was praying for her safety.  

Lesko joined fellow Arizona Republicans Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar in voting to overturn Arizona’s election on January 6, and has not spoken publicly about the audit. 

Through the threats and harassment, Hobbs, a prospective candidate for governor in 2022, is keeping a positive outlook and is using the threats as motivation.  

“I’m getting some really good workouts in,” she said. 



Decade of Dem gains sets stage for nail-biter legislative races

Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Ahwatukee, listens to a speaker during a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee on March 8, 2017. Bowie represents Legislative District 18, which has seen a nearly 10,000 person shift in favor of Democrats since 2016. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR
Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Ahwatukee, listens to a speaker during a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee on March 8, 2017. Bowie represents Legislative District 18, which has seen a nearly 10,000 person shift in favor of Democrats since 2016. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR

Eight years ago, newly drawn legislative maps cost Republicans their supermajorities in the House and Senate.

This year, the final election with the districts drawn in 2011, Republicans could lose their majorities, period.

In their fifth and final outing with the current districts, Republicans in the legislative majority face a daunting set of maps. Registered Republicans might outnumber Democrats by nearly 100,000 statewide, but Democrats made significant voter registration gains in Phoenix suburbs, where a handful of districts in which Republicans held double-digit leads in voter registration in 2012 are now well within reach for Democrats.

With just one true exception — and one technicality — House and Senate seats have only flipped when fewer than 10 percentage points separate voter registration numbers for the two major parties. This year, that holds true in nine districts: five represented entirely by Republicans, two represented solely by Democrats and two with split party representation.

Rural Republican districts have only gotten redder. But while dramatic increases in registered Republican voters in Prescott and Mohave County might aid Republicans seeking statewide office, that growth does little to help build margins in the state House and Senate.

Democrats, who only need to flip two seats to win the state House and three to win the Senate, have multiple options in the Valley, as well as a perpetually close district in northern Arizona. Republicans are on the defensive, with their best — though still slim — chances for picking up seats in suburban districts they recently lost and a southern Arizona district where Democrats hold a double-digit lead in registered voters. 

The best shot: LD 28

ld-28In north Phoenix, former lawmaker Eric Meyer sees a clearer path forward for Democratic Senate candidate Christine Marsh in her race against incumbent Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee than Meyer had when he and Brophy McGee squared off for the then-open Senate seat four years ago. 

Legislative District 28, which encompasses the Biltmore area, Arcadia, Sunnyslope and the upscale town of Paradise Valley, has always been a little unusual. Meyer, Brophy McGee and then-incumbent Republican Rep. Amanda Reeve all ended up in LD28 through redistricting in 2012, when cutting off more liberal parts of central Phoenix created a district with a Republican voter registration edge of 12.4 percentage points.

Eric Meyer
Eric Meyer

Meyer won, building up votes on the geographic edges of the district where Hispanic and Democratic voters are concentrated and persuading enough of the moderate white Republicans who made up the bulk of the district to vote for him. LD28 continued having at least one Democratic representative, then gained a second House seat in 2018. 

A gradual shift in voter registration numbers began accelerating rapidly after the 2018 election, when Rep. Aaron Lieberman won his House seat and Marsh came within 300 votes of beating Brophy McGee. In the two years since, Democrats have registered nearly 5,000 more new voters in the district than Republicans, and the Republican voter registration edge shrank to 1.9 percentage points. 

Meyer, who is still active in district politics, attributes that increase in large part to a more robust and well-organized district Democratic Party. Now, LD28 Democratic volunteers work year round to keep their newly registered voters engaged, with volunteer political opportunities and social events, including book clubs and trivia nights scheduled every month. 

Donald Trump helped LD28 Democrats too, after initially providing a boost to Republicans in 2016 in his successful run for president. Suburban, white, college-educated voters who historically voted for Republicans for economic reasons dislike what they see as the bombastic rhetoric and divisive politics of the Trump administration, helping Democrats win legislative and congressional seats in 2018. 

“Right now, if the election were held today, enthusiasm in District 28 is pretty high,” Meyer said. “There’s a lot more Democrats that have been registered, so that’s in Christine’s favor. The district is more organized with volunteers, the voters are excited and the polling looks good for Christine. Everything’s looking good right now, but it depends on what happens on Election Day.”

The Southeast Valley – LD17 and LD18

In the Southeast Valley, a post-Trump suburban shift has been bolstered by an influx of new residents from other states, fueled by a booming tech industry in Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert and Mesa.

ld18In Legislative District 18, which includes Ahwatukeee and parts of Tempe, Chandler and Mesa, Republicans started the decade with a voter registration edge of 8.6 percentage points. By 2018, the district had elected a slate of three Democrats. Now, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans. 

“When I was first elected in 2016, there were about 6,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats,” said Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Ahwatukee. “Today, there are about 4,000 more registered Democrats. You see a 10,000 person shift in the last four years, so I think it’s a couple of things causing it.”

Longtime Republican voters turned off by Trump were more willing to give moderate Democrats a try, voting in 2018 for Democratic U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and three legislative Democrats. And an increase of new young voters, many drawn to the mostly single-family zoning in LD18 to start their families, brought Democratic voting patterns with them. 

Bowie noted: “My district, and District 28 and District 17 which is just to the east of me, if you look at the performance from 2016, 2018 and even primary turnout from this year, you just see a really marked shift away from Republicans in those areas.” Bowie said.

LD18 Republicans struggled to find viable challengers to Democratic incumbents this year, ending up with a QAnon conspiracy theorist to challenge Bowie and former lawmaker Bob Robson and write-in candidate Don Hawker running in the House after an initial House candidate dropped out over fears about contracting COVID-19. 

ld17In LD17, changing demographics have Sen. J.D. Mesnard running scared. Democratic Rep. Jennifer Pawlik of Chandler didn’t just flip a House seat in 2018 – she came in first place, beating out Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, by about 400 votes after he secured roughly 7,000 votes more than she did just two years before.

This year, Weninger is most likely safe. Democrats opted to stick with the “single-shot” strategy of running only one candidate in the House and asking Pawlik supporters to leave their second choice for the state House blank. 

J.D. Mesnard
J.D. Mesnard

But Mesnard is one of the top targets of state and national Democratic groups, second only to Brophy McGee when it comes to endangered GOP senators. 

LD17 had a nearly 15 percentage point Republican lead in voter registration in 2012. Now, it’s 6.4 percentage points. And independent voters who broke for Mesnard and Weninger in 2016 jumped to Pawlik in 2018, raising hopes for Democrats that Senate candidate Ajlan Kurdoglu will win the seat.

Chandler has a combination of the suburban voters who dislike the president and a growing workforce led by transplants from blue areas like California, Chicago and the Northeast. 

“I wouldn’t call it the perfect storm, but it’s quite the storm here,” Mesnard said.

The West Valley – LD20 and LD21

Across town, rapid population growth in the West Valley has moved Legislative District 20 and Legislative District 21 into reachable territory for Democrats. 

Sinema won LD20 in 2018, and the 10 percentage point voter registration lead Republicans held in the Glendale-based district in 2012 has narrowed to only 4 percentage  points. Liberal groups are spending heavily in the district to help Democratic candidate Judy Schwiebert unseat either Rep. Anthony Kern or Rep. Shawnna Bolick.

ld20They’re less bullish about opportunities to remove Republican Sen. Paul Boyer, who enjoys significant support from unions because of his dogged pursuit of health protections for firefighters. 

LD21 is a tougher district to flip, as the Republican voter registration advantage only fell from 10.1 to 9  percentage points since 2012. It includes portions of rapidly growing Peoria, but also contains the wealthy conservative retirement community of Sun City. 

Democratic hopes in LD21 are pinned primarily on the perceived strength of their House candidate, former independent Kathy Knecht. As an independent running for the Senate in the district in 2018, Knecht came within 3,500 votes of winning a seat. 

Republicans previously won the district with margins of 20 points, putting Knecht’s 4.4-point loss to Sen. Rick Gray well above expectations. This year, she has the benefit of running for an open seat and with the backing of a major party. 

The constant: LD6

Like in LD21, party registration splits in Legislative District 6 have remained relatively constant throughout the past eight years. Republicans now hold an 8.8percentage point voter registration lead, down from 10.6 percentage points in 2012.

General elections have always been close — Republican Sen. Sylvia Allen of Snowflake eked out wins over Democratic opponents by fewer than 2,000 votes in nail-biter races in 2016 and 2018, and Democratic candidate Felicia French came within 600 votes of winning a seat in the state House in 2018.

Walt Blackman
Walt Blackman

This year, Democrats see an opportunity to win seats in the House, Senate or both because of the strength of their candidates. French is now running for the Senate, and she has spent most of the intervening two years still on the campaign trail, going door-to-door to meet with voters in even the most remote areas of the sprawling northern Arizona district.

She won’t face Allen, a White Mountain fixture who managed to maintain relationships with conservative Democrats as well as Republicans and independents to win re-election. After a decade of failed runs for Congress in Tempe and northern Arizona, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Wendy Rogers turned her sights on LD6, trouncing Allen in the August Republican primary. 

To prevent a French win, a political action committee connected with Ducey is spending tens of thousands of dollars on ads to convince voters that French is too radical for LD6. And GOP consultants are trying the same strategy in the House, where Democratic Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans and independent Coconino County Supervisor Art Babbott are challenging sitting Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, and former Rep. Brenda Barton. 

Southern Arizona 

In 2012, two Tucson-area legislative districts appeared to be the most competitive in the state. Democrats led in voter registration by 3.9 percentage points in Legislative District 9, which elected one Republican to the House, and by 3.4 percentage points in Legislative District 10.

LD 9 flipped permanently blue in 2014, when Rep. Randy Friese defeated incumbent Ethan Orr. Now, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 14 percentage points, and the last Republican to challenge Friese and Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley lost by about 12,000 votes. 

LD10 remains closer, and had a single Republican representative, Todd Clodfelter, between 2016 and 2018. Democrats appear unworried about their chances of keeping the district this year.

As Tucson itself grew more blue, the surrounding areas also began to shift. Democrats narrowed registration margins by nearly 4 percentage points in neighboring Legislative District 11, from a 13.2 percentage point Republican edge in 2012 to 9.4 percentage points this year. 

Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, speaks before the Senate Finance Committee on March 8, 2017. Democrats have targeted Finchem even though he serves in a relatively safe district in which the Republican voter registration advantage has shrunk to less than 10 percentage points over Democrats, an historical threshold for districts to flip. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR
Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, speaks before the Senate Finance Committee on March 8, 2017. Democrats have targeted Finchem even though he serves in a relatively safe district in which the Republican voter registration advantage has shrunk to less than 10 percentage points over Democrats, an historical threshold for districts to flip. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR

Winning a seat in LD11 from entrenched GOP incumbents Sen. Vince Leach of Saddlebrooke and Rep. Mark Finchem of Oro Valley is a long shot. But Democratic political action committees have begun spending there as part of an aggressive strategy. 

Republicans with few opportunities to pick up seats this cycle are eyeing Legislative District 4, a vast southern Arizona district that contains large areas of Maricopa, Pima and Yuma counties and a single precinct in Pinal County.

Democrats still hold a formidable voter registration edge of exactly 16 percentage points, a figure that fluctuated over the past eight years from a high of 17 percentage points to a low of 15.4 percentage points. 

A Republican strategy for picking up a House seat in LD4 relies on picking off Rep. Gerae Peten, D-Goodyear, who hails from the growing Maricopa County portion of the district where Republicans have proliferated in recent years. A Senate strategy is less clear.

From purple to red: LD8

The only permanent pickup opportunity Republicans had over the past few years came from Legislative District 8 in Pinal County, a one-time Democratic stronghold that has shifted steadily to the right over the past two decades. 

ld8After the 2012 elections, Democratic Sen. Barbara McGuire was the only Democrat representing LD8, though registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 6.5 points. By 2016, McGuire was out, and Republicans now lead in voter registration by 3.6 percentage points.

Pinal County Supervisor and former Senate President Pete Rios began predicting that shift nearly two decades ago, when the unincorporated community of San Tan Valley began to develop. About 80,000 people now live in what was an undeveloped desert and agricultural land 20 years ago. 

Pete Rios
Pete Rios

Rios noticed at the time that most of the people buying homes in San Tan Valley weren’t moving from out of state. Rather, they were conservative Republicans from the East Valley, who jumped at the chance to own a large home for tens of thousands of dollars less than they would pay in Mesa, Gilbert or Chandler.

Simultaneously, the southeast corner of Pinal County saw the development of the Saddlebrooke Ranch retirement community, which drew a large population of Republican retirees from around the country. 

And the old mining towns that had long been Democratic strongholds experienced population loss. As recent high school graduates fled their small towns to go to the Phoenix area or Tucson, and old miners died, the number of Democrats in Pinal County began shrinking.

“We were seeing Republicans grow by leaps and bounds in the valley of Pinal County and Democrats dwindling in the mountain area of Pinal County,” Rios said. “So, it was only a matter of time before Pinal County was going to swing and swing strongly to the Republican side.”

Republicans still play defense in LD8, with Ducey’s PAC and the Republican Legislative Victory Fund spending to help Rep. T.J. Shope of Coolidge and Sen. Frank Pratt of Casa Grande, but Democrats don’t include the district in their list of priorities. 

Pinal County is all but a lost cause for Democrats, said Rios, now running for his final term on the Board of Supervisors. 

 “The bottom line is, it’s only going to get worse for Democrats,” he said. “Republicans are going to keep growing in Pinal County.”

Dem candidates in red districts taught to embrace progressive values

U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, has never won less than 66 percent of the vote in Arizona’s 4th Congressional District, but that doesn’t mean potential challenger David Brill plans to back down from his Democratic principles.

David Brill
David Brill

“We all want to see backbone,” said Brill, who is running in the Democratic primary in the district. “Whether you agree on every value or every issue, of course not … but, yes, you want to see backbone.”

Brill was one of more than 400 candidates in Washington for Progressive Change Campaign Committee training on how to sell a progressive message to the voters in conservative districts.

The mantra of the day was “any blue just won’t do,” and speakers at the event, such as Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, said the path for Democratic victory in conservative districts is to embrace progressive values and positions, not hide from them.

Most of the few Arizona Democrats in attendance said they intended to embrace the message.

Brianna Westbrook, a candidate for state Senate District 22, said she “definitely agreed” with the morning’s mantra.

Brianna Westbrook
Brianna Westbrook

“We need blue candidates that are standing by their values, standing up for people-issues like Medicare for all, $15 minimum wage, protecting our nation’s immigrants,” she said. “These are things that any blue should do, but any blue doesn’t do.”

Brill had his doubts.

“I’m not entirely on board with all of the message which is presented by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, by any means,” Brill said.

The Arizona candidates did agree that Democrats have a good chance of winning back some control in the state, where both chambers of the state legislature and every statewide elected office is held by a Republican.

Mike Noble, chief pollster with OH Predictive Insights, said “currently it’s a great election cycle for the Democrats,” but warned that “the pendulum swings both ways.”

Noble said that while Democrats may make gains in swing seats, “districts that are traditionally Republican are safe.”

But Joe Bisaccia, a Democrat running for the Arizona House of Representatives 12th District seat, said Republicans are angry, too.

“I’ve talked to lots and lots of … traditionally Republican voters that are fed up with the lip service from the governor and from the legislature, year in and year out of them saying, ‘Trust us, we’re going to fix the problem,’” said Bisaccia, who is also a teacher at Cooley Middle School.

“And every year it’s the same song and dance, and they’re ready to try something different,” he said.

Joe Bisaccia
Joe Bisaccia

Westbrook believes the Democratic Party’s energy is at the highest level it’s ever been in the state, and she thinks that energy will carry Democrats to victory.

“I absolutely believe that Arizona is on the verge of turning blue,” she said. “We have candidates in every single race, the most that Arizona has ever seen.”

While Brill acknowledged he faces an uphill battle trying to unseat Gosar, he said he has talked to Arizona voters and they are looking for change.

“Gosar is so far to the radical side that he has caused a lot of people here in Arizona … to be pretty upset with him,” Brill said. “We’re talking Republicans, especially Republicans with families who care about the education of their kids, the debt their kids are taking on and working two jobs and not advancing a career.”

But Noble does not think Gosar has any reason to worry about losing his seat in a district where Republicans account for almost 45 percent of registered voters and Democrats just over 19 percent.

“He’s a hard-right guy but in that district, it’s what you need,” Noble said of Gosar.

Bisaccia understands that Arizona will not turn blue overnight but thinks Arizona voters are ready for a change.

“I’m not sitting here saying Democrats are going to clean the board, take both chambers of the Legislature, beat (Gov. Doug) Ducey, win four or five state offices,” Bisaccia said. “A very, very good year in Arizona for Democrats would be to flip one of the chambers in the Legislature and win one or two statewide offices.

Even that scorecard wouldn’t turn Arizona blue, he said.

“But I think it’s going to solidify Arizona as one of those future battleground states for the next 10 to 15 years.”

Dem election plan puts candidate in nearly every race

Lynsey Robinson
Lynsey Robinson

Queen Creek resident Lynsey Robinson has hit many roadblocks on her way to becoming a Democratic candidate for the House in Legislative District 12.

Robinson, 41, came to the United States from Haiti in 1985 on a visitor visa with her grandfather. However, the pair, who were visiting Robinson’s aunt in New York for the summer, overstayed their three-month visas after her grandfather became sick.

When the grandfather died, Robinson, who was 8 at the time, said her parents and her aunt debated sending her back to Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, but instead her aunt took her in.

The decision opened up doors for Robinson that she said she may have never had back home. But without permanent legal status in the United States for nearly two decades, Robinson said she became stuck in a pattern of starting something but never finishing, not because of her abilities but because of her immigration status.

That all changed when she became a legal permanent resident in 2004 and a U.S. citizen in 2010.

Even though her background may not resemble that of the constituents in LD12, Robinson attributes her success to perseverance and a good education, and she said that’s something that will strike a chord with voters in the historically conservative district.

Robinson is one of the 114 Democratic candidates vying for a seat in the Arizona Legislature.

This year, the Democratic Party is by design fielding a candidate in nearly every federal, statewide and legislative race, with the exception of one, a strategy that has paid off in other states.

It’s the first time since at least 1998 that so many Democrats have jumped into the race, and it’s a 41-percent increase from 2016 when 81 Democrats qualified for the ballot. The second highest number of Democrats who have run for the Legislature in the past 20 years was in 2002 when 101 filed for office, according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office historical election results database.

Charles Fisher, executive director of the Arizona Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said the group’s goal is to saturate the ballot in hopes of getting as many Democrats elected as possible.

Fisher calls it the “reverse coattail effect.” Rather than having a big-name candidate at the top of the ticket drawing in voters, which can have a down-ballot impact, he said he hopes that by having a candidate in almost every legislative race, even in overwhelmingly red districts, it will drive up voter turnout on an off-year election and possibly lead to success at the statewide level and in the U.S. Senate race.

The strategy worked in Virginia where the large pool of Democratic candidates in 2017 led to the election of a Democratic attorney general and governor, he said.

Fisher said the party is also banking on strong showings in federal and state legislative races nationwide, and candidates are inspired by what they saw this year with the “Red for Ed” movement.

But the candidates don’t see themselves as being just sacrificial lambs in the party’s grand scheme.

They are providing a voice to those who may not have had anyone to support in prior elections and to those who are tired of what they’ve seen happening at the Legislature, Robinson said.

While Robinson and Democratic LD12 Senate candidate Elizabeth Brown acknowledge that they’re the underdogs in their respective elections, they seem unfazed by the fact that there are almost 40,250 more active registered Republicans in the district than there are Democrats.

Brown, a two-time candidate who ran for the Senate in 2016, said she thinks she has a better chance of being elected this year than she did two years ago, and she added that the teacher strike and the “Red for Ed” movement boosted her confidence.

Brown said she has spoken with constituents on both sides of the aisle and independents who are less interested in partisan politics and are looking for candidates who will be effective and get work done.

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

That’s something first-time candidate Michelle Harris, of Buckeye, has also heard for years. She’s running as a Democrat for the Senate in Legislative District 13, which spans parts of Yuma and Maricopa County.

Harris said she first became interested in running for office after she and her neighbors’ wastewater rates skyrocketed. She said she reached out to her state legislators and asked them to send a letter to the Arizona Corporation Commission asking that the commissioners meet with residents and reconsider the rate increase, but she never heard back from them.

“I just kind of got the stiff arm from them and that really spurred me to look into the Legislature and was really one of the reasons I decided to run,” she said. “I just thought we deserved better representation, someone who will be out in the community helping people in the district.”

Harris said while meeting with constituents she has learned that many care less about whether there’s a “D” behind her name and are just excited that she’s taking the time to meet with them.

Chandler resident Jennifer Pawlik, who is running as a Democrat for the House in Legislative District 17, said when she ran for the House in 2016 people told her she wasn’t a viable candidate. But that sentiment has changed among constituents she has spoken with this time around, she said.

And Pawlik said that while candidates in very red districts may not win, their candidacy is helping move those districts a bit to the left.

But several long-time Capitol insiders disagree on whether the surge in Democratic candidates and the party’s momentum can translate to real success in 2018.

Democratic lobbyist Barry Dill said while having good quality candidates is more important than having a large number of candidates, in a state like Arizona that has historically had a large drop off in the number of Democrats who vote in off-year elections, fielding a candidate in almost every race can lead to wins if it draws people who normally don’t vote.

“If that trend can be either reversed or mitigated to some degree, then Democrats have a great opportunity of having some success and gaining seats in the Legislature,” he said.

Republican lobbyist and former lawmaker Stan Barnes said in the 30 sessions since he was first elected in 1988, Democratic confidence has never been as high as it is today, even in the 1990s when Democrats were in the majority in the state Senate or in the early 2000s when Janet Napolitano was governor.

Barnes said the key to Democrats’ success is that they believe they can win.

“Democrats believe this is their year and that confidence translates into better candidates coming forward and more candidates coming forward translates into more resources coming into the campaigns of better Democratic candidates. And so it becomes sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy because it starts with genuine confidence by Democrats that they have something significant to gain and that it’s possible,” he said.

He said Republicans are on the defense, a bit demoralized, and there is a so-called “Jeff Flake constituency” of moderate Republicans that are unhappy with what they’re seeing at the federal level.

If you combine that with the number of Democratic candidates running this year and the possibility of national funding flowing into the state because of the U.S. Senate race, Barnes said Democrats could very well win additional seats in both chambers of the Legislature, and either tie the Senate at 15-15 or regain a majority.

And that’s a thought that keeps Republicans awake at night, he said.

Republican political consultant Chuck Coughlin is less convinced that Democrats will see greater success this year. He said one of Democrats’ key issues is education funding, but it was the governor and Republican lawmakers who delivered on the issue this session.

“We’re seeing in data that we’re collecting now that people are giving credit to the governor for delivering on the education package and Democrats walked away from that at the end, which I thought was a mistake because it was the pressure of the teachers that delivered it and that’s a sign of partisan disfunction,” he said. “The credit was theirs to take and they chose to walk away.”

That will make it harder for Democratic candidates in more conservative districts to make their case to voters, he said.

Longtime Capitol lobbyist Barry Aarons said Democrats have to make sure they don’t spread themselves too thin, focusing on a handful of seats they can actually seize instead of on all 90.

Fisher, of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said while past efforts to gain seats in the Legislature have failed because Democrats tried to bite off too much, this year the caucus is much more organized. The Senate, he said, is the top priority.

Aarons said the momentum could also backfire, waking up a dormant Republican majority that has for decades coasted through the election without a primary or general foe.

He said he has spoken with incumbents in what have typically been considered safe districts and they aren’t taking anything for granted this year, ramping up campaign efforts to ensure they are re-elected.

“Democrats have to be careful that they don’t wake up the beast and wake up after the election and find that they’ve lost some seats,” he said.

Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, who is seeking election to the House, said he’s running a strong campaign this year in response to what he sees as a Democratic base that is fired up and energized.

“There’s a saying in politics that you always run scared no matter what and that is especially true this year,” he said, adding that while he doesn’t think his seat is vulnerable, there are others that are.

Democratic groups withhold money from CD8 race

Democrat Dr. Hiral Tipirneni is facing off against former state Sen. Debbie Lesko, a Republican, is Arizona's 8th Congressional District.
Democrat Dr. Hiral Tipirneni is facing off against former state Sen. Debbie Lesko, a Republican, is Arizona’s 8th Congressional District.

Even as national Republican groups spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District, their Democratic counterparts have left Dr. Hiral Tipirneni to fend for herself.

The National Republican Committee has spent just over $280,000 on door-to-door field operations in support of former state Sen. Debbie Lesko, who ran away with the Republican nomination in the February special primary election. She won on February 27 about 12 percentage points ahead of her nearest competitor, former state Rep. Phil Lovas.

And on March 27, Politico reported the National Republican Congressional Committee coordinated with Lesko on a TV buy for $170,000, while GOP super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund planned to spend about $100,000 to reach voters via phone and online.

All the while, there has been nothing but crickets from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – or at least from its pockets.

Republican consultant Ryan O’Daniel said Tipirneni, a former emergency room physician, is intelligent and well-spoken, but that won’t be enough to overcome the image of her as a liberal Democrat in a heavily conservative district.

He said she would be a viable candidate in Arizona’s 9th Congressional District, but not in CD8. And the national Democrats have to prioritize what they see as more competitive races.

“Democrats are going to have some very targeted races and limited resources, and if they thought this was a viable pickup, you bet they’d be spending,” he said.

O’Daniel said the Republicans’ spending could be a sign of nerves considering recent GOP losses in what should have been safe districts, such as in Alabama and Pennsylvania.

But he also said observers have to consider the candidates. He said those races pit talented, moderate Democrats, like Connor Lamb in Pennsylvania, against weak Republicans, like Roy Moore in Alabama.

And still, O’Daniel said it took a lot for Democrats to flip those districts.

In Lesko, the GOP has found a candidate well-known in the district and who continues to work hard, he said. To compare her to the likes of Moore would be comparing apples to oranges.

Tipirneni dominated the Democratic special primary with 19 percentage points more than challenger Brianna Westbrook.

But O’Daniel said she’ll now have to convince Republicans to do one of two things: stay home for the special general election on April 24 or show up to vote for a Democrat.

“The primary was a mess for sure, but the general is going to settle into what will be a more traditional turnout and traditional cycle for Republicans in CD8,” he said. “I don’t see this as being some watershed moment for the country or for the state. And quite frankly, if it is, things are going to be a lot worse than anyone anticipated.”

That’s exactly what Democratic consultant Andy Barr thinks national Republicans’ spending in the race signals, though – that they’re scared Tipirneni could pull off a victory.

“Why would they need to invest so heavily in a race that they should win with a warm body if they weren’t in trouble?” Barr said.

“We don’t have anything to lose in this race. We’re playing with house money. For Republicans, this would be a humiliation to lose this race,” he added.

“For Republicans, if they lose this race, their donors are going to lose their freaking minds.”

As for national Democrats not showing up for Tipirneni, she’s running strong on her own.

“There’s no amount of money Democrats can spend to flip 20 percent of the electorate,” he said. “If this happens, it’s because they find a way to lose it more so than if we find a way to win it.”

Democratic consultant Chad Campbell said the Republicans seem to be hedging their bet.

Still, he said the Democrats cannot play in every district where Trump won by 20-plus points without jeopardizing efforts in more winnable districts. Tipirneni just won’t be a priority in that context.

“But I think that she’s worked hard, she’s a great candidate,” Campbell said. “So if there’s anybody in this environment who can pull off an upset, it’s a candidate like her.”

Democratic poll concludes Ducey is vulnerable in 2018

Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Gov. Doug Ducey is vulnerable to a Democratic challenger in the 2018 election as voters find him lukewarm, a new poll shows.

The poll by Democratic-leaning national firm Lake Research Partners, commissioned by ProgressNow Arizona, surveyed 600 likely voters using both landlines and cell phones – 44 percent registered Republicans and 32 percent Democrats – weighted for factors like party registration, geography and gender.

According to the polling memo, 74 percent of the voters sampled participated in the 2014 elections.
The key takeaway, pollsters Joshua Ulibarri and Caroline Bye concluded, is that Ducey is vulnerable to a challenger, if that challenger can make the race competitive.

Lake Research concluded that Ducey “lacks any real definition among voters.” Ducey is up by only 8 percentage points in his favorability ratings, trails by 16 percentage points in his job performance rating, and couldn’t break the 40-percent mark in a head-to-head matchup with a generic Democrat, the poll showed.

The pollsters concluded that if the circumstances are right, and there is a well-funded effort, Ducey can be defeated.

But it remains to be seen if David Garcia or Sen. Steve Farley, who are running for governor in the Democratic primary, can capitalize on Ducey’s vulnerability and mount the type of campaign needed to oust Ducey, a prolific fundraiser who can easily tap into money from the Koch Brothers network.

The most recent campaign finance reports showed Ducey had raised more than $3 million this cycle, while Farley brought in more than $500,000 and Garcia nearly $300,000.

The Democratic nominee would need a serious influx of support, likely from national Democratic groups, at a time when several other races in the state, like the U.S. Senate and 2nd Congressional District, could be Democratic pickups.

Sixty percent of respondents gave Ducey a favorable review, while 45 percent said he was doing a good or excellent job as governor, the poll shows. Among Republicans, 49 percent said he was doing excellent or good, while only 29 percent of independents and 25 percent of Democrats gave him the excellent/good ratings.

The poll matched Ducey against a generic Democrat and found he got 36 percent of the vote compared to 28 percent for an unnamed Democrat. The publicly released poll didn’t show any matchups between Farley or Garcia and Ducey.

The generic Democrat and Ducey both underperformed their party registration numbers, the pollsters pointed out, meaning there’s room to consolidate the vote.

“But this is particularly risky territory for an incumbent governor,” the firm wrote. “It is rare for a majority of undecided voters to break for the incumbent, and that is what Ducey would need at this point in the cycle to secure a majority.”

Part of Ducey’s problem with voters, the poll projects, is his lack of definition on key issues that matter to voters, like school funding, health care, and having the wealthy pay their fair share.

“The circumstances exist for progressives to make this a competitive race if they keep applying pressure and define the frame for this election,” the poll concludes. “That will take time, effort, and money. If not, partisan habits can set in and Ducey can secure re- election, but the opportunity is real.”

Ducey’s campaign spokesman, J.P. Twist, feigned surprise that a poll commissioned by a Democratic group would reinforce a Democratic narrative and be touted by Democrats.

“I know Democrats may be on cloud nine after a visit from their liberal leader Nancy Pelosi, but the reality is, Gov. Ducey enters 2018 in the strongest possible position. A growing economy, dropping unemployment, wage growth, billions of new dollars invested into our schools…” Twist said in an email to the Arizona Capitol Times.

Garcia’s campaign spokeswoman, Sarah Elliott, said the poll reinforces the idea that Ducey isn’t well-known or popular in Arizona because “he has abandoned regular Arizonans, starved our public schools, and is simply looking out for himself and the interests of the top 1 percent. He’s just another out of touch greedy politician.”

The poll confirms Ducey is weak and hasn’t delivered on his promises since taking office, Farley campaign manager Joe Wolf said.

“Glowing and aspirational State of the State speeches will only get you so far. Eventually you have to deliver on your promises to voters. Ducey hasn’t done that and now he’s in trouble. I bet his staff are scrambling to find out when the next Koch retreat is,” Wolf said in an email.

Democrats almost had a voice in budget process, but Republicans didn’t hear them

Democrats and Republicans can agree on one thing this year – the minority party in Arizona had a rare opportunity to have some say in the budget process, thanks to the initial resistance of some GOP lawmakers to a borrowing plan for public universities.

Gov. Doug Ducey
Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

In the end, Gov. Doug Ducey got his $1 billion bonding capacity for higher education, and Democrats got what they routinely get: Left behind.

Republicans say Democrats overplayed their hand. Ducey and GOP leaders were willing to talk, but Democrats asked for too much and were too firmly entrenched in their request to make negotiating a reality.

Democrats charged that Republicans, like always in recent years, have no interest in ever working across the aisle, no matter the offer, even on issues that are obvious candidates for bipartisan support.

In this case, a plan to let Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University borrow up to $1 billion over the next 25 years was initially rebuffed by almost all Republican senators and representatives. They were wary of allowing the state to borrow that much money, and of a mechanism to divert sales taxes from state coffers to finance the borrowing plan.

Knowing the bonding plan, Ducey’s signature proposal, lacked enough Republican support in both the House and Senate to pass without Democratic votes, minority leadership in each chamber united their members. Democrats would unilaterally oppose the bonding plan, preventing Ducey from proclaiming a bipartisan victory when, as in past years, a single Democrat or two broke ranks and voted for a bill or budget.

Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs
Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

“What you saw happen was the Democrats stuck together with a unified request,” said Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix. “If you asked every individual Democrat, they would’ve told you the same answer: Teacher raises and TANF.” TANF is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which provides short-term cash assistance to families.

The Democrats’ demands, in exchange for their vote on bonding, was in line with their policy priorities for the session. The minority party had blasted the governor for his initial proposal of a teacher pay raise – 2 percent phased in over five years – as wholly inadequate. And they had spent the better part of two years criticizing Ducey for signing into law cuts to TANF in 2015.

Hobbs acknowledged that their initial request was more than Republicans were willing to pay for. A 4 percent teacher raise, whether it was in one year or phased in over two, would have added more than $100 million in spending.

“So for them it was less expensive to buy off Republicans individually,” Hobbs said.

Barry Aarons
Barry Aarons

Longtime Capitol lobbyist Barry Aarons said the request was a part of what undercut Democrats’ efforts to be taken seriously in a negotiation.

“I don’t think the Democrats gave themselves enough opportunity to find some wins for themselves, and that’s because they limited their offer to some things that were non-starters to begin with,” Aarons said.

Experience might have something to do with it, Aarons said. Not since Rose Mofford occupied the Governor’s Office have Democrats been given a chance to take part in the budget, he said, with the exception of the passage of Medicaid expansion in 2013.

Republicans began the trend of passing Republican-only budget under former Gov. Fife Symington, who served from 1991 to 1997, according to Aarons.

“I think that is a result of years and years in the desert,” Aarons said. “Basically when it came to negotiating, I think they had not had the experience of going through a legitimate negotiation. Now whether it would’ve come to pass regardless, I don’t know.”

Several Democratic lawmakers said the teachers’ raise and TANF was just an offer, not a demand.

House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios
House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

“If you’re going to meet someone to negotiate, you need a starting point. And it was simply a starting point,” said House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix. “That was my opening offer to the governor.“

Rios said it was “naive” for critics to say the minority party overplayed their hand when the governor never seriously considered working with Democrats. A meeting between Rios and Ducey was cordial, though brief, she said. Negotiating was never on the table, so there was never an opportunity to give Ducey room to counter, she added.

Rather than work across the aisle, Ducey ultimately mustered enough support from Republicans to get the bill through. To some Republicans, that was, as it often is, always the goal.

Senate President Steve Yarbrough
Senate President Steve Yarbrough (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

“I wanted desperately to deliver 16 Republican votes on the university bonding,” said Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler. Delivering 16 Republican votes on the university bonding was a very high priority for him personally, he said.

“And I obviously was extremely pleased when we were able to accomplish that,” Yarbrough said.

Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, said it’s understandable for Republicans to desire to work within their own party. What bothers Contreras is the lack of any consideration of ever working with Democrats.

“It comes down to the unwillingness of the governor to even think about wanting to work with us as Democrats as a whole,” Contreras said. “He chose to go around and make his deals like everyone knows with numerous Republicans before even talking with us about what we were asking.”

Aarons said “there is probably a better than even chance that . . .  Republicans would have said screw it, we’re not going to do this with you,” no matter what Democrats had offered.

Daniel Scarpinato, a Ducey spokesman, did not dispute that the meeting wasn’t a negotiation of any sort, but he did dispute the reason why.

“I wouldn’t even characterize it as negotiations because they were not willing to negotiate. They provided some demands of what they would need, and were unwilling to move at all,” Scarpinato said. “And the problem with that is, what they wanted on TANF, there were not 16 and 31 for that under any circumstance. It was just really something that wasn’t even possible to achieve.”

As for the Democrats’ proposal to increase the teacher pay hike, “we certainly were open to ways to improve that, but certainly you need to be able to pay for these things,” Scarpinato said.

Yarbrough said a larger raise in the budget also would’ve made it more difficult to secure enough Republicans, along with 13 Democrats in the Senate, to approve a spending plan.

“It’s hard to see how that would’ve worked,” Yarbrough added. “The higher teacher raise, the challenge there is, show me the money… That’s a big number. What would we have done? How would we have paid for that. They never came to me, because that would have been my question.”

Scarpinato said Democrats overplayed their hand, and as the final votes made clear, weren’t negotiating in good faith because Democrats were negotiating against issues that they inherently supported. For example, when it became clear that the university bonding plan would pass with or without the help of Senate Democrats, eight of the 13 Democrats in the chamber voted for it.

Had Democrats simply signaled their support for a bill they liked all along, the university bonding could have been sent to the governor’s desk much sooner, and Ducey wouldn’t have had to make deals with individual Republicans – deals that Democrats aren’t happy about, Scarpinato noted.

“We could have passed bonding sooner, and there’s probably some stuff that ended up in the budget that Democrats don’t like that may not have ended up in there had they just supported bonding from the onset,” he said.

Perhaps if Democrats had offered more in exchange for their votes on bonding, Aarons said, the session would’ve played out differently. Decades ago, Republicans frequently approached Democrats to get their help to pass budgets. In the Senate, it was then-Minority Leader Alfredo Gutierrez’s role to barter with the GOP for votes.

Gutierrez would give Republicans a long list of demands, enough to “choke a horse,” Aarons said, but it gave Republicans ample room to trade with Democrats and approve a coalition budget.

This session, Democrats “didn’t put enough stuff on the table, so they didn’t have enough negotiating room,” Aarons said.

“When you’re negotiating for something you don’t come with one thing. You come with a whole pot full of stuff . . . You give the other side an opportunity to go along with you, and then you’re able to declare victory.”

Democrats discouraged despite getting more bills passed

(Photograph by Hank Stephenson/Arizona Capitol Times)
(Photograph by Hank Stephenson/Arizona Capitol Times)

Senate President Karen Fann can boast a 333 percent increase in the number of bills sponsored by Democrats that passed out of her chamber in 2019 compared to last year.

That’s because Senate Democrats cracked double digits, after getting only three bills out of the Senate last year. In the House, meanwhile, 15 Democratic bills passed this year. That’s marginally better than last year when they only got nine bills out of the House, an increase of about 67 percent.

And of the 320 bills signed by Gov. Doug Ducey, only eight were sponsored by Democrats.

“It’s pathetic,” said Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale. “It’s a pathetic number.”

Martin Quezada
Martin Quezada

Democrats, perpetually in the minority in both chambers, started the year optimistic that close margins in both chambers and several statewide victories in the 2018 elections would lead to more success in the Legislature. In the House, where Republicans hold a 31-29 majority, Democrats began the year thinking they’d have a voice, said House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma.

Instead, Democrats in both chambers watched as most of the roughly 500 bills they introduced met quiet deaths in the middle of the session as procedural deadlines came and went without hearings or votes.

“I don’t like to look at those numbers because they’re so demoralizing,” Fernandez said. “They’re not reflective of 29-31, just like our committees.”

Some of her members found success through other channels.

Rep. Richard Andrade, D-Glendale, couldn’t get his legislation on adult changing stations in public restrooms heard in the House Rules Committee. It was one of many bills killed silently by Rules Chairman Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale.

But Andrade’s idea still made it into law with the help of Hereford Republican Rep. Gail Griffin. Griffin sacrificed one of her own bills to allow a strike-everything amendment that adopted Andrade’s changing station language in place of her own proposal. Successes like that, involving procedural moves that essentially transferred ownership of a bill out of Democratic hands, were not counted in this analysis.

Senate Democrats succeeded in getting 13 bills out of their chamber, but only four of those received a vote in the House. If Fann were serious about working in a bipartisan way, she could have advocated for those bills in the House, Quezada said.

Richard Andrade
Richard Andrade

Two of his bills — SB1437, which would have prohibited most employers from asking about applicants’ criminal history until the interview stage of an application, and SB1424, which would have created a pilot program to help young entrepreneurs — made it out of the Senate but never came up for a vote in the House.

“To allow for Democratic bills to advance out of the Senate and then not advocate for them to at least get hearings in the House, it’s almost as if it would have been better had she done nothing at all and just killed all of our bills in the Senate,” Quezada said. “The end outcome is still the same.”

The bills Democrats succeeded in getting passed were rarely substantive policy issues. Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Glendale, had a bill signed by Ducey that will allow court buildings to fly the POW/MIA flag. Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, secured a new license plate promoting affordable homeownership. And Rep. Arlando Teller, D-Chinle, succeeded with a two-sentence law saying rural Arizonans applying for a new federal rural broadband program can get the state Department of Agriculture’s help reviewing their applications.

Still, this year Democrats sponsored more successful bills than they have in any year since 2011. Senate Minority David Bradley, D-Tucson, said he’ll work next year to help other Democratic senators get more bills passed and feel some sense of success.

“While you’re in the minority, you’ve got to deal with the hand you’re dealt,” Bradley said. “You’ve got to be realistic about what can be accomplished, and it all reduces itself to a function of relationships with people, and that’s how you succeed around here.”

Getting substantive bills passed as a member of the minority requires working with the majority, said Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix. He credited Sen. J.D. Mesnard and Rep. Jeff Weninger, both Chandler Republicans, for helping him get his school suicide prevention bill passed by testifying for it in committee.

Bowie, who represents a swing district in the East Valley, said he thinks he gets a more welcome reception from Republicans than some of his Democratic colleagues because he takes a less hostile approach.

“Sometimes I think it depends on the member who’s introducing it,” Bowie said. “Sometimes it depends on luck.”

Democrats fire first salvo in redistricting battle


When Gov. Doug Ducey appointed three people to a commission largely unknown to the public, Democratic senators tasked with confirming the appointees decried them as pawns in the governor’s attempt to ensure Arizona bucks its changing demographics and remains in Republican hands for the next decade.

The Commission on Appellate Court Appointments (CACA) is mostly tasked with vetting candidates for Ducey to appoint to the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court. But it also winnows the list of applicants to the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission, which draws the political boundaries once a decade. 

In the past, parties have routinely accused the IRC of gerrymandering districts.

In the past few years, Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, has accused Gov. Doug Ducey of stacking CACA with his Republican allies to ensure the redistricting process will result in Republicans majorities at the state Capitol and in Arizona’s congressional delegation, even as Arizona increases turns purple in its political makeup. 

“In order to retain that power, [Republicans] have to ensure that the people drawing the map for these legislative and congressional districts are going to be acting in their best interests rather than in the interest of drawing fair maps,” he said. 

Martin Quezada
Martin Quezada

Quezada, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is tasked with providing initial recommendations for Senate appointments to CACA, pointed out that the governor has not appointed any Democrat and rarely ever appointed people of color to the commission. 

The Arizona Constitution requires CACA to reflect the diversity of the state, and Quezada argues its current makeup does not. The commission is made up of seven Republicans and five independents, and only one person of color. 

CACA is supposed to have 15 total members – five attorneys and 10 members of the public. Currently, it has three vacancies, and one term expired last month. But Democrats’ biggest complaint is that not one member is a Democrat.

While most states allow elected lawmakers to draw their legislative and congressional districts, Arizona’s five-person IRC – made up of two Democrats, two Republicans and one independent chair who is the swing vote – creates the political maps.

Democrats fear this means Republicans and independents on the commission, all of whom have strong right-leaning views, could sway the IRC’s decisions by narrowing down a long list of applicants for the IRC and picking candidates who are political allies. 

Matthew Contorelli was the VP of government affairs at the Arizona Commerce Authority when Ducey appointed him in 2019. He is also the son-in-law of Rep. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott. And Kathryn Townsend was a GOP precinct committeeman up until 2012. 

CACA will winnow the hundreds of applicants to a list of 25 nominees — 10 Republicans, 10 Democrats and five independents. The Senate president, House speaker, Senate minority leader and House minority leader each picks one partisan member for the IRC. Those four commissioners will then pick the IRC chair from the list of five independents that CACA selects. 

In theory, this means the commission’s ideological makeup is equal – two registered Republicans, two registered Democrats and a registered independent. 

In practice, Democrats could be ideologically right-leaning, Republicans could be left-leaning and the independent on the commission could lean either way.  

For example, Republicans viewed the last redistricting go-round as a win for Democrats.  

And if CACA can winnow the hundreds of applicants to allow only five right-leaning independents to proceed, the prevailing sentiment is it’s game over for Democrats during redistricting. 

The Senate confirmed Ducey’s three most recent picks to the commission on Feb. 18. The vote occurred along party lines, but Senate Democrats on the Judiciary Committee said Ducey failed to comply don’t comply with the Arizona Constitution’s diversity clause.  

That clause says “the makeup of the committee shall, to the extent feasible, reflect the diversity of the population of the state.”

“We believe that this process amounts to a disregard of your constitutional duty as described in Article 6, Section 36. We demand that you withdraw the most recent nominees you have sent to the Legislature and, instead, adopt a constitutionally compliant process intended to ‘endeavor to see that the commission reflects the diversity of Arizona’s population,’” they told Ducey in a letter.

Senate Republicans reject the Democrats’ argument.

Sen. Rick Gray, R-Sun City, said in a committee hearing last year that Democrats are judging nominees based on the color of their skin rather than on merit.

“None of them said they weren’t qualified. They just questioned, in essence, their race or their gender,” Gray said. 

His fellow Republican members on the committee, and also Ducey’s Office, have argue there are other ways to determine “diversity.” 

Ducey’s general counsel, Anni Foster, wrote an op-ed in 2019 to defend Bill Montgomery’s appointment to the Supreme Court, and insisted the commission is diverse. 

“As an example of the diversity this process affords, the commission currently includes several veterans, a mother who was the first in her family to attend college, a retiree, a public lawyer and private attorneys, to name a few,” she wrote.

Doug Ducey (Photo by Dillon Rosenblatt/Arizona Capitol Times)
Doug Ducey (Photo by Dillon Rosenblatt/Arizona Capitol Times)

Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak said the Governor’s Office believes it is important to find representation from parts of Arizona outside Maricopa County. CACA rules state no more than two members may hail from the same county.

Ptak said the numerous nominations from last April show they comply with diversity and said there’s no requirement that a Democrat has to be on the commission.

“The party requirement only limits appointments to five members of the same party. It makes no other requirements,” Ptak said, referring specifically to the requirement that says no more than half of the non-attorneys on the commission can come from the same party.

Ducey’s three recent appointees are Jonathan Paton, a former lawmaker; Laura Ciscomani, who is from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and wife of a Ducey staffer; and Horace Buchanan Davis, the former state director for U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake. All are re-appointments, and all are Republicans.

Paton was the Senate Judiciary Chair during the leadup to the 2010 redistricting effort, which political pundits widely considered a big win for the Democrats. 

Constantin Querard, a GOP political consultant, said how this works is part of the political game.

“The great con in the Independent Redistricting Commission was selling people on the idea that this was going to take politics out of politics,” he said. 

Querard said it doesn’t matter if it’s a Democrat or Republican as governor, it’s still going to be very political. He pointed to the 2010 redistricting process, when Gov. Janet Napolitano made her appointments to the commission and Democrats “won” redistricting. 

CACA in 2010 narrowed the field of independent candidates to five and Colleen Mathis, who was more Democratic-leaning, was picked as IRC chair. And before that there was Steve Lynn, the 2001 IRC chair, who was more Republican-leaning. 

Mathis routinely voted with the commission’s two Democrats and against its two GOP members. The result was districts that Republicans alleged were crafted to benefit Democrats, especially in the congressional map, which Mathis and a Democratic commissioner were alleged to have drawn with the assistance of the Arizona Democratic Party.

The GOP-dominated Legislature impeached Mathis, an action that the Arizona Supreme Court later reversed.

“When you have Democratic governors, the commission lo and behold magically favors Democrats by three to two,” Querard said. “As traditional as it is for the process to be political, it is equally traditional for the party out of power to decry politics.” 

It’s clear Ducey has long had his eye on the IRC, and has been working to ensure that the state’s Republican majority extends beyond his governorship. 

Ducey — with the help of former Chief of Staff Kirk Adams, who was speaker of the House during the last redistricting cycle — made his first appointments to the commission just mere days after swearing in as governor in 2015.

Since he was first elected as governor, Ducey has appointed or reappointed 21 people to CACA. Only one was a Democrat – Monica Klapper, a lawyer originally appointed by former Gov. Jan Brewer. When Klapper’s term expired last year, she was replaced by a Republican. 

At one point, Quezada accused Ducey’s Office of imposing an early January deadline for applicants to the commission at the last minute to try to winnow out Democrats who might apply, potentially disadvantaging the minority party. 

“There was very little advertisement and a short deadline,” Quezada said. “What that implies to me is the Ninth Floor is identifying individuals, prepping them beforehand, getting them the time to get that [application] done, and then establishing a short window for applications.”

Democrats in Congress are not serious about ending border crisis


Last month, 144,278 migrants were apprehended or deemed inadmissible trying to illegally cross our southern border. That’s enough people to fill State Farm Stadium almost two and a half times over. Perhaps a more staggering figure is the United States is on track to apprehend more than one million illegal immigrants by the end of this year. And that’s just the illegal immigrants we are able to find.

Virtually everyone recognizes that we have a crisis at our border — that is except for Democrats in Congress. Being from Arizona, we know this crisis all too well. We see it firsthand as our communities’ resources are strained more and more as the humanitarian crisis only gets worse. Federal resources are also wearing thin. It is no longer a matter of if, but when money and resources simply run out.

Debbie Lesko
Debbie Lesko

President Trump has requested $4.5 billion in immediate humanitarian aid at the border. This is not money for a border wall – this is money to feed and shelter migrant families and unaccompanied children and fund urgently needed medical care and transportation. We need this funding because facilities are overwhelmed, and other personnel have been pulled away from their critical missions to help respond to this humanitarian crisis. The situation is so dire, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security sent a joint letter to all congressional offices urging Congress to grant this aid. DHS says that without it, they will be forced to redirect more manpower and funding from Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection to address the crisis.

What has the new Democrat majority done to help the humanitarian crisis that worsens by the day? Absolutely nothing. Instead, they voted to provide amnesty to 2.5 million illegal immigrants without any border security provisions or reforms to our loose immigration laws that incentivize illegal immigration.

My Republican colleagues and I have asked 15 times for a vote on humanitarian aid. Democrats have rejected us each time. It is clear that Democrats are not serious about ending the border crisis. I wonder what it will take for Democratic leadership to finally take action and help address the humanitarian crisis.

Our border is at a breaking point. We are running out of resources, and Democrats are blocking every attempt to replenish them. At the same time, the loopholes in our immigration laws are driving more and more illegal immigrants to cross our border illegally. Border apprehensions are up 229 percent as compared to this time last year. The Border Patrol has already apprehended nearly 600,000 migrants so far this fiscal year, surpassing the totals for each of the last 10 years.

We are on an unsustainable path that we cannot continue. I will be introducing legislation in the coming weeks to address the border crisis and fix the loopholes in our immigration laws. I hope my Democrat colleagues will join me in ending this crisis once and for all.

— Congresswoman Debbie Lesko represents Arizona’s 8th Congressional District and is a member of the House Judiciary, Homeland Security, and Rules

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

Democrats need to focus on real issues


Following a series of challenging, if not disheartening, elections for the Democrats, it’s clear to all except perhaps the party’s own leaders that the party needs to reassess its efforts when it comes to reaching voters, keeping voters and attracting new voters.  

Democrats, much like their Republican counterparts, are far too focused on issues that benefit elite Washington circles and campaign donors rather than our hardworking, everyday American families. Those of us working to support our families are thinking about how economic decisions at the top will affect us at the street level, such as impending environmental impact concerns, how we will attain quality health care for our kids and elderly, and ensuring equitable access for our children to quality education. Meanwhile, top Democrats have instead been spending their time debating the merits of antitrust legislation for reasons that many of them associated with partisan political outcomes and not for what it may mean for the common person and their safety.  

Ryan Winkle

While I believe that our top multinational technology and data companies should strive to create value and ensure safety for individuals with comprehensive checks and balance systems in place, legislators are acting to the detriment of their own campaigns. Market power, data privacy, disinformation, and hate speech should absolutely be addressed, but breaking up these large technology companies at this time could serve undue harm on our economy, particularly our small businesses. After a year of adapting to a primarily online environment, businesses have never been more reliant on the tools and services provided by tech companies – including e-commerce shops, mapping services, rapid delivery services, and social media platforms.  

As a knee-jerk reaction to the recent situations that came as a result of systemic problems in a polarized two-party political system, electioneering, and generational inequitable health, housing, and economic policies, Democrats and Republicans are aligning themselves to shift blame and to punish anyone but themselves for the outcomes of past, present, and possible future decisions.  

While Democrats could be distancing themselves from Republicans to re-establish the party as the down-to-earth, hardworking, people-focused political party, they are instead joining ranks with Republicans whose motivations are questionable at best. If the party wants to reach voters effectively and prove that they understand the needs of the people, they need to re-assess their strategy and shift to a bottom-up, equitable approach, led by communities with lived experience. Should leadership wish to change Democrats’ trajectory – which I hope they do as I believe the party is currently headed for a string of losses in 2022 – the key to success will be identifying and sticking to the issues that truly matter to real working people in real working neighborhoods.  

It’s time to refocus on the kitchen table issues – building a future economy that all communities can be a part of, building a working environment that is just and allows people to get a leg up, building an American health care system that everyone has access to while getting the pandemic fully under control, building the infrastructure that promotes a clean environment and safe educational spaces where our children can actually dream of a future that isn’t painful to live in.  

Ryan Winkle is executive director of Rail, Arts, Innovation, and Livability CDC in Mesa, is a former Mesa City Council member, and can be reached at [email protected] 


Democrats seek ouster of Republican Finchem

Democratic Rep. Athena Salman on Monday introduces a resolution to expel Republican Mark Finchem from the House based on his activities before and including the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Democratic Rep. Athena Salman on Monday introduces a resolution to expel Republican Mark Finchem from the House based on his activities before and including the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Rep. Athena Salman and 22 other House Democrats introduced a resolution Monday to expel Rep. Mark Finchem from the body.

“Every day the member remains in office is a threat to the Arizona House of Representatives, a threat to national security and a threat to our democracy,” Salman, a Tempe Democrat, said at a news conference.

Finchem, R-Oro Valley, was a vocal supporter after the election of efforts to overturn President Biden’s narrow win in Arizona. He was in Washington, D.C. to speak on Jan. 6 and he had planned to deliver evidence of fraud in Arizona to Vice President Mike Pence. Although Finchem said he wasn’t near the Capitol when a pro-Trump mob stormed it trying to stop the certification of the electoral vote, he said he learned of it hours later and put out a statement blaming the violence on Antifa.

Since then, Democrats have been trying to keep the spotlight on Finchem’s role in challenging the election results and in the Jan. 6 riot that led to five deaths. House and Senate Democrats sent a letter to the FBI on Jan. 13 asking the bureau to investigate Finchem’s conduct, and Rep. Cesár Chávez, D-Phoenix, on Jan. 14 formally called on the House Ethics Committee to investigate Finchem’s actions and possibly recommend his expulsion.

Salman, who is leading the effort, conceded under questioning that many of the individual allegations detailed in what was introduced as HR 2006, by themselves, might not rise to the level of her contention that the conduct of the Oro Valley Republican “was dishonorable and unbecoming of a member of the House.” She also contends that his activities “undermine the public confidence in this institution and violated the order and decorum necessary to complete the people’s work.”

“When you look at these things in a vacuum, sure, they can appear random,” she said,  But Salman said that, taken together, they amount to evidence that Finchem “participated in, encouraged and incited the events of Jan.6,” making him complicit of “insurrection and rebellion” and therefore unqualified to serve.

Finchem declined to comment “on advice of counsel.”

He already has obtained legal representation in connection with at least one issue not now in Salman’s bill of particulars: his refusal to turn over text messages sought as part of a public records request. His attorney, Alexanader Kolodin — the same lawyer who filed lawsuits to challenge the results of the Arizona election — argued that the messages are on their own personal devices and therefore not public.

Although several dozen people, many of them residents of Finchem’s Legislative District 11, have filed complaints with the committee also calling for an investigation, it has not scheduled any hearings or taken any other action on the matter yet. Salman said the FBI has acknowledged receiving the Democrats’ letter but she hasn’t heard anything else. She acknowledged that the apparent disinclination from House Republicans, who hold a 31-29 majority, to act on the Democrats’ complaints could be an obstacle.

“The conservative majority has made it very clear that they’re not responding or even doing anything,” she said.

The resolution recounts the actions of the mob at the Capitol on Jan. 6, and highlights Finchem’s membership in the Oath Keepers, which the resolution describes as “a far-right group with a well-documented history of domestic terrorism and violence against the government, and whose founder threatened to hang Arizona’s former United States Senator  John McCain in 2015.” Several people affiliated with the Oath Keepers are facing federal conspiracy charges, over their alleged actions on Jan. 6.

It also highlights Finchem’s ties with Ali Alexander, one of the “Stop the Steal” organizers. And, the resolution says Finchem has “failed to denounce these domestic enemies, and further, has sought to conceal the consequences of his actions by promoting a baseless conspiracy blaming leftists that has been disproven by federal law enforcement agencies” and has “a documented history of pushing conspiracies that blame the left for violence by white nationalists, including deflecting blame for neo-Nazi violence at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017.” It concludes by calling for his expulsion for taking part in an attempt to overthrow the government.

“Finchem has no honor, is unfit to serve in the Arizona state Legislature and poses a clear and present danger to American citizens,” said Dana Allmond, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who lives in LD11. “We cannot settle for anything less than his expulsion now.”

Allmond accused Finchem of violating his oath of office.

“It’s apparent Finchem doesn’t understand what that oath embodies,” she said. “He claims a stolen presidential election and celebrates murder.”

Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report. 

Dems mull return of budget committees if they gain majority

Deposit Photo
Deposit Photo

No matter who leads the party next year, legislative Democrats are keen on reviving the subcommittee process when they draw up a budget, a desire that both parties frequently invoke when the prospect of new leadership is on the horizon. 

Both of the teams vying for leadership of the party — and possibly the state House — pledge to bring back the committees, which can serve as powerful vehicles of legislative oversight of the appropriations process. 

In its mission document, Rep. Diego Espinizoa’s leadership ticket identifies several possible subcommittees, the members of which would drill state agency officials on their budgetary needs and shape the spending plan from the ground up: pre-kindergarten-to-12th grade education, higher education, transportation and infrastructure, and criminal justice.

“We encourage discussion, we encourage debate, and most importantly, we promote a transparent process where the votes for the budget will not be done in the middle of the night while Arizonans are asleep,” reads Espinoza’s plan. “They will be done in the public eye where people will be able to come in and listen to their elected representatives make these decisions.” 

The subcommittee process effectively allows lawmakers to reclaim some of the budgeting authority they have ceded to Ducey and party leadership in recent years, giving them an opportunity to pore over the books of individual departments and present a coherent, ground-up budgeting vision to the Governor’s Office. It’s a popular solution for lawmakers who feel stifled or ignored by their leaders during the appropriations season, who are sick of being told to vote for a thick packet of spending legislation they may or may not have seen before. 

J.D. Mesnard
J.D. Mesnard

Not every subcommittee process functions the same, but the recent model under then-House Speaker J.D. Mesnard gives an idea. In 2017, picking up on frustration among the membership about top-down budgeting, Mesnard created three appropriations subcommittees, each chaired by a member of the main committee. 

Those smaller groups held additional hearings with smaller state agencies, while the larger ones continued presenting to the whole appropriations committee. The three subcommittee chairs, plus the chair and vice chair of the Appropriations Committee, formed a team of five that created the framework of the budget, then shared it with the rest of the Republican caucus.

Mesnard even extended an olive branch to Democrats, who were allowed a seat on the subcommittees and generally had an outsized role. 

That role would only increase if Democrats can take the House in November, giving them the first real opportunity to draft a budget with some weight in years. Opening up the subcommittee process has the additional benefit of giving the would-be Democratic Appropriations Committee chair latitude to probe the spending of Ducey appointees. 

Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, who is angling for chair of the House Appropriations Committee if current House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez becomes speaker, is also interested in reviving the process.  He said he pitched Fernandez on the idea of meeting Friday mornings during budget season to delve deep into agency budgets and grill state officials. 

“I’ve always been a fan of the subcommittee process,” he said.

The Friday meetings are a key change. One of the reasons the process fell out of fashion is that lawmakers — especially those who have to travel long distances to their districts — wanted Fridays off. 

Regina Cobb
Regina Cobb

Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, the current House Appropriations chair, has another name for a similar phenomenon: “committee fatigue.” 

It was for this reason that House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, didn’t bring the practice back last session, Cobb said. It simply requires more effort, more time, more actual reading of legislation.

Cobb said she has yet to speak with Bowers about the prospect of reviving budget subcommittees, warning that it’s probably too soon to think of such things — though she supports the idea in theory.

“All (legislators) can hear what exactly is going on so we’re not handed a PowerPoint presentation and saying, ‘You’re going to be voting on it,’” Cobb said in 2017 when Mesnard revived the committees.  

Similar conditions existed this year, as some lawmakers in both parties complained what they saw as opaque, aloof leadership. This was especially true for Republicans, some of whom even floated the idea of a late-year shakeup. 

Mesnard said he still believes the subcommittees offer a better way of budgeting than the current method of having legislative leaders draft a budget in isolation and then present it to members as a finished product. But he acknowledged that it can be a tough methodology to embrace. 

 “I knew going in that for it to be successful, it would take a little bit of time to get folks back into a way of thinking that we hadn’t really pursued for a number of years,” Mesnard said. 

Dems own top of ballot, but faded rest of the way

The Maricopa County Elections Department officials conduct a post-election logic and accuracy test for the general election as observers watch the test Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
The Maricopa County Elections Department officials conduct a post-election logic and accuracy test for the general election as observers watch the test Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Arizona is not a blue state – yet. 

Races in the 2020 election were competitive up and down the ballot. Voter turnout percentage was at the highest since 1980, propelling Joe Biden to be the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Arizona since 1996. The turnout was the most voters to ever participate statewide and in Maricopa County.

Arizona will also have two Democrats as U.S. senators for the first time in more than 50 years in Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, and Democrats won a second seat on five-member Arizona Corporation Commission. 

Arizona Democratic Party Chair Felecia Rotellini cited those victories in saying that Democrats had a banner year. 

“We are a blue state,” she proclaimsed. 

Felecia Rotellini
Felecia Rotellini

But moving further down the ballot still shows Arizona’s deep red roots. 

Adding a seat to Corporation Commission still does not give Democrats control of the body. Three seats were open and Anna Tovar, a former state lawmaker and soon-to-be former mayor of Tolleson received the most votes, but two Republicans won the other spots to give them a three-to-two majority.

Republicans kept the majority in both legislative chambers – 31-29 in the House and 16-14 in the Senate, retained all Maricopa County seats and picked up the County Recorder’s Office, which complicates the simplistic argument that Arizona is blue. Most county races around the state went uncontested, but Democrat Chris Nanos ousted Republican incumbent Mark Napier for Pima County sheriff. 

Rotellini said nothing went wrong for Democrats in the election. 

“We killed it in early voting. That’s why Biden had a 10% advantage on the night of the election,” she said. Biden still won by only three-tenths of a percent. 

What was viewed as a red mirage in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia had the opposite effect in Arizona this cycle. Because early mail-in ballot returns heavily favored Democrats, most races top to bottom showed a strong advantage that slowly dwindled into losses for several tight races. 

Maricopa County Democratic Party Chair Steven Slugocki said losing nearly every race for countywide office in Maricopa County was rough, and he attributed that to Democratic voters who did not vote past the U.S. Senate race and Republican crossover voters who chose Biden and Kelly yet stayed red down ballot.

“People just wanted to vote against Donald Trump and vote for Mark Kelly. They were just excited about the top of the ticket and unfortunately that didn’t carry all the way down the ballot,” Slugocki said. “But our candidates barely lost.” 

Slugocki said this was the first time ever where a Democrat ran for every county office for Maricopa County – all five Board of Supervisors districts, attorney, recorder, sheriff, school superintendent, assessor and treasurer. In each of the tight races, the results were all within 4 percentage points, some fewer than 1,000 votes. 

“They all ran incredible races. I’m proud of all of them. Unfortunately they just didn’t make it across the finish line,” he said. 

One glaring issue that kept them from getting to the finish line, Slugocki said, was under-voting.

That’s the concept of either choosing to ignore certain races on the ballot or picking fewer than the maximum number when there is an option of choosing two or three candidates.   

An average of about 200,000 voters did not vote in the races for county assessor, attorney, recorder, school superintendent and treasurer. The largest vote margins from those races were 89,000 and 87,000 votes for treasurer and assessor, respectively, which was likely out of reach depending how many Democratic-leaning voters did not vote in those races. But the margin for county attorney was fewer than 40,000 votes, school superintendent around 10,000 and recorder roughly 4,000. 

Slugocki said he’s going to spend some time figuring out why people didn’t vote all the way down, but acknowledges that not enough people know or care about those races. 

“They’re not the sexy races at the top,” he said. 

Both Slugocki and Rotellini mentioned the pandemic as playing a key factor in some losses due to the Democrats having a lot of strength in a ground game that did not seem feasible this cycle. 

“The biggest thing that really hurt us this year – that affected us more than anything else was not being able to knock on doors … that’s what we do best, and we were not able to do that this year,” Slugocki said, “Jevin Hodge (Board of Supervisors) lost by 403 votes. That’s the doors we would have knocked on a Saturday morning no problem.” 

He said he doesn’t know if he would do it differently in hindsight because “you can’t risk getting somebody sick.” 

Rotellini took a harder stance and seemingly blamed the pandemic for the losses the party saw. She didn’t think there were any areas Democrats “needed to improve” because they were just not able to go door-to-door. But she said Republicans continued to do so and “had messaging that was very negative about Democrats that I think a lot of folks bought into,” she said. 

She said she wouldn’t second guess organizers for not going door-to-door even though Democrats in other states were able to do so safely and successfully. 

The state party will have to do that without Rotellini in charge in 2022 as she has already announced she won’t run again.

One potential replacement is Slugocki, who said he is keeping his options open. 

Something in his favor, he said he jokes to people about, is that former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is further in the rearview mirror.. 

“Joe Arpaio has not won an election as long as I’ve been chair of the Maricopa County Democratic Party,” he said. 

Dems see tough primary as the way to a gubernatorial win

The Democratic gubernatorial candidates crave a scrappy primary race in 2018, one they hope will produce a candidate strong enough to unseat Republican incumbent, Gov. Doug Ducey.

Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson (Photo by Jessica Boehm/Cronkite News)
Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson (Photo by Jessica Boehm/Cronkite News Service)

Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, is the most recent Democrat to announce a bid for Ducey’s spot. He said he “would want nothing less” than a competitive Democratic primary.

Farley said the primary is “advantageous” for him and his party.

All three registered Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Farley, David Garcia and Noah Dyer said they are preparing for a very competitive primary. The 2018 signature requirements for nominating petitions have not yet been released, but based on 2016 requirements the candidates will each need to collect at least 5,352 valid signatures of registered Democrats, and survive any legal challenges to those signatures, before they make it onto the official ballot.

When it comes to primaries, there are two major schools of thought: people who believe primaries are a drain on resources and people who believe primaries are a necessary piece of the political process. Those who believe the latter consider bolstered name recognition and image-perfecting to be some of the benefits of surviving a competitive primary.

Farley attributed some past Democrats’ failures to a lack of a competitive primary race, saying that without it candidates could not “get the momentum they needed to win.”

Paul Bentz, vice president of research and strategy with HighGround Public Affairs Consultants said the last truly competitive Democratic primary he could remember was in 1994 between Eddie Basha, owner of the supermarket chain bearing his name, and former Phoenix mayors Terry Goddard and Paul Johnson. He said in that primary election, Basha’s name recognition played a role in his success. However, Basha still ultimately lost to Republican Gov. Fife Symington in the general election.

Bentz also pointed to Ducey’s Democratic opponent in the 2014 election, Fred DuVal, as an example of a candidate who could have gained name recognition from a competitive primary election. Bentz said DuVal was not able to match the name recognition Ducey earned in a brutal Republican primary in 2014.

It is too early to make a prediction about the competitiveness of the 2018 gubernatorial race, Bentz said, but he’s interested to see how the campaigns pan out.

“It’ll be interesting to see the early set of endorsements from each side, to see where the support lies, to see who’s able to build the bigger machine,” Bentz said.

Bentz also said that in any race there is a chance that a campaign could run out of money or that a team could get fatigued before the general election.

Ducey is known to be an extensive, successful fundraiser. Without a Republican primary of his own, he will likely amass a copious campaign fund while his Democratic counterparts will have to pour their resources into their primary.

But Bentz said that regardless of potential resource depletion, competitive primaries are “better for everyone.” Garcia, an associate professor at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, said his experience in the 2014 race for state superintendent of public instruction showed him that primary elections are important for successful campaigns.

David Garcia, a Democratic ASU professor who ran for Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2014, announces his run for governor for 2018. (Photo by Katie Campbell, Arizona Capitol Times)
David Garcia, a Democratic ASU professor who ran for Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2014, announces his run for governor for 2018. (Photo by Katie Campbell, Arizona Capitol Times)

“It was a great opportunity for our team and our volunteers as well,” Garcia said. “Our primary gave our volunteers a specific target and an opportunity for us to come together as a whole.”

Garcia said the 2014 primary gave him and his team a sense of urgency and the opportunity to work through some trial-and-error. This time around, he is looking for a win.

“We will not take anything for granted … we are expecting this to be competitive,” Garcia said.

Garcia won his primary bid in 2014, but lost to Republican Diane Douglas in the general election.

Dyer, a political newcomer looking to snag Ducey’s seat, said very simply that he can think of “no way to surface better candidates” than through the primary election.

Noah Dyer
Noah Dyer announces his candidacy in the 2018 gubernatorial race. (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

“Competing makes you a better competitor,” Dyer said. “I don’t see how you could surface the best candidate without there being some sort of preliminary period for people to fight, so to speak.”

However, not everyone in the political sphere believes competitive primaries are beneficial for the party as a whole.

Gina Woodall, a professor in Arizona State University’s School of Politics and Global Studies, describes primaries as a double-edged sword.

Woodall said primary elections benefit the public, especially when candidates are “highly qualified challengers,” because it gives the voters the opportunity to truly choose their candidate. However, she also said that if the Democratic Party wants to win the 2018 gubernatorial race, the primary election is not going to be helpful.

“If you define ‘good,’ as in ‘win elections,’ then no it’s (primaries) not good. But if you define good as in giving voters a choice, it (primaries) is good,” Woodall said.

Woodall said that the Democratic Party would benefit more from endorsing one single candidate from its party and in turn, pouring all of its resources into supporting that candidate.

Dems sue to halt Senate audit

Officials unlock a truck prior to unloading election equipment into the Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the state fairgrounds, Wednesday, April 21, 2021, in Phoenix. Maricopa County officials began delivering equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden on Wednesday and will move 2.1 million ballots to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden's victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Officials unlock a truck prior to unloading election equipment into the Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the state fairgrounds, Wednesday, April 21, 2021, in Phoenix. Maricopa County officials began delivering equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden on Wednesday and will move 2.1 million ballots to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden’s victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The Arizona Democratic Party is going to court to halt — or at least delay — the audit of Maricopa County election results.

Legal papers filed late Thursday note that the Senate, which demanded possession of the 2.1 million ballots and counting equipment, has now had all that turned over directly to outsiders hired by the legislature. They are planning to conduct the review starting Friday at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

The problem said attorney Roopali Desai, is there is no evidence that the private firms hired by the Senate and the people they are retaining have been properly trained, not just in things like signature verification but also in protecting the security and privacy of the records.

So Desai wants Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury to declare the audit is unlawful and violates both state law and the state’s Election Procedures Manual.

More immediately she wants Coury to issue an immediate restraining order blocking further action until there is more information. A hearing is set for Friday morning.

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said she had not seen the lawsuit.

The litigation is the latest wrinkle in efforts dating back to December by some senators to get a closer look at the election results in the state’s largest county where Joe Biden outpolled Donald Trump by 45,109. That was more than enough to offset votes for Trump elsewhere, giving the Democrat a 10,457 vote edge statewide and Arizona’s 11 electoral votes.

That led to various charges of fraud and demands to review the results. There even was an ill-fated effort by some Republican lawmakers to void the returns and require the state’s electoral votes go to Trump.

Maricopa County supervisors defended the final numbers, pointing out they had conducted required accuracy checks on machines both before and after the vote. There also was a legally mandated hand count of a random sample of ballots that county officials said matched the machine results 100%.

And when that wasn’t enough, they hired outside firms to conduct two audits of the equipment, both of which they said verified the results.

Fann, however, said she agreed to issue a subpoena for the ballots and the machinery because there are still people unconvinced the results were accurate.

That was fed by conspiracy theories peddled by not just some state lawmakers but Rudy Giuliani, an attorney for Trump, who came to Phoenix to tell lawmakers he had evidence of fraud.

Fann said the audit should get to the bottom of all this.

But the decision has been marred not just by the refusal of the county to allow the audit in their offices. That has forced the Senate to rent space in the Coliseum.

The Senate chose the firm Cyber Ninjas, with no history of conducting audits, to lead the audit team. And Doug Logan, the company’s founder and chief executive has previously made public statements that he believes the 2020 General Election was rigged.

What makes all that legally problematic, Desai told Coury, is that neither the Senate nor Cyber Ninjas appear to have policies and procedures in place to perform their tasks or for preserving the integrity of the process.

For example, she said, there is nothing to ensure that markings on ballots are not altered or added to during the audit. And there is nothing to ensure “a secure and documented chain of custody for the ballots and election equipment.”

Desai also said there is reason to believe that the inspections may not be performed by bipartisan teams including at least two members of different political parties.

She said former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who the Senate hired to be the liaison with the auditors, has said that about 70% of those who have applied to be observers are Republicans, with the balance split among Libertarians, Democrats or independents.

And there are other issues, including conflicting statements from Bennett on what procedures will be in place to ensure that reporters will be able to observe the process.

Desai told Coury none of the claims should come as a surprise to Fann, Bennett or Cyber Ninjas, all of whom are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

She pointed out that Judge Timothy Thomason, in agreeing to let the Senate subpoena the ballots and the equipment, specifically expressed concerns about the confidentiality of the information he ordered the county to turn over.

That was followed up by a letter to Fann last month by Secretary of State Katie Hobbs who is the state’s chief elections officer. Hobbs reminded Fann of the obligation to maintain security and confidentiality of the materials,

“If your goal is truly to rebuild public confidence in our democracy, it is imperative that you establish and abide by clear procedures and parameters for the security and confidentiality of the ballot and election equipment while in your custody and ensure independence and transparency should you proceeds with any further audit,” Hobbs wrote.


Dems: House restriction on debate silences minority


House Republicans voted Jan. 28 to limit the amount of time lawmakers can speak in debate, a move Democrats say is an attempt to silence the minority party.

The debate over brevity – and more – took about two hours as Democrats, led by Assistant Minority Leader Randy Friese, resisted.

While the rule changes do affect all 60 members, a point several Republican members made, Friese said the overall effect on the parties is not the same.

“[Republican] values are reflected in the legislation that we pass. Your bills are heard in committee. Your bills are heard on the floor. Your bills make it to the governor’s desk,” he said.

He said Democrats’ time to speak on the floor is a tool, one that allows their values to be represented to their colleagues and constituents alike.

“And when you one day are in the minority, you might understand a little better,” he said.

The House adopted several rule changes, including various limitations on the amount of time afforded to each member to speak on the floor in certain situations. Members of the Senate have no such limits.

For example, vote explanations were previously limited to five minutes but have now been reduced to three minutes. Likewise, bill sponsors used to have 10 minutes to speak on their bills during floor debates. That time, too, has been reduced to three minutes, as has time to protest and to make personal remarks. Those personal remarks that usually come at the start of action on the floor were also relegated to the conclusion of business unless someone is making an introduction of guests lasting no more than one minute.

Additionally, time for each member’s questions is now limited to one minute, and members being questioned will have three minutes to respond.

Friese said a time limit has not been imposed on House members since 1947, when members were so unsure of their power to do so, they had to seek guidance from the attorney general. They were cleared to move forward, and Friese said the limits before being amended had served a purpose since they were put in place.

But as Democrats now make up about 48 percent of the House yet “very infrequently” have their views expressed in legislation, he urged Republicans to think twice about further limiting their time to speak.

“Yes, we can do this, but is this a step we wish to take? … Silencing the voices of your colleagues who represent 48 percent of this state,” he said.

Republicans like House Majority Leader Warren Petersen of Gilbert were not convinced the rule changes went that far.

He said there had been “no drought for time” until the last few years as a few voices dominated the conversation.

“We need to see diversity in our speech. We need to be considerate of others’ time,” he said, adding that “being disrespectful, angry or shrill” should not give priority to any one member.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, also compared the House today to a House of the past, saying the body is now “super verbose.”

Alluding to a frequent GOP criticism of the Democrats, he said the first person to speak on a topic is presenting all new information. But comments become excessive and “sabotage” debate after several hours of the same comments, he said.

“It doesn’t take hours to debate an issue,” he said.

The House did take hours in this case, though.

The House adopted several rule changes unanimously, including one granting House Speaker Rusty Bowers a vote on his own rulings from the dias. But members found another point apart from time limitations to disagree over.

The House has eliminated the requirement that a strike everything amendment, or striker, be germane to the underlying bill. That rule only existed in the House, and was only implemented under former House Speaker J.D. Mesnard.

Friese said the addition of that requirement under Mesnard held the rule to its intended purpose and that losing the restriction “will expose us to a lot of chaos.”

But his Republican colleagues did not share that concern. The rule change passed 31-28 along party lines.

Members were held to the new rules the very next day. Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, had to be reminded of the time limit on introductions as he announced guests Tuesday morning.

Despite benefits of tax cuts, critics continue to attack


A new report from Fidelity Investments is yet another reminder of the white-hot American economy induced by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. According to data from the second quarter of 2018, there are now more retirement accounts worth over $1 million than ever before — roughly 50,000 more than just last year.

That means more everyday Americans are able to retire comfortably without financial worry.

More evidence of success from the tax relief package are obvious and plentiful. Small business optimism is at a record high. Unemployment is historically low. Over 700 companies, including some of the nation’s largest employers, have reinvested their tax cut savings into worker compensation. And the most recent GDP growth figures reported that the economy is growing at a rate of 4.1 percent — quicker than most thought possible just a few years ago.

Drew John
Drew John

Meanwhile, over 90 percent of middle-class families are getting a tax cut, according to the left-of-center Tax Policy Center. The average family can expect roughly $2,000 in savings every year.

Yet, critics of the tax bill continue to pull dishonest attacks out of the woodwork.

First they tried to belittle the tax savings as crumbs. And when that didn’t work — unsurprisingly so since essentially everyone is benefiting in one way or another — they tried to spin the new standard deduction and lower rates for small businesses as a windfall for the wealthy. But anyone with eyes can see that the owner of the pizza shop on the corner or the general store down the street aren’t affluent millionaires.

Opponents of the tax cuts are throwing all the attacks they can conjure against the wall. But since the facts aren’t on their side, nothing will stick.

Unfortunately, they’re so committed to these tried-and-failed policies that they’ve stuck their heads in the sand to avoid all the good news about the federal tax cuts.

In a recent batch of headlines, the power of the tax cuts is unleashing American industry. Over 95 percent of manufacturers, large and small, feel good about their economic prospects — the highest level since the National Association of Manufacturers started measuring outlooks 20 years ago. Manufacturers are also raising wages, hiring new workers, expanding benefits, and purchasing new equipment.

CEOs say the tax cuts are spurring them to increase hiring and spending. Small businesses are also doing well. More small businesses plan to grow wages and operations than have in decades. Overall wages are growing faster and average base wages are up. Unemployment is low for everyone, but especially for minority groups compared to historical data.

Voters know the tax cuts work. Majorities have long supported the new code, approved of the economy, and expressed satisfaction with their opportunity to get ahead today. And consumer confidence remains strong.

All the griping from the critics hasn’t made a dent.

As the data rolls in, it’s clear that the tax cuts have produced such remarkable results while ensuring that the burdens of our tax code are well-balanced and fairly distributed. Nonpartisan experts estimate that high earners will pay more of the tax code burden this year than last and Americans in lower brackets will pay less.

Politics always gets heated in an election year. And Democrats and their well-funded activist army want to make tax cuts the wedge issue. That’s fine. While they try to ride their shopworn talking points to victory, Arizona voters will respond with something real that’s on the line: their bigger paychecks.

Drew John, a Republican from Safford, represents Legislative District 14 in the Arizona House of Representatives.


The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

Discontent with vote bringing slew of election bills

Arizona elections officials continue to count ballots inside the Maricopa County Recorder's Office, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Arizona elections officials continue to count ballots inside the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

As a significant portion of Arizona Republicans continue fighting to overturn the results of the last election, some GOP lawmakers have pivoted to crafting legislation to change how future elections are conducted.

Only a handful of election-related bills have been introduced so far, but dozens more are in the works. In many cases, they’re repeats of failed legislation from previous years, but some bills will reflect specific issues – from voting instructions to how to audit ballots – that arose after the 2020 election.

Voting rights advocates are prepared for a deluge of election-related bills, said Alex Gulotta, Arizona director of the national nonprofit organization All Voting is Local.

“I anticipate there will be a significant volume of voting-related things, some of which may be positive things that could get bipartisan support and some of which will be unfair and designed to suppress the vote,” Gulotta said. “We won’t stand for it, and neither will other people in the community.”

During a Senate hearing this week on election irregularities, Republican lawmakers sought to make the case that longtime priorities — which they describe as promoting election security and voting rights advocates decry as voter suppression — were needed to restore faith in the electoral system.

Outgoing Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said during the meeting that he hopes to see a return of previously unsuccessful legislation like a 2019 bill that would have removed voters from the Permanent Early Voting List, or PEVL, if they skipped two primary and general elections in a row.

Eddie Farnsworth
Eddie Farnsworth

“I would certainly encourage that some of the things that we’ve looked at in the past that were unsuccessful be revisited to try to clean up those rolls,” Farnsworth said. “I think that’s really important.”

Both Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, the Scottsdale Republican who sponsored the 2019 bill, and Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, plan to introduce legislation to prune the PEVL.

Voters can now remain on the list until they request removal, cancel their voter registration or election materials are returned as undeliverable. This can result in ballots being sent to voters who have moved or died, but it’s already illegal for the new occupants of those voters’ former homes to use their ballots.

“We would be looking into making sure that all of those who have mailed ballots are actually people who live in those addresses and have a pulse,” said Kavanagh, who will chair the House’s Government and Elections Committee next year. “I think that’s where a little bit of partisan politics comes in, striking the balance between voter access and ballot security.”

Pinny Sheoran, new advocacy chair for the League of Women Voters of Arizona, said her group will closely monitor any attempts to remove voters from the PEVL or close polling locations.

“We are going to be watching very carefully for any attempts to make it harder for people to vote, including any efforts to curtail access to the permanent early voting list or the ability of people to drop their ballots,” she said. “We’ll also be watching very carefully and speak out on any attempts to create new barriers for people that are legitimate eligible voters who want to vote.”

Some of the election law changes favored by voter advocates, like automatic voter registration, are unlikely to pass or even be heard in the Republican-controlled Legislature. But GOP lawmakers and voting rights advocates see some areas for bipartisan work.

John Kavanagh
John Kavanagh

Kavanagh said he expects Democrats could sign on to legislation he’s crafting to ensure voters retain privacy in polling places and understand how tabulating machines work. Multiple post-election lawsuits featured stories from a handful of Maricopa County voters who didn’t understand the green and red buttons on the machines into which they fed their ballots.

Gulotta agreed. “I don’t know how many people were confused, but even if it’s only a small number of people, if a sign by the machine fixes something, I think things like that are possible,” he said. “We should talk about that.”

For his part, Gulotta said he’d like to see the Legislature analyze what resources it can provide to help counties finish the counting of votes faster. In both 2018 and 2020, it took well over a week to call some close races.

Other legislation will deal with the post-election audits that are meant to confirm faith in election results. Despite a court ruling that Maricopa County was correct to perform its statutory hand count audit based on 2% of its vote centers, instead of dividing its ballots by precinct, some lawmakers still believe the county erred because state statute only refers to precincts. The election procedures manual, a document created by the secretary of state and approved by the governor and attorney general and that carries the force of law, laid out guidelines for audits in counties that used vote centers instead of precinct-based polling places.

Kavanagh and several other lawmakers said they would back legislation that would codify those standards in state statute — or clarify that counties must divide ballots into their precincts of origin before auditing. Another measure, introduced by Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, would increase the audit percentage from 2% to 5%, and allow the attorney general, secretary of state or Legislative Council to require a county to hand-count an even higher portion of ballots.

Mesnard’s bill also would allow anyone to ask for a full recount — provided the person pays for it. Arizona now only has recounts in extraordinarily close races: in a presidential race, the state’s recount laws only get triggered if the difference between candidates is less than 200 votes, or 1/10 of 1 percent of the votes cast, whichever number is smaller. In legislative races, the recount threshold shrinks to either 50 votes or 1/10 of 1 percent.

Mesnard said the bill could help build voter confidence in future elections.

“We need to bend over backwards, even if it costs a little bit of extra money and takes a little extra effort, to remove as much distrust as possible,” he said.

Dissension over masks returns in Senate, House

FILE - In this March 16, 2021, file photo, an usher holds a sign to remind fans to wear masks during a spring training baseball game between the Oakland Athletics and the Arizona Diamondbacks in Scottdale, Ariz. The Republican-controlled Arizona Senate voted Monday, March 29, to rescind its mandatory mask policy, and the House speaker made the same move on his own authority. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File)
FILE – In this March 16, 2021, file photo, an usher holds a sign to remind fans to wear masks during a spring training baseball game between the Oakland Athletics and the Arizona Diamondbacks in Scottdale, Ariz. The Republican-controlled Arizona Senate voted Monday, March 29, to rescind its mandatory mask policy, and the House speaker made the same move on his own authority. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File)

Around the time Senate employees swapped out paper signs saying masks were “required” with signs saying they were “encouraged,” new signs popped up outside the office suite shared by Sens. Rebecca Rios and Victoria Steele.  

Laminated yellow papers featuring a mask-wearing emoji and the words “please wear a face mask inside this office” are taped under their nameplates and on the door itself. After the Senate voted along party lines to eliminate its mask mandate on March 29, those pleas are all Democratic lawmakers and Senate staff say they have left to protect themselves from the airborne illness.  

“Unfortunately, now it’s every man for themselves,” said Rios, the Senate minority leader. “People will have to stay masked up and avoid people who refuse to wear masks.”  

In this Thursday, July 9, 2020, file photo, Gov. Doug Ducey speaks about the latest coronavirus update in Arizona. Ducey ordered cities and counties to scrap their mask mandates, but he will not take any action to curb their decisions to ignore the order. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)
In this Thursday, July 9, 2020, file photo, Gov. Doug Ducey speaks about the latest coronavirus update in Arizona. Ducey ordered cities and counties to scrap their mask mandates, but he will not take any action to curb their decisions to ignore the order. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)

A week after Gov. Doug Ducey abruptly announced that he would stop local governments from enforcing mask mandates, except in their own buildings and public transportation – Arizona never adopted a statewide mask mandate – Republican majorities in the House and Senate have done away with mask requirements but left restrictions that limit public access to the government in place. 

In the House, where a mask mandate existed solely on Speaker Rusty Bowers’ orders, enforcement stopped immediately. House Government and Elections Committee Chairman John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said during his afternoon meeting on March 26, scant hours after Ducey’s announcement, that Bowers, R-Mesa, had told him masks were now optional.   

“I have no power to mandate mask wearing, especially when the actual rule is you don’t have to,” Kavanagh said in response to a complaint from Rep. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, about some Republicans not wearing masks.   

Across the mall, Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, took the news that the governor was blocking city mandates as a sign that she could finally leave her office, where she had been sequestered and voting by video call all session because she refuses to wear a mask.  

Townsend walked on to the floor on March 26, causing a commotion. Senate President Karen Fann told her to wear a mask “at least one more day,” and Townsend moved to the doorway, prompting Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, to insist that she needed to be escorted back to her office.  

A few days later, Townsend returned to the floor once again, this time for good. After a frequently emotional debate on March 29, the Senate voted to do away with the mask mandate entirely, but keep other Covid restrictions. 

Senate President Pro Tem Vince Leach, R-Saddlebrooke, tore his mask off with a flourish as soon as the vote ended and gestured for a senior Republican staffer to do the same (the staffer refused). One row in front of him, Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, fired off a tweet using language from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. “Free at last! I just removed my mask at the legislature. Looking forward to seeing more faces and fewer masks,” he wrote. 

No vote was required in the House, where only four Republicans showed up with masks on March 29. By March 31, most Republicans had removed the plexiglass barriers separating their desks, though Democrats kept them up.  

Masks are still mandatory in the chief clerk’s office and the rules office, and are encouraged wherever else social distancing is impossible, under the House’s new policy.  

“We are basically asking people, if they come to see people who are wearing masks, they show respect and maintain social distancing,” Bowers said.   

Fann, likewise, encouraged senators to show respect for each other. She swapped floor seats with Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, and the only Republican who sat on the left side of the chamber, creating an invisible line between mask-wearers and non-mask-wearers. Fann is rarely at her desk because she presides over the chamber, and she vowed to wear a mask whenever she was there. 

It was a nice gesture, said Sen. Martín Quezada, who sits behind Fann, but it had the unintended consequence of bringing even more barefaced Republicans to his side of the room because they want to talk to Fann.  

“It’s like animals to a watering hole,” said Quezada, D-Glendale. “It just attracts more of those members over to her.”  

Quezada said he is particularly concerned about Senate staff, including the many young and not yet vaccinated pages who sit next to lawmakers on the floor and run errands for them. While Senate rules still explicitly allow employees to leave any room in which CDC guidelines are not being followed, he said no staffer in their right mind would challenge an elected official. 

One junior employee, the legislative assistant for freshman Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, was abruptly forced to resign earlier this year after talking back to Rogers about office décor and working while sick. That former employee is preparing to sue the Senate.  

“They can’t come out and give interviews,” Quezada said about Senate staff. “They can’t come out and be quoted in the newspaper, but I hear from them.” 

In this May 19, 2020, photo, then-Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, listens to debate in the House while wearing a protective mask. Shope, now a state senator, is one of few Republicans who continues to wear a mask after the Legislature dropped its mask mandate. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
In this May 19, 2020, photo, then-Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, listens to debate in the House while wearing a protective mask. Shope, now a state senator, is one of few Republicans who continues to wear a mask after the Legislature dropped its mask mandate. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

All legislative Democrats and employees but only a few Republican lawmakers have continued covering their faces this week. Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, said he decided to stay masked until after he gets his second dose of a Covid vaccine and waits the recommended number of days for the vaccine to fully take effect. 

Even after that, Shope said he’ll keep a mask in his pocket and be ready to put it on as needed.  

While the House and Senate have changed their mask policies, other Covid restrictions remain in place. As senators finished their work on the Senate floor on March 31, a masked-up custodial worker sanitized the bottom rung of a stair railing – continuing an intense cleaning regimen that began with Fann having pages scrub doorknobs every hour in March 2020.   

Lawmakers are still allowed to vote remotely in committee hearings and on the floor. Public access to both buildings is still limited, though Bowers said he will begin allowing a limited number of guests in the gallery. 

And in the Senate, Republicans and Democrats alike continue huddling in private rooms behind locked doors to hold caucus meetings that are legally required to be open to the public. Fann blocked Democrats from continuing to share video links to their caucus meetings and never offered the option for Republican caucuses, leaving lobbyists, reporters and interested citizens in the dark. 

Fann has blamed Covid – or, more precisely, critical coverage of how Republicans have handled Covid – for shuttering the building. 

Staff writer Nathan Brown contributed reporting. 



Doug Ducey’s Donald Trump dilemma

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, left, accompanied by President Donald Trump, right, speaks during a meeting with governors in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, May 21, 2018, to discuss border security and restoring safe communities. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, left, accompanied by President Donald Trump, right, speaks during a meeting with governors in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, May 21, 2018, to discuss border security and restoring safe communities. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Donald Trump has put Gov. Doug Ducey in a bind.

With reports swirling that Trump will headline an upcoming rally in Phoenix, his likely visit has put Ducey – who is fighting for his political life vying for a second term – in an awkward position as the governor toes the line in embracing the Republican Party’s most bombastic figure.

Ducey has not said if he will appear on stage with Trump at a rally that will be focused on uniting the GOP following a contentious Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Jeff Flake. Details for the rally have not been solidified.

The governor, a calculating and typically scripted politician, could be the parallel opposite of Trump, who tends to shoot from the hip.

Ducey said this week he looks forward to welcoming Trump to Arizona, but would not say if he will participate in a campaign rally with the president.

“I’ve been with the president plenty of times. I’ve had dinner with the president at the White House so we’re going to see what the details are and we’re going to work with him to make it a productive trip,” he said.

The governor’s staff has been in contact with the White House on coordinating Trump’s visit.

Ducey will appear with Trump because he knows he doesn’t have a choice, said Zachary Smith, a regents professor of politics and international affairs at Northern Arizona University.

“He can’t afford to ‘dis’ Trump,” he said.

More specifically, Ducey can’t risk losing support from die-hard Trump supporters in November, which could happen if he snubs the president when he comes to Arizona, Smith said.

But Ducey also has to appeal to a broader swath of voters this fall. He needs to pick up a chunk of independent voters in order to lock down a second term, Smith said.

Ducey will be walking on a tightrope, Smith said. He will have to show respect for the president, but he could hurt his standing with moderate voters if he’s overly effusive, he said.

“I’m not sure how he’ll do it, but watch, Ducey will find some way to be there, but not be there,” Smith said. “He’s not going to be cheerleading or anything like that.”

Ducey has visited the White House in recent months. In August, he attended an event honoring U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. He and several other Republican governors discussed border security with the president when they dined with him in May at the White House.

Trump endorsed Ducey just before the primary election, inciting liberal outrage across Arizona. While Ducey said he was grateful for the president’s endorsement, his campaign did not broadcast Trump’s tweet because it happened during a campaign hiatus immediately following Sen. John McCain’s death.

In the midst of a contentious re-election bid, Ducey has kept Trump at arm’s length.

Ducey spoke at a local Trump rally in 2016 just after the state’s primary election. But Ducey did not appear at a 2017 Trump rally in Phoenix, although he did welcome the president on the tarmac at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport beforehand.

Republicans across the country are struggling with how to handle the Trump factor in a year where Democrats are determined to send a message to the commander-in-chief and members of his political party.

But GOP pollster George Khalaf, president of Data Orbital, said Trump’s visit is unlikely to affect Ducey’s re-election campaign.

A Data Orbital poll from September 10 found Trump underwater with his favorable rating at 49 percent and unfavorable at 42 percent. But Trump’s favorability rating in Arizona has remained relatively consistent over time, according to previous polls from Data Orbital.

The same poll found Ducey with an 8-point lead over Democratic gubernatorial nominee David Garcia, with a mere 7.9 percent of those surveyed undecided.

The Trump factor is largely played out this close to the general election, Khalaf said.

Voters were already associating Ducey with Trump or they weren’t, he said.

“Whether Trump comes or doesn’t, whether the governor shows up on stage or doesn’t, Trump endorsed Governor Ducey and so I think if it’s going to sway someone’s mind, that would be enough,” Khalaf said.

Some voters could also already be lumping Ducey in with Trump simply because they’re both Republicans and anti-Trump voters are already so turned off by the Republican Party right now, he said.

But digging deeper into the Data Orbital poll shows that some Democrats do see the difference between Ducey and Trump because the governor is picking up some support from Democrats who view Trump as unfavorable.

Ducey and Republican Rep. Martha McSally, who is facing Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, in the U.S. Senate race, have treated Trump differently this election cycle. McSally eagerly vied for Trump’s endorsement and often sought to connect herself to the president throughout the primary.

Weeks before Trump’s endorsement of Ducey, the governor would not say if he wanted the president’s endorsement, in an interview with the Arizona Capitol Times.

Federal candidates have more interaction with the president than politicians at the state level, Khalaf said. McSally recognizes that if she’s going to get the negative effects of running at the same time that Trump is in the White House, she may as well get the positive effects like having the president do a rally for her, he said.

“She may as well go all in,” he said.

Arizona Democrats are incensed at most everything Trump says and does. As Democrats lobby hard to take the Governor’s Office, they have tried to tie Ducey to the president whenever possible.

A spokeswoman for Garcia’s campaign said it doesn’t matter if Ducey appears with Trump when the president comes to Arizona, because they obviously share a common agenda.

Garcia spokeswoman Sarah Elliott said Ducey and Trump agree on tax cuts for the wealthy, attacks on working people, clean energy, civil rights and women’s reproductive rights.

“He’s clearly lockstep with Trump,” she said.

Smith, the NAU professor, said the Trump rally will likely be a wash in the end. Anti-Trump sentiment among Democrats and some independents is already strong and a local Trump appearance isn’t going to inflame that anger, he said.

“At the end of the day, the people who hate Trump will still hate him and the people who love Trump are still going to love him,” he said.

Ducey accuses Biden of creating border crisis

Set up in front of the border fence in Douglas, Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday blames the Biden administration for the crisis along the border. With him is Sen. Rick Scott, R-Florida, who flew in for the event and a 20-minute border helicopter tour. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Set up in front of the border fence in Douglas, Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday blames the Biden administration for the crisis along the border. With him is Sen. Rick Scott, R-Florida, who flew in for the event and a 20-minute border helicopter tour. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Surrounded by Republican politicians, Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday insisted that everything that is now going wrong on the border is the fault of President Biden, his administration and the Democratic Congress.

Using sometimes blistering words, Ducey called the current influx of migrants “a man-made crisis caused by elites in Washington, D.C. who are totally divorced from the reality on the ground.

It starts, the governor said, with the administration’s decision to repeal the “migrant protection protocols.” In essence, this program required anyone seeking admission to this country, even with a claim of asylum, was required to wait in Mexico.

“The repeal of these protocols have directly resulted in a significant influx of unvetted individuals into the United States from Central America,” Ducey said. “And we know it’s going to get dramatically worse before it gets better.”

The governor cited figures from Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that the Border Patrol is on pace to reach the highest number of apprehensions in 20 years.

“Yet where has the secretary been?” Ducey said, chiding Mayorkas by saying “this is where the action is, not Washington, D.C.”

And then there’s the fact that Biden ordered a halt to further wall construction.

“It’s clear that this administration is anti-wall and AWOL, absent without leave,” the governor said.

“They have been absent from the field,” he continued. “And their bad policies and lack of leadership have resulted in this crisis.”

Ducey brushed aside questions about data that showed there already was an increase in people trying to cross the border last April, when Republican Donald Trump was still president.

“This was largely solved a year ago,” he said.

“The system is broken,” the governor declared. “Joe Biden has broken our border.

The governor’s assessment got support from Florida Sen. Rick Scott, also a Republican, who flew in for the event which included a 20-minute helicopter tour of the border and discussions with local leaders. Scott said there was a 23% increase in apprehensions by the Border Patrol between January and February, coinciding with the change in administration — and policies.

“This all started with Joe Biden,” Scott said.

“His amnesty plan makes no sense at all,” he continued. “We’re a nation of laws. Follow the law.”

Both acknowledged that the House has approved some measures designed to deal with border issues, including one to provide a path to citizenship for “dreamers” and another to provide a legal and steady source of agricultural workers. But that, the governor said, misses the point.

“The Biden administration confuses immigration with border security,” Ducey said.

“This is a border security issue,” the governor said. “That’s Step 1. Then we can talk immigration.”

More to the point, at least politically, Scott said those House-passed bills are going nowhere in the Senate. While the Democrats control 50 seats — plus the vice president to break a tie — most legislation needs 60 votes to clear any threat of a filibuster.

Scott said GOP senators have proposed legislation to deal with security, only to find they have been swatted down by Democrats.

“The Democrats don’t want to do anything,” Scott said. So the result is the House approving measures without Republican support knowing that makes them effectively dead on arrival in the Senate.

“They want to leave immigration out there as an issue,” he said of the Democrats. “They do not want to solve the problem.”

Ducey denied that the all-Republican press event at the border was little more than a political photo-op to bash the Biden administration. He said the trip also includes conversations with border officials, Douglas Mayor Don Huish and ranchers in an effort to find the facts.

“And the facts are, this needs attention from Washington, D.C.,” he said.

Ducey and Scott weren’t the only Republicans at the fence-side event. Ducey also invited several legislative Republicans and the Republican sheriff of the county, Mark Dannels.

Yet while the governor said this is a problem that requires the attention of Congress, there was no invite for the Democrats in that body. That led to questions about the decision not to ask Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, the state’s two senators — and both Democrats — to come to the event and participate.

“They’re welcome to come any time they like,” Ducey said. “They don’t need an invitation.”

The governor did not deny policies during the Trump administration resulted in children who came across the border being separated from their parents. And Ducey said that kind of thing should not happen.

But he said the current policies of admitting unaccompanied minors has resulted in about 13,000 youngsters currently being detained while being processed.

“And 13,000 children in custody is not humane,” he said.

Ducey attacks character of judge who ruled against him

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey talks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, April 3, 2019, following his meeting with President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
In this file photo, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey talks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, April 3, 2019, following his meeting with President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Upset with his ruling on education funding, Gov. Doug Ducey is taking the unusual step of lashing out at a federal judge appointed by a Republican president and calling on him to resign.

“Judge (Neil) Wake puts on a robe in the morning and thinks he’s God, but he’s not,” Ducey said late Tuesday in the immediate wake of the decision that said the governor and state acted illegally in taking money from an education trust account without getting required congressional approval.

And the governor said he intends to spread the word about what he claims is not just an incorrect decision but an active bias by the judge against the school funding plan that Ducey crafted and Wake concluded was illegally enacted.

“I want to tell you what everyone down at the courthouse needs to know,” Ducey said.

“It’s time for Judge Wake to retire,” the governor said. “He’s an embarrassment to the legal community.”

Ducey doubled down on his insults of Wake on Wednesday.

“There are third-year law students at ASU that can write a more coherent opinion than the one that he put forward,” the governor said.

Neil V. Wake
Neil V. Wake

Wake said that, as a judge, he cannot comment on the personal attacks.

But Ducey press aide Ptak, asked if it was unfair of Ducey to attack a judge who is unable to respond, responded, “hell, no.”

“He stopped being a judge and started being a politician,” said Ptak, saying Wake “had an agenda.”

“He can’t hide behind his robe,” he continued. “If he’s going to throw punches, he can take them.”

Wake got to the bench in 2004 after being nominated by Republican President George W. Bush, with the recommendation of the state’s two GOP senators, John McCain and Jon Kyl.

The governor, however, brushed aside a question about the judge’s Republican credentials.

“This is an activist judge who solicited this lawsuit because he didn’t like Proposition 123,” Ducey responded.

The record, however, shows that it was an individual, Michael Pierce, who filed the suit on his own in May 2016, without legal help, after the approval of Prop 123.

What Wake did, however, may have kept the case alive by getting legal help for Pierce.

Andrew Jacob told Capitol Media Services he had run into Wake about five years ago at an event at a law firm, telling the judge that he was partially retiring and only going to work part time.

“I offered that if he ever had a civil litigant who had a case that had merit and needed help with it, I would consider volunteering my time,” Jacob said.

It wasn’t until some time later, the attorney said, that Wake called, informed him of the basics of this case and asked if he would pick it up.

“He thinks this case has some merit to it and the litigant really didn’t know what to do with it for the next step,” Jacob recalled of the conversation. Jacob said he agreed, at which point he said that the only thing Wake did is give him the case number to review the pleadings filed so far and get in touch with Pierce.

A review of Wake’s 15 years on the federal bench by Capitol Media Services shows the judge decided a number of controversial issues.

In some he ruled in favor of the state, like a 2008 decision rejecting challenges to a new state law approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature that provided for the suspension and revocation of the business licenses of employers who knowingly hired undocumented workers.

But Wake has also blocked state and local officials from prosecuting a Flagstaff man who produced and sold antiwar T-shirts with the names of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, calling it “core political speech fully protected by the First Amendment.”

He also barred enforcement of a law that made it a crime to panhandle, saying the simple act of asking for money or food is protected by the First Amendment. And he said Arizona cannot refuse to provide family planning funds to Planned Parenthood solely because the organization also performs abortions, saying that conflicts with federal protections for Medicaid patients to choose their own care providers.

More recently, Wake struck down Arizona’s child molestation law because it read that once the state proves a defendant knowingly touched the private parts of a child – even by a parent changing a diaper or a doctor examining a child – the burden falls on the accused to prove there was no sexual intent.

And he ruled that inmates suing the state over allegations of poor health care can proceed on a class-action basis.

Before being appointed to the court, Wake argued for Republican interests.

He represented members of the state’s GOP congressional delegation which challenged the lines drawn by the Legislature – then with a Democrat Senate and Republican House – for congressional districts.

A decade later Wake was representing the Arizona Republican Party in its fight over lines drawn by the newly created Independent Redistricting Commission.

Even after taking the bench Wake found himself siding with Republicans on a redistricting dispute.

That fight erupted after the five-member commission crafted legislative districts but in a way so that the population of each was not equal. Instead, Republicans were added to a district that already had a majority of GOP voters, leaving other adjoining districts with fewer overall voters but a better chance for a Democrat to win.

That case went to a three-judge panel with the majority concluding there was evidence that “partisanship played some role in the design of the map.” But two of the judges said that the lines were manipulated in “good-faith efforts to comply with the Voting Rights Act.”

Wake was the dissenting judge, writing that “it does not take a Ph.D. to see this stark fact of intended party benefit.”

In private practice, Wake represented track owners who tried, unsuccessfully, to block Gov. Jane Hull from signing compacts with Native American tribes giving them the exclusive right to operate casino gaming.

And he also played a role in getting the Arizona Supreme Court to allow a juvenile justice initiative to be placed on the 1996 ballot.

Ducey gets praise for role in governors’ races

Gov. Doug Ducey( AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)

Gov. Doug Ducey’s stock appears to be on the rise once again after strong Republican showings in a pair of gubernatorial races on November 2. 

Glenn Youngkin’s victory in Virginia and Jack Ciatarelli’s strong showing in New Jersey both helped put the spotlight on the Republican Governors Association, a group headed by Ducey. 

The RGA said in a statement on November 2 that it spent $14 million in Virginia and was the largest contributor to that campaign. Notably, the statement didn’t once mention former President Trump. 

Jason Rose, an Arizona GOP consultant, tweeted on the night of November 2 that Ducey and former aide J.P. Twist, now the RGA’s political director, are “now among the hottest political personalities” in the country with 2022 elections approaching. 

And GOP consultant Barrett Marson, who is working for a PAC supporting Arizona gubernatorial candidate Matt Salmon, said, “I do think that the governor should be getting a lot of credit nationally. And I think a lot of people will sit up and notice the money that he raised and the results that he got.” 

So what implications do the Republican successes on the East Coast have for the current Arizona governor and candidates for the job? Ducey’s spokesman C.J. Karamargin wouldn’t say if the election results could embolden the governor, who’s rumored to be contemplating a run for national office.  

“My crystal ball is maybe not as powerful as some others,” he said. Ducey is out of town on vacation this week, but he’s tweeted regularly anyway. 

Doug Cole, a consultant for the Republican political firm HighGround, added that a good showing on the East Coast wouldn’t necessarily translate to political benefits for the governor back in Arizona. 

For those hoping to succeed Ducey, especially on the GOP side, there might be lessons in the results. Youngkin’s win could be read as a sign that candidates can hang onto Trump voters and win back some moderate voters who were alienated by the former president if they walk the fine line between embracing and rejecting Trump. 

That’s good news for Republican candidates who haven’t gone all-in on Trump so far and are modeling themselves more after Ducey, who has by turns sought to appease and distance himself from the GOP standard-bearer. 

“I think there are a ton of corollaries between the Glenn Youngkin campaign and Karrin Taylor Robson,” said Matt Benson, a GOP consultant who is working for Robson’s gubernatorial campaign. Robson hasn’t avoided playing to the conservative base.  

In a tweet earlier this year, she emphasized that as chairwoman of Arizona’s Republican Legislative Victory Fund she raised significant money to elect outspoken Trump supporter Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, but she hasn’t branded herself as a “Trump candidate” in the mold of presumptive frontrunner Kari Lake. 

Cole cautioned that “Arizona’s a lot different” from Virginia and New Jersey. But, he said, “I think it should be a warning to the Democratic Party that their messaging needs to be reviewed and tested.” 

Jennah Rivera, spokeswoman for Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, didn’t directly respond to the Arizona Capitol Times’ questions about what the November 2 results mean for Hobbs, the most prominent Democratic candidate for governor. 

“Katie Hobbs continues to be focused on delivering good jobs, lower prices, a quality education for every child, and a government that works for all Arizonans,” Rivera wrote in an emailed statement. 

She also wrote that the “Virginia playbook” wouldn’t work for GOP candidates in Arizona. In any case, Lake doesn’t seem particularly interested in the Virginia playbook or with Ducey’s burnished reputation. 

At a rally late November 3 in Glendale, Lake repeated her stance that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump, criticized Ducey for certifying Biden’s victory in Arizona and called for the arrest of various officials involved in the election. 

Ducey goes on veto spree to push teacher plan

Gov. Doug Ducey announces a plan to give teachers a 20 percent raise over the next three fiscal years. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey announces a plan to give teachers a 20 percent raise over the next three fiscal years. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Gov. Doug Ducey let legislators know today he wants a budget – now.

Ducey, playing hardball with state lawmakers to get his teacher-pay raise plan passed, vetoed 10 Republican-sponsored House bills in an attempt to force the legislature to finish the state budget.

The message included in each of the 10 veto letters reads the same.

“Please send me a budget that gives teachers a 20-percent pay raise by 2020 and restores additional assistance,” the letter reads. “Our teachers have earned this raise. It’s time to get it done.”

The vetoed bills were not particularly contentious. Among those struck down, the governor vetoed bills that would have codified provisions for electric bicycles, created additional protections for sexual assault victims and authorized the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family to work with various agencies to teach young children about the dangers of illegal drugs, alcohol and marijuana.

Ducey’s veto rampage comes a day after the Arizona Education Association and Arizona Educators United announced teachers will go on strike April 26. Lawmakers could pass a budget before Thursday if it is introduced in the Legislature on Monday.

Teachers have demanded a 20-percent pay hike, no new tax cuts and competitive pay for support staff like school counselors and custodians.

Ducey has proposed to give teachers a 20-percent pay bump by 2020. While most Republican lawmakers appear to be on board with Ducey’s plan, there has been some consternation surrounding funding details.

Despite the 10 vetoes, Ducey didn’t clear all the legislation on his desk. He still has six House bills and five Senate bills awaiting action.

Ducey struck down more bills on Friday in one day than he has dismissed all session, bringing the total number of bills vetoed to 16. The governor’s vetoes this session have surpassed the number of bills he vetoed in 2016 and 2017.

A bill by Rep. Paul Mosley, R-Lake Havasu City, was one of the casualties of Ducey’s onslaught. The bill that would have allowed real estate agents or brokers to complete their training online was the only bill of Mosley’s that made it to Ducey’s desk.

Obviously, Ducey was sending a message, but the way he went about it isn’t going to win him any support, Mosley said. He’s telling House lawmakers that he doesn’t want to work with them, he said.

Ducey is the one who threw lawmakers under the bus by forcing them to find a way to pay for his proposed pay raise for teachers, Mosley said.

“He’s basically trying to be the CEO of the state instead of the executive. … He was the CEO of Cold Stone so obviously he thinks it’s OK to treat people like they’re not important,” he said.

Ducey’s veto spree came hours after his spokesman, Daniel Scarpinato, said the governor’s office received reports that House leadership planned to pay for the teacher raises with the increased district additional assistance dollars Ducey promised schools. The governor’s office finds the House GOP plan “very troubling,” Scarpinato wrote in an email to reporters.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard floated a teacher pay plan last week that would have usurped from the district and charter additional assistance to pay for teacher raises. Talk of Mesnard’s plan was quieted when Ducey unveiled his own plan.

On Friday, Mesnard denied pushing back against Ducey’s pay plan in favor of one that would reroute other education funding to teachers raises. Calling the accusation inaccurate, Mesnard said the Legislature is working to make all of the puzzle pieces fit so the state can give teacher raises and a bump in district and charter additional assistance.

“We certainly can afford one or the other. We can afford parts of both. But right now we’re trying to figure out how to go the full distance and fully fund both,” Mesnard said.

Mesnard did not comment on the governor’s vetoes.

The governor’s actions caught House GOP leaders by surprise.

“We try real hard to send up good policy bills,” said House Majority Leader John Allen. “These were vetoed because of politics, not policy.”

Bills vetoed by the governor Friday:

HB2089 – Carter
HB2121 – Leach
HB2207 – Grantham
HB2260 – Toma
HB2263 – Toma
HB2266 – Thorpe
HB2290 – Cobb
HB2398  – Thorpe
HB2399 – Mosley
HB2471  – Leach

Capitol Times Reporter Paulina Pineda and Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services  contributed to this report.


Ducey goes partisan in 2020 State of the State Address

Gov. Doug Ducey makes his way through the Arizona House of Representatives on January 13 to the podium to deliver a speech on his priorities to a joint session of the Legislature. PHOTO BY ANDREW NICLA/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Gov. Doug Ducey makes his way through the Arizona House of Representatives on January 13 to the podium to deliver a speech on his priorities to a joint session of the Legislature. PHOTO BY ANDREW NICLA/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

As Gov. Doug Ducey welcomed in a new decade with his address to the joint session of the Legislature on January 13, it became clear that he left the Era of Good Feelings behind in 2019.

Just over a year ago, Ducey’s State of the State Address delivered a simple message: “Bipartisanship is a word that gets tossed around a lot,” he said.

“So let me be clear on the approach I intend to take,” he continued. “I’m not here just to work with Republicans on Republican ideas. And bipartisanship doesn’t simply mean working with Democrats on Democratic ideas. I’m here as governor of all the people to work with all of you on good ideas.”

He welcomed a host of new faces from both parties to the chamber, expressed gratitude for the lifetime of service by former Gov. Bruce Babbitt, a Democrat; and talked about bringing politicians and regular people from all walks of life together to address the viral spread of mass shootings on school campuses. He put front-and-center the need to come together on the opioid crisis, teacher pay and reduction of the prison population. He waxed effusive about key Democrats like Senate Minority Leader David Bradley.

There was a clear reason for such feelings of goodwill: With a water crisis looming, it was existentially important that lawmakers came together to pass the Drought Contingency Plan.

And while the ink has dried on the water plan, many of the issues that Ducey centered in last year’s State of the State speech have resurfaced in this year’s nascent legislative session: sex education, K-12 funding, criminal justice changes, infrastructure spending. However, he made it clear it’s a new day.

Things began on January 13 earnestly enough, with namedrops of Arizona icons like John McCain, Raul Castro and Sandra Day O’Connor. But by the speech’s 14th paragraph, the usually demure, business-forward Republican came out swinging.

“Let’s continue hacking away at the permanent bureaucracy and the ‘mother may I’ state,” he directed.

He took shots at liberal states like California and New York for their tax rates and their regulatory environments, took aim at the so-called “spending lobby” and, to rousing applause from his caucus, paid homage to the late President George H. W. Bush: “No new taxes; not this session, not next session; not here in this chamber, not at the ballot box, not on my watch,” Ducey said.

In short, if last year’s speech created an opening for togetherness, this year’s made it clear that the GOP is in charge, and that in the upcoming election cycle, it plans to keep it that way.

Lawmakers took note.

“It was a true, Republican, conservative speech,” said Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, on the House floor. Compared to last year’s, which he didn’t like, this was a speech that made him happy, he said.

Ducey didn’t hesitate to twist the knife where he saw Democratic governance going awry. He called out the city of Phoenix for its game of chicken with rideshare companies over increased airport fees and called upon a Republican Rep. T.J. Shope of Coolidge to carry a bill that would ask voters to make so-called sanctuary cities unconstitutional following the 2019 defeat of a sanctuary city initiative in Tucson, one of the state’s most progressive cities.

“If anyone needed a reminder … here in Arizona, we respect the rule of law,” he said.

Democrats, who for a brief moment last year convinced themselves that they liked the governor’s speech, were aghast, if not surprised.

“It’s the most partisan speech that I’ve seen the governor make,” said Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe. “They’re doubling down on the extremist agenda.”

Campaign Season

It’s impossible to divorce this from the looming campaign season. Not only is Republican leadership under attack at the White House, Democrats in the state are bullish on their chances to swing the state House, where the Republican majority tiptoes on a razor’s edge.

The irony, said Democratic consultant Ben Scheel, is that on economic policy, Ducey was not actually at his most conservative. While he talked a lot about cutting taxes, the only concrete cut he announced was the elimination of state income taxes on veterans’ military pensions. He also implored insurance companies to cover mental health treatments, announced Project Rocket, a $43 million funding plan for underprivileged schools, and touted big infrastructure projects and the replenishment of HURF funds.

“Some of those budget items, I don’t think legislative Republicans are gonna go for,” Scheel said. “I think that he included more funding measures than usual.”

To compensate, Scheel claims, Ducey needed to allude to other conservative causes.

“We believe in the free market, the free exchange of ideas and the freedom to make your own way,” Ducey said in his speech. “We believe in life and the potential of every child, along with the dignity of every individual.”

This could also explain the governor’s proposal that for every one regulation that’s passed, three need to be rolled back — a literal one-up of an executive order signed by President Donald Trump stipulating that for every regulation enacted, two need to go.

What went unsaid in the speech, aside from infrastructure spending, were issues that could likely garner support from both parties, such as sentencing law changes favored by Reps. Walter Blackman, R-Snowflake, and Ben Toma, R-Peoria.

While Ducey did mention criminal justice, his two biggest announcements were the closure of a prison and the rebranding of the Arizona Department of Corrections as the Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Re-entry.

Toma acknowledged that these weren’t quite the overtures to revamping sentencing laws that some might have hoped for, but placed blame on Democrats.

“Part of the frustration at least from me has been that the other side seems to talk about bipartisanship, but when push comes to shove and it’s time to vote, they seem to take this stance of resisting anything that’s pushed by Republicans,” he said.

And because Democrats weren’t willing to embrace the spirit of bipartisanship last year, Ducey had no reason to offer that same olive branch, he said. And if Ducey’s amped-up rhetoric can stave off a Democratic majority in the House, or even pick up some extra seats, then all the better.

“In terms of tone, I don’t know if trying to hold out an olive branch when it was snubbed last session is a winning policy,” Toma said.


Ducey offers teachers 20% pay raise by 2020

Arizona teachers march in protest of their low pay and school funding in front of a local radio station waiting for Republican Gov. Doug Ducey to show up for a live broadcast Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Phoenix. Arizona teachers are threatening a statewide walkout, following the lead of educators in other states. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Arizona teachers march in protest of their low pay and school funding in front of a local radio station waiting for Republican Gov. Doug Ducey to show up for a live broadcast Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Phoenix. Arizona teachers are threatening a statewide walkout, following the lead of educators in other states. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

As Arizona teachers threaten to strike over low wages, Gov. Doug Ducey unveiled a revised budget proposal April 12 that offers educators a 9-percent pay bump in the next school year.

The governor’s latest plan still won’t raise taxes to generate new revenue. And unlike a competing proposal floated by House Republican leaders, it won’t sweep money from other sources of funding proposed for K-12 schools, like the $371 million Ducey pledged to school districts for capital needs like new school buses, textbooks and facility maintenance.

Just days ago, Ducey had characterized teachers rallying behind the “Red for Ed” movement as engaging in “political theater.”

On Thursday, Ducey had a much different response.

Gov. Doug Ducey announces a plan to give teachers a 20 percent raise over the next three fiscal years. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey announces a plan to give teachers a 20 percent raise over the next three fiscal years. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

“I’ve said I’m on the side of the teachers, and we’ve been listening and I’ve been working,” Ducey said.

Ducey’s proposal relies on a variety of sources, like higher-than-average state revenues and new dollars available from the legislative extension of the Proposition 301 education sales tax. Ducey has also proposed reducing state government operating budgets to pay for the proposal.

State budget analysts recently estimated there may be $46 million in ongoing revenues available thanks to strong revenue collections.

The governor may also roll back some of the legislative initiatives he proposed this year, including a tax break for some veterans. Another item that could be on the table is funds Ducey earmarked for enforcement of a new, wrong-way driving law that charges drivers who go the wrong way on the highway with a felony.

“Our economy has been growing, we have surplus revenues and we’re going to put these toward teacher pay,” Ducey said. “That’ll be the commitment. We’ll have to make other adjustments.”

Ducey’s initial budget proposal in January included a 1-percent pay raise for teachers, following through on the promise of a 2-percent pay bump phased in over two years.

The new plan boosts teacher pay by 9 percent in the upcoming school year, for a total raise of 10 percent since 2017. That amounts to $274 million for teacher pay in the proposed budget for next year, Ducey said at the press conference.

Under Ducey’s plan, when teachers start teaching in the fall they will be paid, on average, $52,725 — up from the current average of $48,372. By 2021, Arizona teachers will make $58,130 on average.

The governor is also promising future raises of 5 percent in fiscal years 2020 and 2021 for a cumulative total of 20 percent over a four-year period.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard and Senate President Steve Yarbrough, both Chandler Republicans, offered their initial blessing of Ducey’s plan, as did other legislators flanking the governor when he announced the planned pay hikes.

Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, said it was crucial that Ducey maintain the promise to restore cuts to capital funding and boost teacher pay.

“(Capital funding) is a critical component of any budget that we have moving forward, because it is important to realize that it is time for us to start restoring a portion of that formula funding that has been suspended for a number of years,” Carter said.

Mesnard, who this week floated a proposal that would have swept capital funding to boost teacher pay, said he supports Ducey’s concept to fund both needs.

“If we can do both additional assistance and teacher pay, that’s fine. If I have to choose, I’m always going to choose teacher pay,” Mesnard said. “Teacher pay has to be the priority.”

To do this, Ducey must now convince a majority of legislators to approve his proposal and give teachers a 9-percent raise this year.

Raises offered in the out years are no guarantee.

Ducey is up for re-election this year, as are all members of the Legislature. Future budgets may be tighter, and a Legislature with a different makeup may resist pay raises Ducey promised in previous budget years.

The governor’s latest proposal comes in the wake of an inspired protest from Arizona teachers, who’ve watched their colleagues in states like West Virginia and Oklahoma spur state leaders to boost funding for K-12 education.

Locally, Arizona teachers hopped on the “Red for Ed” movement this legislative session calling for higher teacher pay and more school funding.

Leaders of Arizona Educators United have called for 20-percent raises. While they haven’t specifically said when they want the raises, they could be dissatisfied with Ducey’s proposal to spread out the pay hike over four years. But Ducey was flanked by dozens of superintendents and other education advocates as he made the announcement.

Ducey’s earlier dismissals of teachers’ demands have left educators so incensed they’ve threatened to strike. Earlier this week, Ducey called the “Red for Ed” movement “political theater.”

Teachers at roughly 1,000 Arizona schools held “walk-ins,” in which educators rallied outside their schools before morning classes began on April 11.

Ducey’s message to those teachers is, “I heard you guys,” Maricopa County School Superintendent Steve Watson said.

“I think it was a great mobilization and movement by the teachers, and it wasn’t just teachers,” Watson said. “It was community members. My kids wore red to school on Wednesdays to show their support and gratitude for teachers. So I think it was the teachers’ ability not just to mobilize themselves, but the entire community.”

Even if education advocates do get on board with Ducey’s proposal, there’s still a chance that lawmakers could tweak the plans as they hash out the state budget.

Ducey open to working with Dems on budget

Gov. Doug Ducey, third from left, helps cut a ribbon Wednesday for the formal opening of the new U.S. headquarters of CP Technologies in Prescott. Ducey said after the ceremony that he is willing to work with Democrats to pass a state budget and tax cut. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Gov. Doug Ducey, third from left, helps cut a ribbon Wednesday for the formal opening of the new U.S. headquarters of CP Technologies in Prescott. Ducey said after the ceremony that he is willing to work with Democrats to pass a state budget and tax cut. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

With Republicans at a stalemate, Gov. Doug Ducey said Wednesday he’s willing to work with Democrats to cobble together the votes for a new state budget and tax cut.

“What’s important to me is that we get the budget that I presented — or as close to it as we can — over the finish line,” he told Capitol Media Services. And the governor said his door is “always open.”

That potentially paves the way for Democrats, who have been kept in the dark while the governor and GOP leaders crafted their spending and tax cut plan, a chance to have some input in exchange for needed votes.

And there may be room for a deal.

House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, told Capitol Media Services there may be some wiggle room, even on the idea of cutting taxes. It all comes down to details.

“I couldn’t tell you specifically whether or not we would support a tax cut in addition to additional revenues until we look at the plan,” he said.

“We won’t negotiate in isolation,” Bolding said of reducing tax rates. “We’ll look at the entire plan and what the trajectory looks like.”

Even Ducey, who is championing a $1.9 billion tax cut and creating a flat tax rate, said even that could be negotiable.

“That’s part of the deliberation process,” he said. “And, typically, as we begin moving forward, the debate happens, the deliberation happens.”

But Ducey won’t say how much he is willing to give to line up the votes.”

“I do not like to have those deliberations in the press,” Ducey said. “I like to do them with people rather than with the press.

Reginald Bolding
Reginald Bolding

What’s working in favor of the Democrats is that there is at least one GOP holdout in both the House and Senate unwilling to support the $12.8 billion spending plan and $1.9 billion in permanent tax cuts the governor is pushing.

In fact, neither the House nor Senate have any plans to try to vote on any part of the plan when lawmakers reconvene Thursday morning. About the only thing the Senate intends to do is start the process of seeking an override of the 22 bills Ducey vetoed two weeks ago after he got miffed when lawmakers decided to recess for two weeks when a budget deal first fell apart.

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said that’s the nature of Republicans having a bare majority in both chambers: Leadership needs every one of them to line up in support for the party plan.

“It’s a challenge when you have 31 and 16,” Fann said Wednesday, referring, respectively, to the GOP membership in the 60-member House and 30-member Senate.

“Everybody knows they’re number 31 or 16,” she said, giving each of them leverage. “It creates a very tough working situation.”

Ducey, for his part, said he’s going to engage with Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, and Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, whose votes he needs — but does not have — for the plan.

“We have some very thoughtful legislators that care about certain things,” he said when asked about the two GOP holdouts. “And I want to understand what’s important to them and make sure they understand what’s important to me and make sure we have a successful budget.”

But it isn’t as simple as getting Cook and Boyer on board. Fann said if they get some of what they want, that could result in the loss of other Republican votes. And that is what could give Democrats a seat at the negotiating table.

Bolding insisted he is not trying to play political games.

“For us, it’s not about leverage or what puts us in the best position,” Bolding said. “It’s about putting together a plan that works for Arizona.”

And that plan clearly differs from what the Republicans are proposing.

Much of that is on the spending side of the ledger. Bolding said there are “critical gaps with our infrastructure,” seeking more money for housing for the needy, Covid relief and education.

“As long as we can do those things and create a plan that works for everybody, we are willing to engage,” he said. “At this point, everything is on the table.”

Well, not quite.

Bolding said the proposal to create a single 2.5% individual income tax rate for all Arizonans regardless of income is a non-starter. That would scrap the current system of four brackets, ranging from 2.59% for couples with taxable income up to $53,000 a year to 4.5% on taxable earnings above $318,000.

Also non-negotiable, Bolding said, is the plan he said undermines Proposition 208, the measure approved by voters in November to put a 3.5%  income tax surcharge on the most wealthy — meaning income above $500,000 for married couples — to raise upwards of $800 million a year for K-12 education.

Strictly speaking, nothing in the budget plan repeals that levy as lawmakers are powerless to overturn the initiative. But it puts a provision in law creating an absolute cap of 4.5% on all income taxes, including that surcharge.

The proposal does require the state to “backfill” any lost revenues for schools. But Bolding said using other state revenues to do that effectively undermines the initiative.

“Proposition 208 clearly stated that these additional dollars were not to supplant (state revenues),” he said.

“They were supposed to be additional, supplemental resources,” Bolding said. “If we are shrinking our state budget, we are going to provide less funding into education, with education being the largest portion of our budget.”

But the minority leader said the claim by Ducey of being willing to work with Democrats rings hollow, at least right now.

“We obviously have reached out as we know that the state is facing a fiscal cliff in the next few weeks,” Bolding said.

That’s because the new budget year begins July 1. And, unlike Congress, there is no option in state law to enact a “continuing resolution” to keep the government operating in the absence of an adopted spending plan.

“But we have not been engaged up until this point,” Bolding said, saying Democrats have contacted “the highest staff member in Gov. Ducey’s office,” meaning Chief of Staff Daniel Scarpinato.

Ducey, for his part, acknowledged he has been distracted from what’s happening — or not — with the budget.

“My top priority right now is the Telegraph Fire and the Mescal Fire,” Ducey said, having issued a declaration of emergency earlier Wednesday. “We’ve got to do all the things that are appropriate to that and make sure they have the resources and appropriations as well.”

As to actually enacting a budget and tax-cut plan, the governor said he remains “optimistic.”

“We’re just not there yet,” Ducey said.


Ducey scores free body cams for state troopers


In the wake of a fatal shooting, Gov. Doug Ducey has agreed to accept a gift of 150 body cameras from suppliers to begin outfitting officers of the state Department of Public Safety.

But the free cameras could come with some expensive strings as it could financially wed the state to the donor companies who would be either doing the storage or providing that equipment to download the daily videos, all of which is a separate cost.

Ducey’s request is not new. In fact, the governor asked for $3 million in January to equip all DPS officers with body cameras and another $2 million to hire 20 people to download and store all the videos. That was for just the current budget year.

That request went nowhere as state lawmakers wrapped up the session early as the COVID-19 pandemic spread.

But the issue gained new life in May after DPS Trooper George Cervantes shot and killed a 28-year-old man along a stretch of Loop 101 in northeast Phoenix.

Dion Johnson had fallen asleep in his vehicle parked in a “gore point” of an entrance ramp. Phoenix police, who investigated the incident, said the trooper said there was a struggle and the officer shot Johnson.

Last week Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel declined to file charges against the trooper, noting that neither the trooper who shot Johnson nor another officer who responded had body cameras. But at the same time she urged the use of body cameras by all police.

“I can’t speculate whether body-worn cameras would have changed this or not,” she said.

“But I can say it would have been useful to at least have the information in making a decision as serious as this.”

Adel, a Republican like Ducey, praised the governor for “this initial step” of getting body cameras for DPS officers.

But Adel, who is trying to hang onto the seat in November to which she was appointed earlier this year, said that’s only a beginning. She said she wants lawmakers to provide the funds for similar equipment statewide.

Despite the announcement from Ducey, his press aide refused to disclose which company or companies are providing the equipment. More to the point, Patrick Ptak would not provide information about any conditions tied to the free equipment, like the state having to pay the suppliers for storage and maintenance costs, and whether there are long-term financial obligations.

There also was no answer to the question of whether equipping some DPS officers with cameras from a given company effectively means future purchase will have to be made from the same firm to ensure compatibility in storing all the video.

DPS was no more helpful.

“More information regarding the vendors and conditions and timeline will be made available as contracts are finalized,” said agency spokesman Bart Graves.

The question of costs down the road is not inconsequential.

A 2018 report done by the Police Executive Research Forum looked at three cities that had deployed these cameras, including Mesa and Phoenix.

At the time the report said Mesa police had 330 cameras, enough for 44 percent of its personnel. And the cost of the cameras was $120 each.

But the study also said the costs of maintenance and data storage are bundled together for a per-camera cost of $1,147. And on top of that there is another $931 per camera in costs of administrative staff to fulfill public records requests.

Phoenix police reported bundled costs of $1,206 per camera. But adding staff for public records requests, tech staffing and everything brings the total annual cost to $2,883.

Separately, Police.com said the Spokane, Wash. police department was spending $310,000 every year to use and store the video footage of its 271 cameras — nearly 2.1 terabytes of video every 30 days — in  the cloud storage of AXON, one of the larger sellers of these cameras. And a police spokesman said his agency has agreed to pay the company $1.5 million for five years of video storage, from 2017 to 2021.

DPS figures it has close to 700 patrol officers, meaning this initial deployment, when it comes, will cover only about one out of every five troopers who are out dealing with the public.

There are, however, 122 patrol cars which already are outfitted with dash cameras.

The governor’s office said it is his intent to ask lawmakers to provide cash for the balance.

Ducey is a relative latecomer to the issue of body cameras.

Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, introduced a proposal in 2015 to require all police to be equipped with the devices. It never got a hearing in the Republican-controlled legislature.



Ducey straddles fence on Senate election audit

Gov. Doug Ducey said he’s confident in the results of the 2020 election yet wants to see the results of a Republican-backed audit and hand count of 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County.

“I’ve defended our election integrity,” the governor said at a Monday press conference. “I’m not going to change my position at all.”

Ducey said Arizona has had a series of reforms and improvements in the past three decades.

“In many ways I think Arizona is a model state,” he said. “We have a compendium of best practices in our state.”

Despite that, the governor said it was within the power of the Senate, as a separate branch of government, to decide whether yet another audit is needed. But he brushed aside a question of whether that feeds into the conspiracy theories that somehow the results of the election — the one he declared as accurate — were wrong and that people cheated.

“To give an accurate answer, I’d have to see the results of what the Senate is well within its legal rights to do,” he said.

All this comes as Democrats say the sole reason for the audit is to come up with an excuse to make it more difficult to vote.

“Right now Arizona is leading the country in voter suppression bills from Republican legislators,” said Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale. “It is no coincidence this is happening after they lost an election.”

All five Maricopa County supervisors have said a new audit is unnecessary. But only Democrat Steve Gallardo showed up for the Monday press conference — and dealt with hecklers who insisted there was massive fraud and that Donald Trump actually beat Joe Biden in Arizona.

“You lost the election,” he said. “Deal with it.”

The move to audit the ballots comes despite a legally required hand count of a random sample which turned up no errors.

The counting equipment was tested both before and after the election. And the Maricopa supervisors, four of whom are Republicans, even hired outside auditors in a bid to prove that there was no tampering with the machinery.

That still left GOP senators dissatisfied and resulted in them going to court and winning the legal right to access the equipment and the ballots. Yet on Monday, Senate President Karen Fann said she is still working to get this process started more than four months after the election was completed.

“We hope we have something to get out to you very soon,” she told Capitol Media Services.

Some of what needs to be worked out is the mechanics of having people go through 2.1 million ballots and marked down, one by one, how someone voted.

Fann said she hoped to have bipartisan teams reviewing each batch to provide a level of accountability. So far, though, Democrats see the entire effort as purely political show and won’t participate.

“It’s too bad the Democratic Party doesn’t believe in getting answers for our constituents,” she said. “I think that’s our job.”

The Democrats, for their part, say the only reason people have questions is that Republicans, led by Trump, have made repeated and unsubstantiated claims of fraud. And they see no reason to participate.

But it isn’t just the Democrats who question the whole premise behind the audit.

Helen Purcell, a former Maricopa County recorder, and a Republican, said she was approached by an attorney representing GOP senators asking if she would be willing to oversee the process. She refused, calling it “not a necessary process” and saying she trusts the results of the two independent audits already conducted by the county.

Fann said that for the time being the plan is to limit the hand count solely to the presidential race, the one that Biden outpolled Trump in Maricopa County by more than 45,000 votes. That provided a crucial edge to let Biden win Arizona’s 11 electoral votes by 10,457.

The Senate president denied that all this does is feed into the claims, all so far with no basis, that Trump really won here.

“We start with the presidential primarily because that was the closest one in terms of numbers,” Fann said.

So what’s the plan to do the task?

“All this will be made clear as soon as we finish the contract details,” Fann said, referring to the agreement the senate is making with a yet-to-be-identified outside firm. And she promised the contract would be public.

Ducey wants path for ‘dreamers’

Photo by Zerbor
Photo by Zerbor

Gov. Doug Ducey said Tuesday the ultimate solution for how to deal with “dreamers” has to come from Congress.

“The Supreme Court’s going to do what the Supreme Court’s going to do,” the governor said hours after the nation’s high court heard legal arguments about whether President Trump has the authority to cancel the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA, established by President Obama, allows those who arrived in this country illegally as children to remain and work if they meet certain conditions.

Trump in essence contends because the program was created by executive action it can be similarly abolished. The question for the Supreme Court is does he need a rationale for that move and is that rationale justified.

Ducey said that, whatever the justices rule, he wants there to be a path toward legalizing the status of the more than 660,000 DACA recipients already in the country, including nearly 25,000 in Arizona.

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

“I want to make sure the rug isn’t pulled out from underneath these DACA kids,” he said.

And that, the governor said, will require a compromise.

“I think it’s an opportunity for border security and immigration reform,” Ducey said.

“Let’s start with border security,” he continued. “And let’s make sure that this issue around DACA is taken care of.”

Ducey brushed aside questions of whether congressional Democrats would be willing to enact enhanced border security ahead of immigration reform and trust Republicans to follow through.

“That’s a political question,” he said.

“What I’m giving to you is a very solvable equation,” the governor said. “Congress should do its job.”

The governor’s position echoes comments made the day before by U.S. Sen. Martha McSally who said she had proposed a solution to the problem.

“I’ve been working on this for a very long time,” she said Monday. “And I do believe there is a way, a bipartisan way, we can work together to secure the border and find a legal path forward for DACA.”

McSally also said she has an answer.

“My legislation did that in the House,” she said.

As a representative, McSally had been a co-sponsor of the Recognizing America’s Children Act. It would have provided pathways for legal status for DACA recipients.

Martha McSally
Martha McSally

But what McSally did not say Monday is that she asked the House for unanimous consent to formally take her name off that bill.

That occurred in the spring of 2018 when she was hoping to become the Republican nominee for the Senate seat being vacated by Jeff Flake. She was facing two GOP foes who had taken harder-line positions on immigration: former state Sen. Kelli Ward of Lake Havasu City and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

McSally shifted her support to the Securing America’s Future Act which would toughen border security. And as to DACA recipients, they would have been granted only “contingent nonimmigrant status.”

Aides to McSally said at the time that she “wanted to clarify which legislative solution she backs wholeheartedly.”

And weeks later, with the Republican primary still pending, her staff removed from YouTube a video of McSally defending the DACA program.

McSally won the GOP nomination only to be defeated in November by Democrat Kyrsten Sinema.

Despite that loss, Ducey tapped her to fill the vacancy created by the death of Sen. John McCain. That means McSally has to run again next year if she wants to fill out the last two years of that term.

State Attorney General Mark Brnovich has sided with Trump in the legal battle playing out at the Supreme Court, signing on to a multi-state legal briefs contending that Obama never had the legal authority to create the program in 2012.

In explaining his position when the brief was filed in 2017, Brnovich said it isn’t necessary for the justices to agree with his arguments about Obama exceeded his authority. He said the high court can give Trump the go-ahead to abolish the program on other grounds.

“It’s a matter of simple logic,” he said. “If President Obama can create a substantive program by himself using executive power, then why can’t President Trump rescind that using executive action?”

Brnovich also said that a Supreme Court decision backing the president would be a good thing, forcing Congress to finally do something.

“DACA recipients are being used as political footballs by both parties,” he said. “There’s no incentive for politicians in Washington, D.C. to solve this problem because they’d rather have it around as a political issue.”

Ducey’s position on seeking a congressional solution is not new.

“I have doubted the legality of President Obama’s unilateral actions,” the governor said in 2017 when Trump first proposed scrapping the program. Ducey said he has taken the position that “Congress needs to address our outdated immigration policies and put a more strategic focus on border enforcement.”

But even then, the governor made it clear he wanted some permanent solution for dreamers, saying many are “living in limbo.”

“They should be held harmless from the decisions of their parents,” he said.

Ducey won’t budge on ‘crown jewel’ of gun legislation

 In this May 8, 2018, file photo, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey speaks during an interview in his office at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix. Former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett said Friday, May 11 that lawyers representing Ducey's re-election campaign threatened to sue a firm collecting signatures to qualify Bennett for the Republican primary ballot. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
In this May 8, 2018, file photo, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey speaks during an interview in his office at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Gov. Doug Ducey is doubling down on his push for a law to let judges take guns from some people considered “dangerous” even though it was that provision that killed pretty much his entire school safety plan earlier this year.

“I think the STOP plan — the Severe Threat Order of Protection — is the crown jewel of our safe schools plan,” the governor said Wednesday when questioned by Capitol Media Services. It would set up a procedure to allow not just police but family members and others to seek a court order to have law enforcement take an individual’s weapons while he or she is locked up for up to 21 days for a mental evaluation.

“It’s the one tool that could have eliminated the mass shootings that have happened in other places in the country,” Ducey said.

Senate Republicans approved the proposal earlier this year, but only after removing the provision to allow family members, guidance counselors and school administrators to refer to courts people they consider dangerous to themselves or others.

But even with that change it died in the House, with Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, refusing to even give the measure a hearing in the Judiciary Committee, which he chairs. Farnsworth questioned whether there’s an acceptable way of doing this.

“We’re not talking about just taking people’s guns,” Farnsworth told Capitol Media Services at the time. “We’re talking about incarcerating them for the purpose of a psychological evaluation against their will, potentially infringing on their First Amendment rights, and infringing heavily upon their Second Amendment rights.”

It’s not just Farnsworth who objects. While the National Rifle Association was willing to go along with at least the watered-down version approved by the Senate, it still did not pass muster with the Arizona Citizens Defense League.

“The whole idea of a STOP order is ridiculous on its face,” said spokesman Charles Heller. “If you’re crazy enough to do a mass killing, you’re crazy enough to ignore a STOP order.”

And Heller, who said his organization takes a “no compromise” position on gun rights, dismissed the premise that such a court order would stop someone from getting or possessing a weapon in the first place.

“On what planet?” he asked.

Ducey, however, said Wednesday he remains convinced that this idea, part of a broader package designed around school safety, is crucial to achieving the goal.

The governor’s push comes the day after he was the only major gubernatorial candidate who did not attend a forum put on by March for our Lives Arizona. The group, formed by students in the wake of the shooting of students at a Parkland, Fla., high school, wanted to hear how each proposed to deal with school safety.

Democrats, in general, favor more gun regulation including closing an exception to laws on mandatory background checks when weapons are sold by one individual to another, including at gun shows.

By contrast, Republican Ken Bennett has blasted Ducey’s idea that allowing judges to take away guns will make schools safer, proposing instead to train people to carry firearms on campus. That has earned him the endorsement of the political action committee of the Citizens Defense League.

Ducey said Wednesday there was a good reason he didn’t attend the forum.

“I get invited to a lot of events,” he said. “It’s a shame I can’t make them all.”

The plan Ducey could not get lawmakers to adopt earlier this year included:

– age-appropriate school safety training, including “active shooter” drills;

– campus visitors having to provide identification;

– a central telephone hotline for students, teachers and others to notify of potential threats;

– reporting incidents as appropriate to police and parents;

– creation by each school a safety plan.

It also included money for additional counselors, something Ducey got separately in the budget.

Ducey also sought — but could not get approval from GOP lawmakers — a law making it a crime for adults to allow children access to firearms, a provision that Democrat Kelly Fryer specifically mentioned Tuesday as part of what is needed.

But the core — or as Ducey calls it, the “crown jewel” — are STOP orders allowing individuals, including family members, school administrators, significant others and those who have cohabited with someone to file legal papers asking a judge to order someone picked up.

What’s required is a “credible threat” of death or serious physical injury or some sort of actual or attempted act of violence in the prior six months that was intended to cause death or serious physical injury to self or others. A judge who determines there is enough in the complaint to pursue the matter can order police to pick up that person for an initial hearing where the person can be present, have counsel and make his or her own case.

And if there is “clear and convincing” evidence of a threat, a judge can issue a STOP order allowing that person to be held for evaluation for up to 21 days, a period that can be extended. Having a weapon while under a STOP order would subject the person to felony charges.

Democrats balked, saying the plan is flawed because it did not address several key issues, including universal background checks.

On Wednesday, Ducey said he would rather focus on dealing with an incomplete database of those who should not be allowed to purchase weapons under current law. While the governor’s overall school safety plan failed, he did get $600,000 in the budget to improve background checks.

Ducey, however, would not answer a question of how helpful is a better database if people can avoid having their names checked solely by buying a weapon at a gun show or in a person-to-person sale.

Ducey, GOP lawmakers – pushers for the rich

Dear Editor:

There is a way to think about the current State budget that makes more sense to me than economic theories. And that is to look at this in drug terms.

A junkie is someone addicted to a substance. For many rich people, money is their dope; they have a junkie’s insatiable desire for it. That’s a fact; look at the spiral of fiscal inequality the past several years. Like most junkies, rich people use many methods and scams to try and get their fix.

Junkies need and want a reliable supply of product and Kingpins are the major suppliers of dope that moves through many middlemen and individual pushers to the junkies. Hence, deals are made at different levels depending on the junkies need.

One big scam now in motion Arizona is to pressure the Kingpin – Gov. Doug Ducey, and county level pushers – Republican legislators, to enact a flat tax that will give them their dope; lots more dope.

Junkies don’t care who they hurt to get their fix; pushers, and kingpins don’t care who they hurt to dip their beak. In our state, millions of people will suffer some degree of harm if a flat tax is passed; public safety declines, increased fire danger, and many more services provided by cities that are the infrastructure of people’s lives. Too Bad say the junkies; I gotta’ get my fix.

Kingpins always have an eye to expand their territory. In this case the power that comes from providing dope to wealthy people could lead to more lucrative positions in bigger areas; a national territory for instance. For the pushers, the crumbs – thousands of dollars – from the big dope deal could mean a step up in the organization; maybe expanded territory, a bigger stash, and more junkies.

As the flat tax is being discussed, remember Kansas when the junkies demanded more dope, the pushers delivered it, and the consequence was depleted services throughout their state.

The way to deal with the big boy and pushers in any community, or state, that is fed up with a drug problem; bust the kingpin, destroy the network of pushers and kick ‘em out of town.

Fred Miller

Owner, Copper City Inn in Bisbee

Ducey, lawmakers disagree on special session support 

Ducey, Proposition 123, special election, education trust fund, Supreme Court
Gov. Doug Ducey

Gov. Doug Ducey said that even though he promised to call a special session, he’s not sure if he has support for it. Lawmakers say that’s not the case.

“I will just be clear that the governor knows there are votes for both of those things,” Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, said, referring to a special session to address the K-12 aggregate expenditure limit (AEL) and the extension of the Proposition 400 Maricopa County transportation tax.

But Ducey’s spokesperson CJ Karamargin said on Dec. 12, “We are talking with lawmakers. That’s all I can say.”

Ducey told KTAR’s The Mike Broomhead Show on Dec. 14 that, “it’s on [House and Senate] leadership to tell us we have the votes. And what we’re getting right now is a lot of ‘yes if’ and ‘yes and. … What we want to hear is 31 and 16 yeses. That’s how you get to a special session. So, that’s on the Legislature.”

Ducey acknowledged that he promised the Democrats in the Legislature that he would hold a special session to address the aggregate expenditure limit for public schools in exchange for their support on a bipartisan budget. He has a matter of weeks left in his term to call that special session.

Ducey said that he’s considering holding a session that addresses other topics, too, and several legislators have their own particular requests.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, on Dec. 14 confirmed several of the items Republicans want to address, including critical race theory and Proposition 400. He said he hopes to override the aggregate expenditure limit if a special session is called and is tired of election conspiracies being floated by other Republicans.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers

“We shifted the conspiracy from one element of elections to another to another to another,” Bowers said.

Several members want a special session that addresses election reform, and Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, said on Dec. 13 that he wants a special session that addresses critical race theory.

Pace said he wants to address Prop. 400, and a group of Republicans wants legislation that will transfer powers away from the attorney general and governor – offices that are currently occupied by Republicans but will move into Democratic hands next year.

Democrats have heard that Republicans are proposing giving the superintendent of public instruction the power to oversee Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. The power currently rests with Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich. But Democratic Attorney General-elect Kris Mayes will take over the office next year. Meanwhile, Republican Tom Horne will replace Democratic Superintendent Kathy Hoffman.

There are also whispers that Republicans want to take away the governor’s power to spend federal dollars and to appoint some important positions like the director of the Arizona Board of Regents as Democrat Katie Hobbs prepares to replace outgoing Republican Governor Ducey.

Bowers additionally said there are Republican members who want to transfer the elections procedures manual from the secretary of state – another Democrat – to the Republican-controlled Legislature and there’s been discussion of election reform legislation.

“The talk is this concept: If you ask for an early ballot, then vote early for crying out loud,” Bowers said, likely referring to proposals pushed by Republican Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer and others that would require early ballots to be turned in before Election Day.

Rebecca Rios

Earlier this week, Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, said, “I think what you’re seeing here is reality setting in, and Republicans losing power for the first time in many years. So, it’s a last-ditch effort to retain power and keep it in the hands of the Legislature.”

Rios said that she’s not willing to pass anything but the AEL override and Prop. 400 extension.

Pace sent a letter to the governor and legislative leadership on Dec. 13 offering a compromise on Prop. 400. He proposed a version of the tax extension in a bill last session that passed through the Legislature, but was vetoed by Ducey, who outlined his concerns in a veto letter.

Pace offered a 20-year extension rather than the 25-year extension that Ducey shot down. He also offered to make the extension identical to the version that passed in 2004 and require a yearly review to “leverage available federal funding” and “bring additional dollars to Arizona.”

Ducey’s veto of the Prop. 400 bill was a surprise to many of the proponents. Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, expressed the most vocal opposition to the bill. She said that we’ll “never know” whether she made a deal with Ducey to kill Prop. 400 in exchange for her support on something else. Ugenti-Rita also voted against raising the AEL and said she would oppose it again.

Pace said that he has been asking for a special session since June, and although he’s been asked about his availability for a special session many times, he is not convinced that there will be one.

“As long as I’ve been a legislator – which is only four years – I have never had a special session. And I have been promised a special session over a dozen times every single year. It has never been the intention of this current governor to fulfill on those promises that he makes. He explicitly promised that AEL would be addressed in a special session. … He chooses to negotiate beyond that to get additional things or nothing at all.”

Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, says she has the votes both in the House and the Senate to override the AEL even if other topics aren’t addressed. She told reporters during a Dec. 1 press conference that the lawmakers who said they’re for a special session would vote to override the limit “regardless.”

Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, said on Dec. 14 he’s not aware of any other bills that would be introduced in a special session if Ducey calls one.

“The only thing I’m committed to is raising the expenditure limit at this time,” Cook said. “We should’ve fixed that at budget time and the sooner it gets fixed, the better. I’ve made no deals.”



Ducey’s school-safety plan disliked on bipartisan level

Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey may want bipartisan support for his plan to address school safety in the wake of another mass shooting, but he’s instead facing bipartisan opposition.

Legislative Democrats don’t like the Safe Schools Arizona plan because, they say, it doesn’t go far enough. Valley students agree, and have continued to protest at the Capitol calling for Ducey to push his proposal even further with gun control measures.

Some legislative Republicans are already concerned Ducey has gone too far, and are looking for guidance from gun-rights groups that have begun attacking the governor as weak on the Second Amendment.

The resistance has forced Ducey to defend his plan as the byproduct of the political realities of Arizona.

“Politics, guys, is the art of the possible,” Ducey told KTAR-FM Radio on March 20. “I believe that this is possible right now, but if somebody has a good idea, a better idea, it’s welcome. We’ll put it on the legislation, and we want to pass it as quickly as we can.”

As is, the passage of Ducey’s proposal is actually far from certain. Legislative leaders like House Speaker J.D. Mesnard and Senate President Steve Yarbrough, both Chandler Republicans, have expressed optimism for the governor’s plan.

Not all their fellow Republicans share that hope. As rank-and-file GOP senators have met with Yarbrough to digest the governor’s plan, Yarbrough noted that many are looking not to Ducey, but to the National Rifle Association and the Arizona Citizens Defense League for guidance.

The Citizens Defense League has made clear its disgust for Ducey’s plan, and note they were not among a host of stakeholders the governor consulted before crafting his proposal. The organization asked its followers to lobby their senators and representatives to oppose what they call a “gun control plan,” a label Ducey has studiously tried to avoid.

“You may want to wrap your head with duct tape to prevent it from exploding when you read it,” the group warned in a March 19 email. “It looks like a propaganda piece from one of (former New York Mayor Michael) Bloomberg’s Astroturf groups.”

If GOP lawmakers follow suit, Republican support for Ducey’s plan may be waning. Yarbrough indicated that could be the case.

“I have members who pay a lot of attention to those organizations, and so I think they will probably be communicating back and forth and that may influence some of them,” the Senate president said.

To students with the March For Our Lives movement, the policies the Citizens Defense League opposes are the few bright spots in Ducey’s agenda.

Backed by other advocates for tighter gun regulations, Mountain View High School junior Jordan Harb details Monday how students plan to walk out Wednesday and come to the Capitol to advocate for new gun laws designed to protect themselves and their teachers. (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)
Backed by other advocates for tighter gun regulations, Mountain View High School junior Jordan Harb details Monday how students plan to walk out Wednesday and come to the Capitol to advocate for new gun laws designed to protect themselves and their teachers. (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

Jordan Harb, a junior at Mountain View High School in Mesa, said March 21 there are some positive developments proposed by Ducey, such as a plan to create a Severe Threat Order of Protection, or STOP order, by which law enforcement, family members or other individuals can petition the court to order that a person’s firearms be temporarily confiscated.

But at every step, Ducey’s plan falls short of ways to truly make an impact and prevent future mass shootings at schools and address gun violence at large, Harb said.

STOP orders are fine, but won’t stop dangerous individuals from acquiring firearms without universal background checks, Harb said. And $8 million isn’t going to significantly address the need for mental health resources in Arizona public schools.

“Unfortunately, it is obvious that the governor is just trying to appease independent voters by creating a woefully inadequate plan that has low impact and low resources to appease the press and make it appear that he is taking leadership on an issue that is so vital,” Harb told reporters.

Harb said legislative Democrats have assured him that they won’t budge on Ducey’s school safety plan “because it just does not do enough.” House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, has called the governor’s proposal a “partisan plan and a plan that falls far short of a comprehensive gun prevention plan.”

Without Democratic support, Ducey has little room for error – support lost within his own party could jeopardize efforts for any school-safety bill to become law.

Yarbrough warned against asking for too much from the governor and Arizona legislators. It’ll take 31 votes in the House and 16 votes in the Senate to pass anything, and without the majority’s support, Yarbrough asked, “What’s the point?”

“That’s always the challenge, is that the rubber does indeed hit the road at some point and it always has to come down to what can we actually enact and get votes for. At the end of the day, is that going to be the very best thing we can do? I don’t know,” Yarbrough said. “But it doesn’t mean you don’t try to do what you can do just because you might not be able to do the very best thing.”

Ducey’s violence prevention proposal begins Senate process


With a little tweaking, the Arizona Senate is poised to debate Gov. Doug Ducey’s school safety plan, but the bill’s fate in the House remains uncertain.

House and Senate rules don’t typically allow for new bills to be introduced so late in session – it’s the 94th day of what many lawmakers hope will be a 100 day legislative session.

But the Senate Rules Committee voted early Wednesday afternoon to suspend those rules and move forward with Ducey’s plan to increase funding for school resource officers and mental health counselors, mandate emergency training for law enforcement and school officials, and create a process to take guns away from those deemed a danger to themselves or others.

SB1519 makes some alterations to the governor’s initial draft, obtained by the Arizona Capitol Times a week ago.

Crucially, it changed the process by which an individual can have their firearms confiscated by court order. The  Severe Threat Order of Protection, or STOP orders, allow law enforcement, family members, significant others, or other particular individuals to petition the court to temporarily confiscate a person’s firearms.

As drafted, ex parte STOP orders — those initiated by anyone other than a law enforcement officer — required a judge to make a “pick up” order, meaning that an officer would go retrieve a person and take them to undergo a mental health evaluation.

Instead, SB1519 requires that person to be brought before a judge within 24 hours. Only then can a judge order that a person must undergo a mental health evaluation, and potentially be forced to confiscate their firearms.

Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, highlighted the change as one way the governor’s proposal has been altered to get support from legislative Republicans for the plan.

“I think there are a lot of things that hopefully my caucus will be comfortable with,” he said.

But no such bill has appeared in the House.

It’s routine for the House and Senate to introduce identical bills. The process allows for a swift vote on mirroring legislation, bypassing the normal process by which bills are heard in one chamber, then another, before it’s sent to the governor’s desk for Ducey’s signature.

Matt Specht, a House spokesman, said the chamber isn’t proceeding with a bill at this time.

“We may introduce a mirror bill at a later date, but we’re taking it a day at a time for now,” Specht said.

Ducey’s plan has faced bipartisan opposition since he made an initial proposal on March 19 in the wake of the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Some Republicans have said the governor’s plan goes too far and infringes on Arizonans’ Second Amendment rights, while Democrats have balked at the plan, arguing it doesn’t go far enough.

Yarbrough said he hasn’t counted votes, but will soon meet with rank and file Republicans to pitch them on the bill.

As for Democrats, at least one got their wish for an amendment to SB1519. Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix, lobbied for Ducey to include measures requiring suicide prevention training for school workers in the bill. The language hews closely to a bill Bowie introduced earlier this session, but never received a hearing in the GOP-controlled state Senate.

Still missing from the bill are other Democratic requests, such as universal background checks and a bump stock ban. Democrats have threatened to vote against any proposal that doesn’t include such measures.

Other new additions to the bill include a requirement that the Supreme Court create an annual report of STOP orders, with details like how many petitions are filed and granted, and the length orders are in effect for; clarification of the powers and duties of reserve law enforcement officers who patrol school grounds; new crime reporting requirements for school staff, including a mandate for schools to notify the parents of students involved in incidents of crime or severely dangerous activity.

Ducey also proposed $11 million to hire more school resource officers, and $3 million from the General Fund for mental health counseling at schools through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

Early voting an auspicious sign for Democrats, but …

Democrats have consistently led Republicans in returning early ballots this year, raising hopes for some that Arizona will finally shift from red or purple to blue.

But as Democrats lead in turning out new and infrequent voters – for example, those who haven’t voted in the last four elections – Republicans are poised to see an influx of loyal frequent voters on Election Day who could sway the election back in favor of the GOP. 

As of October 28, more than 2 million people have already voted throughout Arizona, according to data compiled by Democratic strategist Sam Almy. Of those, about 841,553 are Democrats, compared to 784,595 Republicans. Democrats have a 8.4 percentage point lead in turnout, and an almost 57,000-ballot lead in early returns. The trend is an inversion of previous elections, in which Republicans generally surge in early voting and see their margins diminish nearing Election Day.

Democrats have already exceeded their 2016 turnout of 47.4% by around 12 percentage points, while Republicans are floating just around their 2016 turnout of 49.3%.

Republican turnout remains healthy, said Paul Bentz, a GOP pollster with HighGround Public Affairs Consultants,  but it’s been dwarfed by intense Democratic turnout. 

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

“Usually what happens in these races is that Republicans turn out early, and then the Democrats and others catch up,” he said. “This is sort of the opposite effect, where Democrats got to an early lead and now Republicans are starting to try to catch up.”

As a result of that inversion, Democratic margins are likely to diminish, a point that the party’s own strategists concede — as of Thursday, Republicans had already inched ahead in Maricopa County, though Democrats still led statewide.

But if they can hold their lead, strong returns could be evidence of significant Democratic turnout that – in conjunction with a perfect storm of other factors – tips the scales in the Legislature and reaches far out into GOP territory. 

Almy, who formerly managed voter data for the Arizona Democratic Party, said he has never seen returns so favorable to Democrats. “Clearly, Democrats are voting like crazy right now, they’re way up,” he said.

One obvious reason, he said, is President Trump, naturally the biggest driver of turnout for both parties in a presidential election year. 

“But in addition to that, Democrats are also up in these newly registered voters that I think are changing the electorate,” Almy added.

Youth turnout far exceeds 2016 numbers: voters aged 18 to 29 have already cast more than 137,000 ballots, compared to a total of slightly less than 89,000 in the 2016 election. But many young voters are still holding on to their ballots, at higher rates than older voters.

Almy’s data shows that roughly 25% of voters aged 18-24 and 28% of voters aged 25 to 34 who requested early ballots have returned them. By contrast, more than 68% of voters older than 65 and more than 53% of voters between 55 and 64 have returned their ballots.

Older voters tend to skew more conservative, meaning disappointing youth turnout could hurt Democratic chances. Liberal-leaning groups like NextGen America, which has spent the election cycle registering young voters and reminding them to vote, are pulling out all the stops to see that the roughly 900,000 young voters who have yet to cast their ballots get to the polls. 

Kristi Johnston
Kristi Johnston

“We’re not taking a victory lap anytime soon,” NextGen Arizona spokeswoman Kristi Johnston said.

NextGen’s efforts highlight one reason why Democrats are doing well thus far – success among low-propensity voters.

Among newly registered voters, 42% of those who have already cast ballots are Democrats, while just 28% are Republicans. As of last week, of voters who have not cast a ballot in any of the last four general elections, 37% of those who have already voted are Democrats, while just 25% are Republicans. (Notably, independents in that category are slightly outpacing even Democratic returns.) 

Of those who have voted in only one of the last four general elections, 43% of those who have already voted are Democrats, while just 28% are Republicans. 

Almy noted that these may not all actually be new voters, as a person’s voter history begins when they register in a new state – so some could have previously voted in another state. 

Either way, Democrats are leading Republicans among these voters, and whether they’re truly first-timers or transplants from California, they’re a big reason for the demographic shifts that appear to be propelling Democrats forward, Almy said. 

“This has an effect down-ballot,” he added – even in districts that look solidly Republican on paper.

“You look at the returns for District 23 and District 11, it mirrors a lot of the state where Democrats are returning at a much faster rate than Republicans,” he added. 

Supporters of President Donald Trump wait in line to attend a campaign rally Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Supporters of President Donald Trump wait in line to attend a campaign rally Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

As of this week, Democrats have an almost 17 percentage point turnout advantage in Legislative District 11, and almost 15 percentage points in Legislative District 23. Four years ago, at this point in the election, Republicans handily led in returns in both districts. Democrats now lead at this early stage in LD11, and have significantly closed the gap in LD23. 

By October 27 in 2016, Democrats had returned 18,554 ballots in the Scottsdale/Fountain Hills district. By the same date this year, they had returned almost double that amount – 33,587. 

The tried-and-true Democratic strategy in Arizona is to run to the middle. And while the party is clearly still employing this tactic, the cumulative effect of years of organizing plus new interest from national groups – not to mention ungodly amounts of outside money – has helped unlock new voters.

“Each group has their target voter universe, and we’re seeing all of those efforts come together really nicely,” said Charlie Fisher, the executive director of the Arizona Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. 

While his organization has largely targeted moderate or independent voters, he noted that others have been working specifically to turn out low-propensity voters who might lean more progressive. 

“It’s encouraging to see those zero-four voters turn out at higher rates,” he said, referring to those who haven’t voted in any of the past four general  elections. 

Iconic singer Cher speaks near a polling station as she campaigns for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Iconic singer Cher speaks near a polling station as she campaigns for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

However, this is a bit of a double-edged sword.

Democrats have a huge advantage among “4X4” voters who’ve voted in the past four elections, noted Republican pollster George Khalaf – about 69% of Democratic 4X4 voters who requested a mail-in ballot have already voted, while only half of all Republicans 4X4 voters who requested a ballot have mailed it in or dropped it off. 

But because those people will almost certainly cast a ballot, what that shows is that Republicans are waiting to vote on Election Day, and could do so in significant numbers. This also seems to show that Trump’s anti-mail ballot message had some effect on his supporters. 

Of course, that strategy has pitfalls – as many things can happen to prevent voters from showing up on Election Day. But Khalaf said he expects just about everyone to do everything in their power to get to the polls.

“I think people will walk through glass to vote this year,” he said.

While recent developments including the Senate confirmation of now-Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett may solidify support from Trump’s Republican base, Bentz said that isn’t as relevant as Trump’s frequent visits to Arizona. October 28 marked his seventh visit to the state this year, and Trump family members, Cabinet officials and other surrogates have made multiple public appearances in Arizona each week leading up to the election. 

“It’s apparent to me that they know they have a challenge here in Arizona, because otherwise he wouldn’t be here so often,” Bentz said.

But while the battle in Arizona is usually over suburban Republican women who could be swayed to vote for Democrats, the Trump campaign appears to have left that demographic behind, Bentz said. Instead, the president’s campaign appears focused on running up the margins in heavily Republican areas like Bullhead City and the far West Valley – where GOP enthusiasm could push Trump over the top but not help down-ballot Republicans.

Trump is also hoping to win the rural areas by a larger margin to counteract a potential loss in Maricopa County, which makes up roughly 60% of the state’s entire electorate. Diane Douglas, the Republican former-Superintendent of Public Instruction, is believed to be the only person to win a statewide race in Arizona who lost in Maricopa County in 2014. She maximized her efforts in rural areas, where Republicans tend to do well. 

“What could happen is we could see the president eke out a victory, but leave not very long coattails,” Bentz said. “Republicans in some of these swing districts could still lose.” 

At the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has been tracking turnout trends in Arizona and several swing states, Chief Strategy Officer Seth Levi said it’s important not to read too much into voting trends. 

 “I think there’s something to be said for enthusiasm, seeing that Democratic voters appear to be returning them faster, but at the end of the day, 100% of Republican voters may end up returning their ballots,” he said. “There’s just no way for us to know that today.”

Education tax-hike proposal gets warm reception in committee

Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake)
Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake)

Competing proposals to hike a sales tax earmarked for education differ on how to spend the potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue.

The Senate Education Committee advanced Sen. Sylvia Allen’s plan to raise the 0.6-cent sales tax, known as Proposition 301, to a full penny. If her legislation is approved, it would send a question to the 2020 ballot, asking voters to approve the tax hike.

If voters favor it, the penny sales tax would take effect on July 1, 2021, and is estimated to generate a total of nearly $1.1 billion. That’s a roughly $400 million increase over what the tax as is generates, and it all goes to K-12 public schools and higher education.

But in advancing the Snowflake Republican’s legislative package on 5-3 votes, some lawmakers expressed reservations about how Allen wants to spend all those dollars.

Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, said she spent the past year meeting with a variety of school officials, and their priorities don’t always align with Allen’s.

University officials told Brophy McGee it’s vital to preserve funding for university research and development. Prop. 301 currently raises roughly $80 million for those efforts, but Allen’s plan eliminates those dollars.

“It’s a deal-breaker” if those research dollars don’t continue, Brophy McGee said.

She also wants to preserve a tax credit designed to offset the burden of a higher sales tax on low-income families, a priority shared by Democrats like Glendale Sen. Martin Quezada.

And more taxpayer dollars should come with more oversight of those dollars, Brophy McGee said. She may introduce her proposal, which she’s drafting with Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, later this week.

Despite those differences, Brophy McGee and Allen tried to focus on the positive, like the simple fact that they’re both in favor of raising taxes.

Allen applauded Brophy McGee’s work on Prop. 301 and vowed to allow hearings on her competing proposal once it’s introduced. And Brophy McGee voted for Allen’s legislation, a “good faith” vote that she cast while assuring she’d hold firm on issues such as the university research funding.

“What I see at the end of the day are two rock-solid Republican woman who are both saying, ‘We need to do this,’” Brophy McGee said.

The three Democrats on the Senate Education Committee voted against the proposal, arguing that it doesn’t go far enough. Several hundred million dollars isn’t enough to restore recession-era cuts to K-12 schools, lawmakers like Quezada said. As for the sales tax, Quezada noted it’s regressive because it affects low-income Arizonans to a greater extent than the wealthy, a problem compounded by Allen’s proposal to repeal the Prop. 301 low-income tax credit.

Nonetheless, even Democrats praised Allen’s effort as a tone-setter for the legislative session.

That’s part of the reason why the reception to Allen’s proposal was mostly positive, even as some education advocates noted it’s not perfect. Virtually no one who testified before the Senate’s education panel outright opposed Allen’s legislation, though some made reference to Brophy McGee’s pending proposal as an alternative.

Allen expressed some openness to altering her plan, such as retaining funding for university research. But she warned against a widespread effort to implement more carve outs for certain K-12 interests.

Voter-approval of the tax hike would trigger changes detailed in a companion Allen bill that eliminates 10 distinct funding requirements for how Prop. 301 dollars must be spent.

Allen plans to consolidate those “buckets” into three distribution streams: One for K-12 schools, which would receive 73 percent of the revenues; one for universities, who would be due 22 percent of the revenues; and another for community colleges and tribal schools, which receive the remaining 5 percent.

Allen said it was her goal to get as many dollars as possible into the classroom. At the K-12 level, that means sending all revenues to school districts, and giving local officials discretion over how to spend it.

At the university level, that means earmarking funds to help cover the cost of in-state tuition for Arizona residents.

As for community colleges, Allen threw her support behind rural schools and workforce development programs.

“Businesses are crying for this. They need trained workforce development,” she said. “My rural schools need this money, and they need it up front and they need to know they’re getting it every year.”

Meddling with how the funds are distributed could leave lawmakers back where they started, Allen warned.

“If we keep putting stuff back into the pot, it’s gonna be these 10 buckets again,” she said.

Election audit draws more GOP politicians

Some of the 2.1 million ballots cast during the 2020 election, are brought in for recounting at a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican lead Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix. The equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden and the 2.1 million ballots were moved to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden's victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Some of the 2.1 million ballots cast during the 2020 election, are brought in for recounting at a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican lead Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Three Pennsylvania lawmakers were in Arizona on Wednesday to check out the state Senate GOP’s partisan audit of the 2020 election. 

They’re the latest Republicans to make a pilgrimage to Phoenix, ground zero in the “stop the steal” movement’s push to find support for conspiracy theories suggesting the election was stolen from former President Trump. 

U.S. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz cheered  the audit at a rally just outside Phoenix last month. The next day, several prominent Trump supporters and conspiracy promoters were advertised as speakers at a Phoenix megachurch. Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys extremist group, recently posted a short video of himself at the Arizona Capitol.  

Political pilgrimages are nothing new to Arizona, where Republican politicians have long enjoyed photo ops in front of the Mexico border wall. But now, the draw is the Arizona State Fairgrounds, site of a former basketball arena where a Trump supporter who has promoted election conspiracies is overseeing a hand recount of 2.1 million ballots from Maricopa County. 

The latest visitors are Pennsylvania Sens. Doug Mastriano and Cris Dush, and Rep. Rob Kauffman. They met with Arizona legislators at the Capitol before traveling to the audit site to get a briefing from the auditors.  

“Transparency is a must (in) our republic,” Mastriano wrote in a news release posted on Twitter. “Every citizen should be confident that their vote counts.” 

As Trump and his allies claimed without evidence last year that his Arizona loss was marred by fraud, the Arizona Senate GOP used its subpoena power to get access to all ballots, counting machines and hard drives full of election data in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix and 60% of Arizona’s voters.  

They handed all of it over to a team led by Cyber Ninjas, a small consulting firm with no prior election experience for a hand recount and analysis of vote-counting machines and data. 

The effort will not change President Biden’s victory, and election experts have pointed to major flaws in the process. But it’s become a model for Republicans in other states hoping to turn up evidence supporting conspiracy theories.  

“It’s my belief that Arizona will be the launch pad for elections audits and election integrity efforts all over this great country,” Gaetz said. He listed the swing states where Trump lost in 2020. 

Greene said the audit was the reason she and Gaetz chose Mesa, a Phoenix suburb, for the second stop on their tour of America First rallies. 

“Matt said, ‘You been following that Arizona audit?'” Greene said. “I said, ‘Yeah I’ve been following it.’ He said, ‘Lets go to Arizona.’ I said, ‘Count me in.'” 

Mastriano has become a one-man force in conservative politics in Pennsylvania, leading anti-mask protests last year, pushing to overturn Trump’s re-election loss and showing up outside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot. 

In November, Mastriano organized a hearing in Gettysburg that featured Rudy Giuliani and a phone call appearance by Trump in which the president claimed the election was rigged and urged state lawmakers to overturn the result. 

All three visiting Pennsylvania lawmakers were among the 64 Republican legislators who signed a letter asking the state’s congressional delegation to object to Pennsylvania’s electoral college votes being cast for Biden. 


Associated Press writer Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, contributed. 


Election audit overshadows work in Senate

Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, May 6, 2021, at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool)
Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, May 6, 2021, at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool)

In some ways, the most important event of the 2021 legislative session didn’t even happen at the Capitol.  

Most senators had little to do with the independent review of 2020 election results ostensibly being done in their name, and as the recount and the session stretched on, many Republicans who supported the audit in theory were eager to focus on their own legislation instead of fielding questions about the audit. 

But the shadow of the audit loomed over everything at the Capitol this year. Some speculated it was partially responsible for the long delay in passing a budget, and it was certainly responsible for a weekslong standoff when one senator publicly vowed that she would block adjournment, and vote against the budget, if necessary, until the audit was complete. 

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, first locked the Senate into its ongoing audit by encouraging voters’ complaints in November, once it was apparent that Joe Biden was going to win Arizona and the presidency. While her counterpart in the House, Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, unequivocally rejected attempts from inside and outside of his Republican caucus to challenge election results, Fann set up a voter fraud hotline, approved a December hearing about the election and signed multiple subpoenas demanding Maricopa County turn over ballots and election equipment. 

All of this was done, Fann said, with the full support of the Senate Republican caucus. But their deliberations took place behind closed doors and outside of any normal hearing process. 

“Our entire Republican body thought that this was  and still do believe this is  the right and ethical and moral thing to do,” she said.  

Fractures in the Republican caucus first appeared in early February, when Fann introduced a resolution to hold the five Maricopa County supervisors in contempt. That would allow Fann to send the Senate’s sergeant at arms to arrest Maricopa County’s supervisors and incarcerate them for the duration of the legislative session, though Fann later insisted arrest was never really on the table.  

Regardless, the prospect of arresting county supervisors – men many of the senators knew well and considered friends – was too much for Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale. The first and only audit-related vote of the session failed 15-15, as Boyer joined Democrats to reject the contempt resolution. 

Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan, a Florida-based consultancy, talks about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican-led Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference April 22, 2021.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan, a Florida-based consultancy, talks about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican-led Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference April 22, 2021.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Senate eventually won its court battle with Maricopa County, and a judge affirmed that the Legislature could subpoena the election materials.  

There were no formal hearings or public votes on the $150,000 contract Fann ultimately awarded to Cyber Ninjas, a cybersecurity firm led by a man who publicly endorsed claims of election fraud, her selection of former Secretary of State Ken Bennett to serve in a quasi-governmental role as the Senate’s liaison or any other aspect of the audit.  

When Fann and Judiciary Chairman Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, eventually held a hearing, during a two-week break in ballot counting because the counting wasn’t finished by the time the Senate’s contractors had to vacate Veterans’ Memorial Coliseums for high school graduations, Senate Democrats who attempted to sit in were barred from the room. 

Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale, said at the time that Democrats were informed that it was a closed meeting, it wasn’t safe for them to be there because of Covid and there was a livestream available to watch.  

Quezada texted: “If I were in her shoes, I can’t imagine I’d ever lock elected members of the Senate out of this process unless I had absolutely zero confidence in the legitimacy of the process I had started, the people I hired to administer it, or my ability to respond to whatever legitimate questions were asked of me in that hearing. It seems pretty pathetic to me.”  

While the Senate remained closed to the public, Republican elected officials from other states began popping up in the Senate gallery, as guests of Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff. Rogers, an outspoken Trump supporter and one of the audit’s biggest fans, invited lawmakers from around the country to tour the coliseum and take ideas back to their own states, with a visit to the Senate to round out their visit. 

Diehard Trump supporters with “Stop the Steal” flags were a constant presence outside the Capitol in some weeks, sometimes confronting Democratic activists at press conferences or shouting down reporters as they tried to ask questions.  

And when the session started looking like it would end before the audit did, true believers in the Republican caucus sought to block adjournment. After hearing that the Legislature could adjourn in two weeks, Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, balked and began voting against election measures and vowing to vote against any other bills necessary to prevent adjournment. 

In the end, Townsend secured a promise, laid out in the state budget, that she’ll serve on a committee to oversee the audit results and potentially recommend a special session for more legislative work. While the session ended, the audit hasn’t yet. 


Election Day starts weeks of political theater in AZ

Arizona’s 2018 election cycle didn’t end on Election Day.

Republican leads in close races on November 6 vanished as county recorders counted ballots in the days after, and Republicans turned to attacking Arizona’s electoral process, making unfounded claims of vote rigging.

Anybody who thought talk of the elections would simmer down after the polls closed on November 6 was quickly proven wrong as Democratic victories in federal, statewide and legislative races became apparent, shaking up an already contentious election cycle.

From left, Jonathan Lines, chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, and attorney Kory Langhofer addressed reporters ahead of their 2 p.m. hearing in Maricopa County Superior Court for less than three minutes. Though they had called the press conference, they took just two questions regarding claims that "Democrats are stealing this election." (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
From left, Jonathan Lines, chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, and attorney Kory Langhofer addressed reporters ahead of their 2 p.m. hearing in Maricopa County Superior Court for less than three minutes. Though they had called the press conference, they took just two questions regarding claims that “Democrats are stealing this election.” (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

GOP cries foul

As Democrats turned the tide, enough to take the lead in key statewide and legislative races, along came calls of voter fraud and election-snafus from some Arizona Republicans and national GOP figures. Kory Langhofer, an attorney for the state Republican Party, said at a press conference November 9 that “the Democrats are stealing this election, and we’re not going to allow it.”

His comments followed a lawsuit filed by some county Republican parties against all 15 county recorders, arguing that every county must treat late-early ballots – mail-in ballots that are dropped off after the October 31 deadline to return them by mail – equally. That resulted in all counties agreeing to “cure” those late-early ballots up until 5 p.m. on November 14.

Prior to that settlement, only four counties proactively sought to verify signatures on late-early ballot envelopes past 7 p.m. on election night. While claiming that the settlement ensured rural voters ballots would be counted, Arizona GOP officials failed to address the fact that counties that weren’t curing ballots were operated by Republican county recorders, not Democrats.

On November 15, state GOP Chairman Jonathan Lines announced he hired a local attorney to conduct an “audit” of the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, though the announcement doesn’t mention the fact that there’s nothing requiring the Recorder’s Office to comply. Republican Party officials will also launch a website to field complaints about the voting process as part of their outside investigation.

Trump tweets

President Donald Trump added to local claims of impropriety shaping Arizona’s elections, though he, too, did not provide any evidence of wrongdoing.

“Just out–in Arizona, SIGNATURES DON’T MATCH,” he tweeted on the same day Langhofer made his claims. “Electoral corruption–Call for a new Election? We must protect our Democracy!”

He made similar unfounded accusations against election officials in Florida, tweeting on November 10, “Trying to STEAL two big elections in Florida! We are watching closely!”

There is some irony in Trump’s displeasure with the outcome of Arizona’s elections, in particular the U.S. Senate race.

Sen. Jeff Flake opened the door to that contest when he opted not to run for re-election. The president celebrated the decision, mocking Flake with whom he often clashed. Trump tweeted on the day Flake announced his decision that he had “zero chance of being elected” anyway, and has continued denigrating him on social media as weak and unelectable.

But Trump may now get more out of his public feud with Flake than he ever bargained for.

The president’s preferred successor for Flake’s seat, Republican Martha McSally, lost the election to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. And while Sinema has said she’s willing to buck her party and work with Republicans, she’s not likely to win over Trump any more than Flake did.

Early ballots surge

A dour election night for Democrats turned joyful during the following weekend, as key statewide races flipped and commanding GOP leads were narrowed by a surge of mail-in ballots that took Maricopa County election officials a long time to count. Traditionally, mail-in ballots are all accounted for by election night. The first batch of results, released an hour after the polls close at 7 p.m., are not actually votes cast on Election Day, but all the early votes that were properly mailed in.

This year’s mail-in deadline fell on the Halloween holiday, perhaps providing an easy-to-remember date for voters to put their ballots in the mail. Numerous Democratic groups like the MiAZ Coalition spent the days before that Halloween deadline canvassing and encouraging voters to mail in their ballots in a timely fashion.

Those efforts perhaps contributed to the overwhelmingly positive results from ballots in Maricopa County that were mailed at the last possible moment. According to Garret Archer, the secretary of state’s data guru, those ballots split nearly 58 percent to 42 percent in favor of Sinema, helping the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate overtake her rival in the polls in a surge of votes reported on November 9.

In any case, high turnout swamped the staff at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office. Sophia Solis, a spokeswoman for the recorder, noted that Arizona law only allows mail-in ballots to be counted in the seven days before the election.

“We had really high participation, so it took more time to process those early ballots,” Solis wrote in an email.

AP misses the mark

Adding to the confusion on election night were multiple preemptive calls by The Associated Press. AP jumped the gun to call the races for secretary of state and two open Arizona Corporation Commission seats.

Republican Steve Gaynor was first declared the state’s next secretary of state on election night. News of his alleged win electrified him, and he took the stage at the Republican celebration to proclaim his victory.

“The AP is rarely wrong,” he said.

But Democrat Katie Hobbs would not concede as Gaynor’s lead dwindled in the hours and days that followed his victory lap. By November 11, she had taken a slim lead, and the AP deemed the race too close to call.

AP also projected wins for Republicans Justin Olson, the incumbent, and Rodney Glassman in the Corporation Commission race on election night. But less than 1 percentage point separated Olson in first place from former Commissioner Sandra Kennedy, a Democrat, who was in third.

Kennedy has since taken the lead in the race, knocking Glassman to third and leading AP to rescind its initial call on November 10. Glassman conceded the race on Nov. 14.

The news outlet learned a swift lesson, though. After the Corporation Commission retraction, AP reported it would not issue a new call until the election results were certified by state officials.

U.S. Sen.-elect Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., smiles after her victory over Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Sinema won Arizona's open U.S. Senate seat in a race that was among the most closely watched in the nation, beating McSally in the battle to replace GOP Sen. Jeff Flake. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
U.S. Sen.-elect Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., smiles after her victory over Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Sinema won Arizona’s open U.S. Senate seat in a race that was among the most closely watched in the nation, beating McSally in the battle to replace GOP Sen. Jeff Flake. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Sinema wins

After trailing in early vote totals on Election Day, Sinema came back to win the open U.S. Senate seat – becoming the first female U.S. senator from Arizona.

Her historic win was propelled by a Democratic surge that has landed at least two other Democrats into statewide elected office. Democrats previously held no statewide office since Janet Napolitano resigned as governor in 2009. Sinema is Arizona’s first Democratic U.S. senator since 1994.

Arizona Democratic Party Chairwoman Felecia Rotellini called this election the tipping point for Democrats.

This election was a culmination of an unprecedented Democratic field program – 4,000 volunteers knocked on 1 million doors – the excitement of possibly electing a Democratic senator and a wealth of unique Democratic candidates up and down the ballot, she said.

“We saw early on that everything, the polling, the fact that Hillary [Clinton] only lost by 4 percent in 2016, all eyes were on Arizona with respect to really elect Democrats up and down the ballot,” Rotellini said.

With Arizona U.S. Senate contests looming in 2020, 2022 and 2024, Democrats are invigorated.

Election measures keep moving along partisan lines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


ERA measure debated in Senate, fails to advance


Republican state senators today rejected an effort by the chamber’s Democrats to vote to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Stymied by the traditional legislative process – GOP Sen. Eddie Farnsworth of Mesa blocked a resolution to ratify the ERA from a hearing in his Senate Judiciary Committee – Democrats motioned Wednesday afternoon to suspend Senate rules and bring the resolution to an immediate vote on the Senate floor.

But the motion, made by Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, failed on a 13-16 party line vote.

Even Republican senators who signaled their support to ratify the ERA voted against the procedural maneuver.

Sens. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix and Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, both co-sponsored the resolution in favor of the ERA, but voted against suspending the rules to bring the matter to a vote. Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, also co-sponsored the resolution, but was not on the Senate floor for the vote.

Had the Arizona Senate supported the resolution, it still would’ve needed approval in the House of Representatives. But moving the resolution along would’ve put Arizona one step closer to being the crucial 38th state to ratify the ERA. Thirty-seven states have ratified the amendment to date and it would take one more to amend the U.S. Constitution, though lawmakers debated whether it’s too late to ratify.

Democratic senators argued that voting to ratify the amendment was something of a moral obligation on behalf of women in Arizona and throughout the country.

Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, D-Tucson, concisely summarized the arguments of her colleagues: “Women do not have equality in the United States.”

Republicans argued that issues raised by the minority party, such as pay gaps between men and women, are already addressed in other laws. Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, said that the ERA could lead to unintended consequences, such as transgender men infringing on women and the amendment being used to uphold abortion rights.

After a heated debate that lasted nearly two hours, Bradley said the motion to suspend the rules, which essentially bucks the authority of GOP leaders, was not meant as a partisan blow. Instead, it was merely a sign that the minority party disagreed with Farnsworth’s decision to shelve the bill in his committee, Bradley said, and that Democrats sought a chance for debate.

“The irony is that what just happened in the last two hours was exactly what was being requested,” Bradley said. “The difference is that people on both sides of the issue who are sitting up in the gallery would have been permitted to speak.”

The Senate’s vote was met with disdain by ERA backers in the Senate gallery, who jeered GOP senators as “cowards” and shouted “shame as the exited the chamber.

Though the ERA resolution failed, the debate did mark the first time in years that Democrats were given an opportunity to debate the measure on the floor of either the Senate or House.

Past efforts by Democratic representatives in the House have been undercut by procedural maneuvers from Republicans to avoid any discussion.

Ethics committee opens inquiry on Dem Miranda, votes along party lines

The Arizona Senate Ethics Committee will investigate a Democratic state senator for allegedly violating signature gathering laws, but won’t do any real sleuthing until the attorney general weighs in.

The committee voted 3-2 on party lines to pursue an investigation of Sen. Catherine Miranda, D-Phoenix, based on an ethics complaint filed by a Gilbert resident. GOP Sens. Kimberly Yee, Judy Burges and Steve Montenegro cast the votes in favor of the investigation.


The committee also voted to refer the complaint to Attorney General Mark Brnovich, and suspend any investigation of their own until after the Attorney General’s Office looked into it.

In a complaint sent to Senate leadership on September 20, Amy Andrea Celaya shared photos taken of Miranda while the lawmaker gathered signatures for a referendum on a recent school voucher expansion law. Those pictures showed that Miranda hadn’t checked a box indicating whether she was a paid or volunteer circulator before circulating the petition, nor was the county designated as required.

A scanned copy of the submitted petition sheet was also included, showing that information had been filled in, presumably after the photo was taken.

State law requires that circulators disclose whether they are paid or volunteers before gathering signatures.

The five senators on the Ethics Committee never debated amongst themselves the merits of the complaint. Only Sen. Martin Quezada, a Phoenix Democrat, asked whether the complaint warranted investigation. His question was answered not by the Republican lawmakers who voted for the investigation, but by the Senate rules attorney, who noted that voting to investigate further is not an indication of an ethics violation and that the complaint could still be dismissed at a later date.

Tom Ryan, an attorney representing Miranda pro bono, said there’s nothing to investigate. While it’s a misdemeanor to knowingly violate laws dictating that appropriate information be provided to voters while gathering signatures, the pictures don’t show intent on Miranda’s part to defraud anyone, Ryan said.

“This is going nowhere. I’m going to tell you right now, without talking to anybody at the AG’s office, they will dismiss this faster than a lamb can shake it’s tail. That’s how fast this is going to go down,” Ryan said. “There is nothing to this.”

Ryan Anderson, a spokesman for Brnovich, said attorneys have not yet reviewed the complaint, but will determine an appropriate response once they do so.

“Without commenting on this specific matter, we should never be eager to criminalize behavior that can be appropriately addressed via other channels,” Anderson said. “Sometimes people just make mistakes.”

Ex-GOP candidate arrested in shootings at lawmakers’ homes

Solomon Pena, center, a Republican candidate for New Mexico House District 14, is taken into custody by Albuquerque Police officers, Monday, Jan. 16, 2023, in southwest Albuquerque, N.M. Pena was arrested in connection with a recent series of drive-by shootings targeting Democratic lawmakers in New Mexico. (Roberto E. Rosales/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A failed Republican state legislative candidate who authorities say was angry over losing the election last November and made baseless claims that the election was “rigged” against him was arrested Monday in connection with a series of drive-by shootings targeting the homes of Democratic lawmakers in New Mexico’s largest city.

Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina held a news conference Monday evening hours after SWAT officers arrested Solomon Pena at his home.

Medina described Pena as the “mastermind” of what appears to be a politically-motivated criminal conspiracy leading to four shootings at or near the homes of two county commissioners and two state legislators between early December and early January.

Pena lost in November to incumbent state Rep. Miguel P. Garcia, the longtime Democrat representing House District 14 in the South Valley. Garcia won by 48 percentage points, or roughly 3,600 votes.

Police said Pena, an election denier, had approached county and state lawmakers after his loss claiming the contest had been rigged against him despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud in New Mexico in 2020 or 2022. The shootings began shortly after those conversations.

New Mexico’s state Canvassing Board unanimously certified the results of the November election.

“This type of radicalism is a threat to our nation and has made its way to our doorstep right here in Albuquerque, New Mexico,” said Mayor Tim Keller. “But I know we are going to push back, and we will not allow this to cross the threshold.”

Deputy Commander Kyle Hartsock said at least five people, including Pena, were involved in the shootings. Pena is accused of paying the others to carry out at least two of the shootings, according to Hartsock, before “Pena himself” allegedly “pulled the trigger” during one of crimes.

Police said they identified Pena as their “key” suspect using a combination of cellphone records, witness interviews and bullet casings collected at the lawmakers’ homes. His arrest comes one week after Medina, the police chief, initially announced they had identified a suspect in the shootings.

A lawyer for Pena who could comment on the allegations wasn’t listed Monday night in jail records.

No one was injured in the shootings, which came amid a rise in threats to members of Congress, school board members, election officials and other government workers around the nation. In Albuquerque, law enforcement has been struggling to address back-to-back years of record homicides and persistent gun violence.

Hartsock said additional arrests and charges were expected in the case but declined to elaborate, citing the ongoing investigation. He said some individuals, including Pena, were in custody Monday night.

A criminal complaint outlining the exact charges against Pena was expected to be released in the coming days.

The shootings began in early December when eight rounds were fired at the home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa, police said. Days later, former Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley’s home was targeted.

As news reports began to surface about the shootings, state Rep. Javier Martinez examined his property and discovered damage from gunshots. Police believe the shooting occurred in early December.

Then, during the first week of January, shots were fired at the home of state Sen. Linda Lopez — a lead sponsor of a 2021 bill that reversed New Mexico’s ban on most abortion procedures.

Lopez said in a statement that three of the bullets passed through her 10-year-old daughter’s bedroom.

Police had been investigating two additional shootings — one in the vicinity of New Mexico Attorney General Raul Torrez’s former campaign office and another at state Sen. Antonio Maestas’ office. But Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for the police department, said Monday the shootings do not appear to be connected to the case.

Expelled lawmaker nominated to fill House seat

Republican precinct committeemen in Legislative District 13 chose three candidates Monday night to replace expelled Rep. Liz Harris.

And Harris got the most votes.

Liz Harris

She was also the crowd favorite outside the event center in Chandler as a group of protestors demanded she be reinstated, blasted music and banged on windows to disrupt the meeting before police moved in.

The 154 precinct committeemen who were eligible to vote during the meeting – 119 of which were present and 35 proxies – also chose Julie Willoughby, who Harris beat in the 2022 General Election by 270 votes, and political newcomer Steve Steele.

The committeemen used a sequential runoff election system in which candidates needed 78 votes to advance as a nominee. Harris got 107.

Several committeemen said they were frustrated at having to nominate three candidates because Harris was already elected by the district.

Monday night’s voting came after committeemen voted to oust the media from the room. Reporters were allowed to return after candidates gave their speeches.

AZGOP Chairman Jeff DeWit said he was against the decision and told the committeemen the meeting needed to be transparent.

Willoughby, Pawlik, Liz Harris, general election, House
Julie Willoughby

DeWit said he called an attorney for the party seeking legal counsel on the “gray area” of kicking media members out of a meeting where elected committeemen had a statutory duty to elect nominees, and he made the decision to allow reporters back in.

“We erred on the side of caution,” DeWit said.

Reporters were not allowed in the room during Harris’ speech.

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, spoke at the meeting and said the time commitment to be a state legislator is high and warned potential nominees to carefully consider their interest.

“The decision that those who are interested in the office is important also,” Mesnard said. “This is not a lottery ticket.”

Now the decision between Harris, Willoughby, and Steele rests with the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. The board will appoint one of them to replace Harris and fill the vacant LD13 seat in the House.

The House voted to expel Harris on April 12 after the House Rules Committee found she engaged in disorderly behavior. Harris invited a speaker to a March 30 joint elections committee hearing who accused several elected officials and private citizens of criminal activity.

Facing slim majority, House Republicans beef up key committees


House Republicans have stacked the legislative system in their favor even now when Democrats hold nearly half the seats in the chamber.

New committee assignments in the House are largely an improvement from previous legislative terms for Democrats, but the partisan splits on three crucial committees serve as a stark reminder that the Republican Party holds the majority, and they’re not afraid to show it.

The Appropriations Committee, where the first hearings on the budget are held, is split 7-4 in favor of the GOP. It’s no doubt an improvement over previous years, when Republicans boasted a 9-5 advantage in representation on the committee.

But Democratic Minority Leader-elect Charlene Fernandez said it’s still nowhere close to representing the will of the voters. With her party holding 29 of the 60 seats in the House, Fernandez had hoped for committees that mirrored the narrow partisan divide.

Put another way, Republicans hold a 64 percent majority on the Appropriations Committee, while they hold less than 52 percent of the chamber.

“Sure doesn’t look like 29-31,” said Fernandez, D-Yuma.

Her hopes that House Speaker-elect Rusty Bowers would change his mind were dashed this week, when House Republicans announced a roster for committees that reflected the 7-4 advantage.

“I think it was probably easy to put that together, but to look at it and say this is reflective of my Legislature… I feel very hopeful that he’ll say no,” she said.

Bowers did not respond to a call for comment.

The House Education Committee, and the committee on Natural Resources, Energy and Water, will also be split 7-4 along party lines.

The committee on water issues was particularly surprising to Fernandez, as she said Bowers told her that water isn’t a political, ideologically-driven issue for Arizonans.

Nonetheless, Republicans have ensured themselves wiggle room to get their bills through committees with little resistance.

The 7-4 split on the Education Committee in particular could preface another tense round of talks about school funding and equity.

Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, said both parties have good ideas, and the only way those ideas will be heard is through balance. Without that, he said debates around issues like charter school reform, how to resolve the teacher shortage and funding for public schools will be hindered in the upcoming session.

Bolding, who Democrats elected co-whip along with Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, will serve as the ranking member of his party on the Education Committee. He also sat on that committee in the 2018 session, when the split was 8-3 and House Republicans held the majority by 10 members.

In 2019, they’ll remain in the majority with two members more than Democrats, yet the partisan split in that committee will improve for the minority party by just one member.

Bolding said that wouldn’t look fair or balanced to anyone, especially voters.

“Are we going to govern the way in which the public has asked us to do, which is in a more balanced way? Or is it still going to be a one-party rule?” Bolding said. “I don’t think that’s what the public wants, and I don’t think that’s what they asked us for.”

Minority leadership has voiced similar complaints before. In 2006, when Democrats won 27 House seats–that’s about 45 percent of the chamber–House Minority Leader Phil Lopes asked House Speaker Jim Weiers, a Republican, to split committees 5-4 and give Democrats as close to 45 percent representation in hearings, and on the floor.

Weiers did not oblige, and instead announced 6-4 committee splits that left Dems complaining that their 40 percent share of the committee wasn’t enough.

We think the wishes of the voters are being thwarted because the Democrats are not given proportional representation on committees,” Lopes said at the time.

While Lopes went on about fairness, then-House spokesman Barrett Marson noted there’s nothing obligating majority leaders to defer to Democrats: “There’s no rule to make [committee] membership match the Legislature’s membership. That’s never necessarily been a requirement or even practice.”

In theory, a 7-4 split is not so advantageous. The Republican majority on those committees can only afford to lose one vote from their own caucus and still pass bills 6-5. If another Republican were to defect, the result would be flipped and bills would fail.

In practice, a 7-4 split allows those committees to weather the absence or “present” vote – abstaining – of as many as two Republicans. It also provides cover for a Republican who, perhaps wary of voting for a certain bill, simply leaves the room to avoid the vote.

The committee arrangement also ensures Democrats will have an uphill battle of successfully moving their own bills through the legislative process. Democratic members on committees split 7-4 will have to convince at least two Republicans to support their proposals in order for them to advance.

The arrangement also empowers far-right Republicans to get their bills beyond committees and to votes on the full House floor.

It’s familiar territory for Democrats, who have been the minority party in the House for decades.

Their silver lining is the House floor, where the wiggle room for Republicans is narrower. Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, is well aware of his party’s slim margin for error, and warns that full attendance by Republicans will be crucial to passing bills along party lines.

As the speaker pro tem, Shope will preside over much of the chamber’s debates and votes, and said he’ll be stressing to his fellow caucus members that they need to show up to work.

House members cannot vote present on the floor, so they often simply leave during a vote if they do not want to participate. But there is a rarely-utilized mechanism to bring those absent lawmakers back to the floor. Under House rules, any representative can make a motion for a “Call of the House,” forcing the sergeant at arms to round up absent members “until two-thirds of the members elected to the House are present.”

In the House, that motion has only successfully been made once in the past decade – by Democratic Rep. Diego Espinoza of Avondale, under former House Speaker David Gowan.