Technological innovation is changing our lives for the better – driving consumer choice, marketplace competition and convenience unimaginable even a decade ago.
Want to get a meal delivered from your favorite restaurant? Request a ride from Uber or Lyft? Reserve a home via Airbnb or HomeAway? All of this and much more is at our fingertips with a few clicks on a smartphone.
Yet, with each technological advance we witness the same response as whatever legacy industry is being disrupted seeks the government’s assistance in burying the upstarts in red tape, taxes and fees. And all of this while cloaking its anti-competitive actions behind talk of “leveling the playing field” or “protecting consumers.”
Don’t believe it.
We’re seeing this same drama play out again as the car-rental lobby asks the State of Arizona to regulate a new peer-to-peer car sharing service out of existence. App-based companies like Turo and others allow people to make their privately-owned vehicles available for anyone else to reserve via an online platform. The vehicle owner sets the terms and price and the entire transaction occurs via the app, with the technology company taking a percentage.
It’s cashless and convenient. The attraction for consumers is obvious.
For the car sharing host, it’s a chance to earn extra money – $350/month for the average Arizona host on Turo, the largest of the services. Nearly 1 in 5 Turo hosts are veterans or active military members, many of whom list their vehicles on the service while they’re deployed.
What about car sharing users? The services are a new option, and one that may be less expensive and more convenient than visiting a traditional car-rental counter.
Opponents of the new industry, led by the rental car conglomerates, propose legislation that would stop car sharing in its tracks. With SB 1305, they seek to treat each private citizen who lists their vehicle on an app as if they were a car rental company with a massive fleet. Never mind that Turo and similar platforms don’t own any vehicles and are no more a car rental company than Airbnb is a hotel.
Regardless, SB 1305 would heap fees and taxes on car sharing individuals while giving them none of the financial breaks enjoyed by the big rental car providers. Companies like Enterprise, for example, don’t pay sales tax on new vehicles – a tax break that saves them approximately $24 million each year. No such luck for private citizens like you, me and anyone using a car sharing app. As individuals, we pay sales tax at the time of vehicle purchase, as well as annual Vehicle License & Title fees based on the value of the car.
Thankfully, there’s a better way. We’re proud to sponsor and support HB 2559, bipartisan legislation that establishes necessary guidelines in areas such as insurance and public safety, while recognizing car sharing is a new business model with unique attributes and needs.
With HB 2559, Arizona can strike a proper balance that protects both consumers and personal freedom. Let’s continue to welcome the change-makers and innovators improving our world one app at a time. Who knows what they’ll think of next?
State Rep. Travis Grantham is a Republican from Gilbert and the prime sponsor of HB 2559. He was elected in 2016. Rep. Robert Meza is a Democrat from Phoenix. He was elected in 2002.
A new lawsuit seeks to strike down a statute that can invalidate otherwise legitimate and qualified signatures on an initiative petition.
Attorney Sarah Gonski said the requirement unconstitutionally “discourages the people of Arizona … from exercising their fundamental right to make law without consulting the Legislature.” She is asking U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton to block Secretary of State Katie Hobbs from enforcing the requirement.
Gonski may have an uphill battle.
The statute in question was upheld just this past year by the Arizona Supreme Court. But Gonski is trying a different path of attack, alleging that it runs afoul of protections in the U.S. Constitution.
Arizonans can propose their own constitutional amendments and laws by gathering enough signatures to put the issue directly to voters.
The 2014 law, which passed without significant debate, spells out that paid circulators and those who do not live in Arizona must first register with the Secretary of State or their signatures collected do not count.
More significant, it allows those trying to keep a measure off the ballot to subpoena those circulators. And if any circulator who has to register does not show up, then all the signatures that person gathered can be struck, potentially leaving the petition drive short of its goal.
One of the plaintiffs is Next Gen Climate Action Committee which pushed an unsuccessful measure last year to impose new renewable energy mandates on utilities. Gonski, arguing on behalf of the organization, said the statute has taken its toll, citing the experience of Jessica Miracle, a paid petition circulator on that measure.
Subpoenaed by foes of the measure, the lawsuit says Miracle could not attend because her children were sick, she did not have her own transportation to Phoenix, and no one would tell her clearly how many days she would need to be in Phoenix.
The result, according to Gonski, was that all of the 2,604 signatures Miracle gathered were invalidated.
Gonski said the law is not just unfair to circulators.
One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit is Mary Katz, listed as a Phoenix resident and registered voter.
According to Gonski, Katz signed that renewable energy measure.
“But her signature was later invalidated when the circulator who witnessed it was unable to appear in court when subpoenaed,” the lawsuit states. And Gonski said Katz was not told until long after the election that her signature has been invalidated, meaning there was no way for her to go to court to tell the judge that it was, indeed, a valid signature.
The other key plaintiff in the case is Arizonans for Fair Lending which is currently circulating petitions to enact a law to outlaw title loans. Rod McLeod, who is managing that campaign, said the law has now become a tool for challengers to use to keep measures opposed by certain business interests from ever getting to voters.
He pointed out that challengers to the renewable energy measure issued subpoenas for about 1,180 circulators. McLeod said it was clear from the start there was no way they were going to question that many people in the one week the judge had set aside for trial.
In fact, Gonski said, out of the 913 circulators who appeared, 872 were sent home without ever being asked a single question about their work.
McLeod said challengers know that, using the massive subpoenas “just for intimidation” in hopes that some people would not show up, allowing all the signatures they gathered to be voided. And that could become an issue as his organization seeks to obtain the 237,645 valid signatures it needs by July 2, 2020, to put the title loan measure on the 2020 ballot.
The tactic of issuing subpoenas to disqualify signatures actually worked last year, though it didn’t involve nearly as many subpoenas.
At issue was an initiative to insert a “right-to-know” provision in the Arizona Constitution, requiring any group seeking to influence a political race or ballot measure to reveal the identity of anyone who contributed more than $10,000.
Challengers issued subpoenas for 15 circulators, leaving them with a security guard at an office building which had been used by a company that had hired the paid circulators. When none appeared, the judge disqualified the 8,824 signatures they had collected, leaving the petition drive short.
Attorney Kim Demarchi challenged the law in that case in a bid to put the “Outlaw Dark Money” measure on the ballot. She argued that a circulator’s signatures should be tossed only when there is a “valid objection” to the circulator or the “need for a circulator’s testimony.”
But Supreme Court Justice John Lopez, writing for the unanimous court, said the constitutional right of people to propose their own laws and constitutional amendments “is, and must be, subject to reasonable regulation.” And he said requiring circulators to appear in court and tossing their signatures if they don’t show “furthers the constitutional purpose of the initiative process by ensuring the integrity of signature gathering by reasonable means.”
Gonski, in her new lawsuit, argued to Bolton that the law is unfair and discriminatory. She pointed out that lawmakers decided the requirement to registering paid and out-of-state circulators and allowing their signatures to be struck if they don’t show up, applies only to ballot measures and not to nominating petitions for political candidates.
“There is no evidence to suggest that initiative petitions are more susceptible to fraud than candidate nomination petitions, nor that paid or out-of-state circulators are in need of special punishment above and beyond other circulators to compel their attendance in court,” she wrote.
A spokeswoman for Hobbs, who is the defendant in the case, said her office was reviewing the challenge.
The case presents an interesting situation for Hobbs: She actually voted for the measure when she was a state senator in 2014. In fact, all but two Senate Democrats supported it: Andrea Dalessandro of Green Valley and Robert Meza of Phoenix.
Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously reported that Arizonans for Fair Lending needed to enough signatures by July 2 to make the 2018 ballot. The group actually has until July 2, 2020, to make the 2020 ballot.
A federal judge on Monday refused to strike down an Arizona law that allows a judge to invalidate otherwise legitimate and qualified signatures on an initiative petition.
In a 19-page ruling, Judge Susan Bolton acknowledged that the 2014 statute could make it more difficult for those proposing their own laws and constitutional amendments to put their proposals before voters.
But Bolton said challengers did not present enough evidence, at least not yet, to show that allowing it to remain in effect presents irreparable harm, either to voters or those who hope to propose future ballot measures. So, for the moment, the law and its hurdles will remain on the books – and likely will be in place as groups start submitting petitions for issues to go to voters in 2020.
The law, which passed without significant debate, spells out that paid circulators and those who do not live in Arizona must first register with the Secretary of State or their signatures collected do not count.
But the significant provision deals with the ability of those trying to keep a measure off the ballot to subpoena circulators to appear in court to verify both their own eligibility and how they gathered the signatures. Specifically, what’s been dubbed the Strikeout Law says that if any circulator who has to register does not show up, then all the signatures that person gathered can be struck, potentially leaving the petition drive short of its goal.
Not An Academic Issue
The ruling comes as Arizonans for Fair Lending, one of the groups that filed suit, is circulating petitions asking voters in 2020 to cap interest rates on auto title loans at no more than 36 percent annual interest. Current laws allow lenders to charge more than 200 percent.
Rodd McLeod, campaign manager for the effort, said the decision allowing the law to remain on the books, at least for the time being, will make it more difficult to get the 237,645 valid signatures needed by July 2 to qualify for the ballot.
“This Strikeout Law is a gift to out-of-state corporations like predatory lenders,” he said. “It allows them to hijack our democracy and allow people the right to vote to lower interest rates.”
The 2014 law already has kept one measure off the ballot.
Voters did not get to decide last year on the “Outlaw Dark Money” initiative, which sought to put a provision in the Arizona Constitution to require any group seeking to influence a political race or ballot measure to reveal the identity of anyone who contributed more than $10,000.
In that case, challengers issued subpoenas for 15 circulators. When none appeared, the judge disqualified the 8,824 signatures they had collected, leaving the petition drive short.
The Arizona Supreme Court upheld the law and the decision to keep the measure off the ballot, ruling that the statute “furthers the constitutional purpose of the initiative process by ensuring the integrity of signature gathering by reasonable means.”
That led to this new lawsuit, with attorney Sarah Gonski telling Bolton that the law “unconstitutionally discourages the people of Arizona … from exercising their fundamental right to make law without consulting the Legislature.”
For example, Gonski argued, the requirement could reduce the number of people available to circulate initiative petitions. She said that groups seeking to change the law would be reluctant to hire paid circulators from outside the Phoenix metro area for fear they would not show up in court, with the result of all their signatures being tossed.
Bolton disagreed. “There is insufficient evidence of a ‘chilling’ effect,” she wrote.
The judge was more willing to consider the argument that organizations pushing initiative measures will have to gather more than the minimum number of signatures required for fear some would be thrown out.
“Ballot-access measures like the Strikeout Law can restrict political speech,” Bolton said. But she said that challengers to this point “have simply failed to show facts or circumstances demonstrating such restrictive effect.”
Bolton also showed interest in the fact that the legislators who approved the law on disqualification of signatures applied it only to ballot measures and not to nominating petitions for themselves and other elected officials.
Attorneys for the state argued that distinction is merited, citing the Voter Protection Act. That constitutional provision says once a measure is approved at the ballot box it cannot be repealed by the Legislature but instead must be taken back to voters.
But Bolton said that hurdle, by itself, is not enough to warrant the difference.
“The ‘near permanency’ of an initiative once passed is more of a legal outcome than a compelling government interest justifying (the state’s) chosen method of incentivizing subpoena compliance,” the judge wrote.
Still, none of that was enough for Bolton to grant Gonski’s motion to bar the state from enforcing the law at the next election.
She said challengers had failed to show they would suffer “irreparable harm” – one of the standards a court uses to determine whether to issue an injunction – if the law remains in effect. In fact, the judge noted, at least two of the groups that sued, Arizonans for Fair Lending and NextGen Climate Action, have provided no evidence that they will be deterred from conducting future campaigns in Arizona while the law remains in effect.
Because the lawsuit challenges an election law the defendant in the case is Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.
She actually voted for the measure when she was a state senator in 2014. In fact, all but two Senate Democrats supported it: Andrea Dalessandro of Green Valley and Robert Meza of Phoenix.
Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include comment from a spokesman for Arizonans for Fair Lending.
Twenty-two lawmakers lost their races this year for various offices and won’t return to the Capitol for at least two years.
Nine House Republicans, nine House Democrats and four Republican senators were knocked out of the running, several in surprising upsets from political newcomers.
Nearly all the legislators say they will spend some time focusing on their other jobs and families, but don’t rule out another run down the road.
House of Representatives
Rep. Morgan Abraham, D-Tucson: “I can’t see a situation where I run for the lege (Legislature) anytime soon but there’s other offices,” Abraham said. He wants to go back to being an “involved citizen” in the meantime.
Rep. Richard Andrade, D-Glendale: Andrade is a locomotive engineer who was already on vacation in Hawaii by the middle of August. He’ll take a break from the Legislature but plans to run again as a Clean Elections candidate. “My opponent was able to pull it off because he had a lot of outside help like special groups, special interests,” Andrade said. He hopes that using Clean Elections funding will boost him and he won’t turn to organizations that he said disappointed him “immensely.” He lost his race to fellow legislator Rep. Diego Espinoza, D-Tolleson.
Rep. Walter Blackman, R-Snowflake: Blackman said in no uncertain terms that he will run for office again, but maybe not for a seat in the Legislature. “I’ve been asked to run for the Senate in my district, and so we’ll see. We’ll see, but I definitely am running,” he said. Blackman lost a congressional bid to Trump-endorsed newcomer Eli Crane.
Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa: Bowers is hard at work traveling on behalf of the state. He wants to make a trip on his own to Romania and Kazakhstan outside of work, and paint pictures of Romanian haystacks. Bowers is the best-known artist in Arizona politics and decorated the House with his own paintings and sculptures. His vacation plans are no indication that he intends to leave politics behind. “I’m very, very concerned about the direction my party has taken. Obviously, I’m not a ‘member in good standing anymore’ because I didn’t want the Legislature to take away the right of citizens to vote,” he said of being censured by Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward. Bowers said he wants to have an impact on the future of the Republican party. “I am a victim in a district against three competitors who used tactics and said things about me and my morality and my stature and my reputation that was disgusting. … It’s a vicious bunch of people,” Bowers said. His primary opponent David Farnsworth was endorsed by Trump after Bowers testified to the January 6 congressional committee about former President Trump’s efforts to overturn Arizona’s election results.
Rep. Judy Burges, R-Sun West City: Burges said that she’ll be in her 80s when she runs again and she’d have to “give it some thought,” but in the meantime she’s going on a vacation to Hawaii for the first time. “I’m really looking forward to it,” she said on August 16. Burges wants to continue working for the Republican Party whether she runs again or not. “You can’t be busied out the Legislature and come back home and do nothing,” she said.
Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction: Fillmore said he will never leave politics and that his election isn’t over. He said he believes that he only lost due to problems in Pinal County on Election Day that included a shortage of ballots and is considering legal action. For now, Fillmore said he is in the mountains of Oregon “recuperating” by “drinking incessantly” and camping in a motel.
Rep. Joel John, R-Buckeye: “To be frank, I don’t think I’ll run any time in the near future. I would like to run again, but the Legislature is a huge commitment for someone who runs a business and has kids at home,” John said. He has an agricultural business to run and takes care of his children.
Rep. Sarah Liguori, D-Phoenix: She wants to remain in politics and hasn’t decided whether she’ll run for the Legislature again. “This time last year, I didn’t know I was going to be at the Legislature. So, this time next year, I don’t know what my life is going to be like,” she said on August 15. Liguori is interested in putting her experience in real estate behind her and focusing instead on politics in Phoenix. She was appointed rather than elected to this term and lost to fellow incumbents Rep. Amish Shah, D-Phoenix, and Rep. Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix.
Rep. Robert Meza, D-Phoenix: Meza said he’ll keep working at his own business and potentially come back into politics later. “I’ve never been through this before, because I always win by large amounts,” Meza said.
Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear: “I will be doing what I always do and try and be a part of my community, and have my small business, and be a mom and a grandma,” Osborne said. She is not sure whether she’ll come back but said that may depend on what happens in Arizona. “We’re doing well as Arizonans, and I hope nobody screws that up,” Osborne said.
Rep. Lorenzo Sierra, D-Cashion: Sierra said he may run again, but now he’s hunting for a job in the private sector and considering moving to Washington, D.C., with his wife. “We have kids who live out-of-state and one of them is getting married. We’d love to be near grandchildren,” he said. In terms of his work, Sierra said he wants to remain “politics adjacent” with community relations and marketing.
Rep. Christian Solorio, D-Phoenix, Solorio’s spokesperson (and sister) Diana Solorio said that he will continue to work in the community and combat homeless issues but has not committed to another politics run.
House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen; Rep. Shawna Bolick, R-Phoenix;Rep. César Chávez, D-Phoenix; Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson; Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa; and Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, did not respond to requests for comment.
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, Bolding and Bolick all competed and lost in the primary race for secretary of state. Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro-Valley, won that Republican primary.
Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa: Pace didn’t promise to run again, but he said the 2022 session was “probably” not his last time serving in the Legislature. “I have no plans running for office in this next election cycle. Other than that, I’m not entirely sure, but it won’t be the end,” Pace said. Pace has his own business to manage and is considering getting a cabin or a beach house to enjoy. He also said he’s not planning to collaborate with Robert Scantlebury, who beat him in the primary election for Legislative District 9.
Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction: “I have given ten years plus of my life to serving the people of this state and country. I’ve sacrificed my children’s childhood, my career before politics, to some degree my health due to the high level of stress and many other things, and right now my focus is my children and my family and then I will decide,” said Townsend. She used to work full time as a doula but said she probably won’t go back to that now. “I’ve given every last fiber of my soul to this state for a long time and now it’s time to turn and focus forwards,” she said. Fellow Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, beat out Townsend in the primary.
Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson: Leach still hasn’t conceded his Legislative District 17 race to victor Justine Wadsack. He had two friends file a lawsuit against Wadsack claiming that she actually lives outside of the district she ran in and is asking that her name be removed from the general election ballots and replaced with Leach’s. “If you’re going to represent the district; you should live in it,” Leach said on Thursday.
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, did not respond to requests for comment.
Republican leaders in the Arizona House and Senate are moving ahead with plans to draft their own budget proposal by the end of the year, reasserting legislative authority they say they lost during recent years.
By the time Gov. Doug Ducey tells the Legislature his plans for how to spend or save an estimated $170 million in ongoing funds and $475 million in one-time appropriations in mid-January, legislative leaders want him to know how the Legislature wants to use that money, Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray said.
“My hope is that by the end of the year we actually have a budget put together, that it will be in the governor’s hands and he’ll actually know what our House and Senate legislative body is looking at so we can be a little more cooperative,” the Sun City Republican said.
And House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, said she has met with 80% to 90% of her caucus and has reached out to agency heads about their budgetary priorities.
Cobb said she and her counterparts in the Senate will begin meeting in the coming weeks to start drafting a legislative budget proposal.
Although Cobb and other GOP leaders wouldn’t put it in such terms, long-time Capitol insiders say the plan harkens back to a time when the Legislature more readily wielded its appropriations power, going toe-to-toe with the Governor’s Office to fight for spending priorities that were fleshed out before the governor could go public with his or her plan. There were powerful appropriations subcommittees that grilled agency heads and full-fledged line-item budget proposals that had party support prior to the release of the governor’s own plan.
But over time, Arizona’s governors exerted increasing control over the appropriations process. Although there has been no shortage of recent budget fights between the Ninth Floor and the Legislature, lawmakers ceded some of their autonomy in the name of a more efficient — albeit less publicly transparent — process that puts the governor’s priorities front and center.
This old arrangement might not only pull back the blinds on the appropriations process, but also provide an opportunity for some of the state’s more beleaguered agencies and departments to work their connections in the Legislature and vie for greater funding than they might get otherwise.
And in theory, it could provide an opportunity for Democrats yearning to make their desires heard — though whether those desires manifest themselves has yet to be seen, as some key Democrats say they haven’t received an entree into the nascent budgeting process.
“I have felt that we should have done this a long time ago,” Cobb said. “Last year, we were way behind where we should have been. When that budget comes out from the governor, we shouldn’t have any surprises.”
A return to times past
The governor has been statutorily required to present a budget since the late 1960s, but lawmakers relying almost exclusively on the executive budget to frame debate is a relatively new phenomenon that has gained steam within the past two decades.
“There used to actually be budgeting committees,” said Chuck Coughlin, the president of HighGround Public Affairs Consultants and a political adviser to then-Gov. Jan Brewer. “You go back to those ancient times, what those processes all did was create ownership in the legislative body of ideas, instead of reacting to what the governor proposes.”
There aren’t many left in the Legislature who were around in those days — though some have been more vocal about wanting to restore legislative authority than others.
“At least since I’ve been in the Legislature, we’ve always waited until the end to get all the numbers,” Gray said. “I think that’s a little too reactionary.”
Gray is one of a handful of Republican legislators who have pushed for years to return to an earlier way of budgeting. They first started to make progress in 2017, when new House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, now a senator, created Appropriations subcommittees to develop an initial budget proposal that could be shopped around to Republican House members.
Long before most current members joined the Legislature, Appropriations subcommittees played a larger role in the budget process, holding hearings with agencies throughout the state in the fall before the session began. Subcommittees held ongoing hearings throughout the session as well, longtime Capitol lobbyist Don Isaacson said.
“They would actually work a budget from the ground up and then toward the end of that process reconcile their differences between the House and the Senate,” he said.
That institutional memory had faded so much by the time Brewer took office that the Ninth Floor had to take control just to get a budget written, Coughlin said.
When the economy tanked in the Great Recession, legislators “kind of punted” a lot of their budgeting authority to the governor because taking responsibility for necessary cuts can be painful, but it’s time to change that culture, Gray said.
“Just like with a business, you have a corporate culture that will set the pace on how things are done and the way things are done,” he said. “We have the same thing in the Legislature. It takes a little while to change that culture, and I think we’re really beginning to see that it becomes much more effective to have a deeper dive into the budget than we have before.”
The Governor’s Office also is further ahead on its budget this year than it has been in previous years and has been in regular communication with House and Senate leadership, Ducey Chief of Staff Daniel Scarpinato said.
“We’re all for more collaboration and discussion sooner,” Scarpinato said.
Perpetually underfunded areas of state government see some promise in lawmakers drafting their own budget proposal.
The state Housing Trust Fund, for instance, had been capped at $2.5 million annually for nearly a decade. Ducey’s fiscal 2020 budget proposal would not have increased that amount, but because lawmakers made the fund a sticking point in their budget negotiations, it received a one-time appropriation of $15 million this year.
The Arizona Housing Coalition has good relationships with legislators on both sides of the aisle, spokesman Camaron Stevenson said. He’s “optimistically curious” about how the Legislature’s budget plans will proceed.
“It’s easier for us to work with them than it is for 20 different organizations to go to the governor,” he said.
One Republican lawmaker in the House, Scottsdale Rep. John Allen, has already scheduled a meeting with representatives of the developmental disability community to discuss their budget needs, said Jon Meyers, executive director of the disability advocacy group Arc of Arizona.
“It’s never a bad sign that they want to get started on the budgeting process early,” Meyers said. “It certainly gives stakeholders like us the opportunity to provide more input and work with those legislators over a longer period of time, rather than try to compete with all of the priorities that are on their desks during the legislative session.”
Sen. Lela Alston, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the Legislature taking a more active role in the budgeting process could embolden executive agencies, such as the Department of Corrections, to ask for the money they need.
“The agencies that might have needs have to take whatever the governor says because they work for him,” she said. “Sometimes the agencies have needs that they’re not able to put forth because of the restrictions placed on them by the Governor’s Office.”
Democrats in the dark
Beyond one-on-one conversations with Senate President Karen Fann about their priorities, Senate Democrats said they haven’t been involved in any discussions about an early budget.
Alston said she hasn’t yet had any conversations with her committee leadership, though she half-jokingly offered to serve as a “consultant” for them on better ways to work on the budget. She previously served in the Senate from 1977 to 1994.
Sen. Sean Bowie, a Tempe Democrat who serves on the Appropriations Committee, said one-on-one meetings are more than his caucus has had under previous Senate leaders.
The Legislature came close to reaching a bipartisan consensus last year, Bowie said, though all Democrats in both chambers ultimately voted against every budget bill. He said he’s hopeful that there will be a bipartisan budget agreement next year.
“We really want to make sure it’s a true bipartisan process and that Democrats are actually being included as we put together these proposals and put together these budgets,” Bowie said. “We’re not just handed something at the end and told, ‘Hey, come and vote for this.’”
“After what we saw this year in the last part of the session, I am reluctant to put any of their asks in right up front,” Fann said at the time. “It didn’t do me any good to fight for them this year.”
In the House, Cobb said she’s met with a half-dozen Democrats. But several Democrats, including leaders, say that though they’ve heard of the budget plan, they have yet to be involved.
Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, the ranking member on appropriations, said he hasn’t heard anything from Cobb. Neither have Rep. Reginald Bolding, the ranking member on education, Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez or several other key Democrats, including moderates like Reps. Robert Meza and Cesar Chavez.
“It has been the typical way that we’ve seen the Legislature operate since forever, that the majority party is going behind closed doors and creating a budget they want,” Bolding said. “If there’s an opportunity to pick at the margins, they’ll reach out to Democrats. But there’s been no type of collaboration.”
While the Democratic caucus is supportive of the greater legislative control in theory, many in the minority said they’ll find more common ground with Ducey’s plan than whatever a GOP-controlled Legislature comes up with.
“I believe the governor should set the vision,” Friese said. “It’s not unreasonable to get a pulse, but not to get a jump on the governor.”
Arizona Republican legislators have a habit of pushing ideas that make their own lives easier, but harder for voters to have their voices heard.
Critics say the GOP-led efforts are a consolidation of legislative authority, designed to fend off an increasingly independent and incensed electorate in a state that’s becoming slightly more competitive every two years.
Some examples include legislation like SB1023, which would allow legislative candidates to identify fewer of those individuals who make financial contributions to their campaigns, leaving voters in the dark about who’s influencing elections.
And Republicans are also leading an effort to quash a movement in Tempe to reveal the sources of “dark money” in local elections. It’s a GOP bid to keep campaign dollars spent by groups that don’t disclose the source of their money a secret.
And there are more.
Arizona is no stranger to bills that are criticized as a power struggle between lawmakers and voters, but Zachary Smith, a regents professor of politics and international affairs at Northern Arizona University, said this year’s wave of legislation is unprecedented.
“In 30 years of watching the Arizona Legislature, I’ve never seen such blatant attempts to empower the Legislature and disempower the voters, and that’s taking all of these things into consideration,” Smith said.
Republican lawmakers say there’s no concerted effort to undermine voters, and make the case for bills on an individual basis as good for Arizona and good for their constituents. But on some issues, their policy positions contradict popular public opinion.
Rivko Knox, a volunteer lobbyist with the League of Women Voters, recalled one legislative hearing this year on a bill with dozens of speakers signed in to oppose, and minimal support, but still, a lawmaker claimed the measure was widely backed.
The “request to speak” system is by no means a definitive arbiter of public opinion. Still, in the face of overwhelming opposition at the hearing, “the legislator said, ‘That’s not what I hear in my district,’” Knox said.
If that’s the case, she said, “to what extent you’re really representing your district, I don’t know.”
In some ways, Knox sees Republican efforts to consolidate power in the Legislature as instinctual, albeit a tactic that shies away from transparency and shows a disrespect for the public, she said.
“To some extent it’s almost a natural reaction, in the sense that one body wants to retain power,” she said.
Those bodies, the Republican-dominated Arizona Senate and House of Representatives, are frustrating lobbyists like Knox and Joel Edman, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network.
“Instead of having huge debates on how we can get more money into classrooms, and how we can take care of the families that don’t have reliable access to health care, that we’re trying to figure out, can we raise the salaries of legislators, can we make it so we don’t have to run for re-election so often, can we make it so we can hide some of our campaign contributions?” Edman said. “It’s a really sort of twisted view of the priorities.”
There is in fact an effort to dramatically increase legislative salaries, though such a pay hike would require a vote of the people, and Arizonans haven’t been keen on rewarding lawmakers with a raise for years.
Arizonans may also be asked whether they want senators and representatives to serve four-year terms, rather than two years. The resolution, sponsored by Rep. Drew John, R-Safford, would halve the number of elections in which legislators must campaign, a boon for institutional knowledge, some argue. Even Edman and Knox see the benefits of such a proposal.
And yet, HCR2006 finds a way to make legislators’ lives even more easy because legislative elections would only be held every four years during midterm elections, when voter turnout is at its lowest and campaigns are dominated by the most passionate, and arguably far-right and -left, of each party, Edman said.
“That means that some segment of voters who show up just for presidential years aren’t going to have their voices heard at all – they’re basically irrelevant as far as the state Capitol is concerned. And so that’s a whole segment of voters that are taken out of the process,” he said.
Should they vote every year? Sure, Edman said. But as long as they don’t, fewer elections should at least be held at a time when more voters are likely to cast ballots, he said.
Edman and Knox speculate that avoiding voters might be the underlying goal. For example, it has become routine for Republicans to sponsor bills that chip away at the initiative process, by which voters can bypass the Legislature and pass laws on their own, or even block laws the Legislature approved.
Proposition 206, a citizens initiative to raise the minimum wage that voters approved in 2016, seems to have accelerated those efforts, Edman said.
“Certainly it brought on all these attacks on the initiative process, but I think folks down here, and I think in particular a couple of powerful interests groups like the (Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry) who were used to getting their way saw they can’t always get their way with the electorate,” he said. “So let’s see if they can again find a way to make the electorate less important in how the state runs things.”
That feeling is also reflected in efforts like HCR2022. Sponsored by Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, the resolution would ask voters to give up their right to elect partisan candidates in primary elections for the U.S. Senate. Instead, legislators from the Republican and Democratic parties would select two nominees each whose names would appear on the General Election ballot.
When the resolution was approved by a House committee on a 6-3 party-line vote, Republican representatives said the measure will better serve the state by ensuring U.S. senators are acting in the best interest of the state.
“That to me is such a blatant way of saying, ‘We ought to control what’s going on. We want senators that are dependent on us,’ as if the legislators are the people of the state, and they’re not,” Knox said.
Some don’t pan out
The sponsors of resolutions like HCR 2022 are often criticized for not having their finger on the pulse of the electorate. Rep. Bob Thorpe, the Flagstaff Republican who has sponsored several bills to draw the fire of progressive and nonpartisan interest groups alike, said he knows exactly what he’s doing – it’s what his voters want.
Not all constituents may like it, but Thorpe said he’s doing right by his Legislative District 6.
Sometimes that means pitching bills that don’t pan out. Thorpe said he sponsored HCR2014, the resolution to block independents from voting in partisan primaries, because a voter in his district asked him to. But he backed off the idea after consulting with state Republican leaders, who weren’t in favor of the idea.
Thorpe said most bills come from ideas from constituents. There’s nothing nefarious going on, as if Republican lawmakers are plotting with one another about ways to undermine the will of the voters.
“We are all free agents down here, and it’s very rare that as we’re crafting bill ideas that we’re having conversations with members. … I think what you might be suggesting and other people might be suggesting is there’s a collaborative effort to push the agenda in a certain direction,” Thorpe said. “We don’t even have right now a majority plan in place, where the majority has decided we’re going to be pushing A, B and C.”
For Thorpe, the best way to represent the voters of his district is to push for what he philosophically believes is in the best interest of the state of Arizona.
Take the minimum wage issue as an example.
Thorpe argued that such a high minimum wage – Arizona’s now stands at $10.50 per hour, but will increase to $12 by 2020 – is bad for businesses and ultimately hurts the residents it’s trying to help. So he supports efforts to freeze the minimum wage at its current rate and undo paid-leave protections for employees that were approved by voters less than 18 months ago.
Initiatives like Prop. 206 that increased the minimum wage get in the way of Thorpe’s view of a representative form of government.
“People elect us to come down here and the Legislature to write laws,” he said. “So when you have a bill, whether it’s well intentioned or not, a referendum, it basically steps on our toes as the Legislature.”
Stepping on toes or not, Prop. 206 passed with little opposition. Roughly 58 percent of voters approved the minimum wage hike across the state, and in Thorpe’s LD6, the proposition passed with more than 57 percent of the vote, according to an analysis prepared for Arizona Wins, a progressive advocacy group.
So how does Thorpe reconcile supporting a measure to undo something that voters in his district supported?
“I look at my constituents. When I go before the people in northern Arizona, I’m thanked for the job I’m doing,” he said.
And if he keeps getting elected, that must mean there’s at least some voters in LD6 who approve of what he’s doing, like undermining the minimum wage initiative.
“Any election, (voters) have the opportunity to get rid of me and to elect someone else. I’m coming up for re-election now, and they have that opportunity to do so,” Thorpe said. “So if I’m not doing what they want me to do, they’ll replace me.”
Ignoring the popular vote
Smith, the NAU professor, said there are many factors that create an environment where a lawmaker like Thorpe can ignore the popular vote in his district. Lawmakers are listening to some, but not all, of their constituents, he said.
As far as having their finger on the pulse of the electorate, it’s a valid criticism, Smith said, “but see, they don’t have to, because they only have to have 51 percent of the people that vote in the Republican primary in their district, and most of those guys know it.”
Smith said that Republicans in charge of the state right now are “enriched and empowered by forces that weren’t in play in the past” – particularly anonymous campaign expenditures like the ones Tempe wants to shine a light on, but Republican legislators want to keep in the, well, dark.
The financial influence of anonymous political spending stretches from the highest office in the state – Gov. Doug Ducey was the beneficiary of $8.2 million in dark money during the 2014 election — to some legislative races.
On the bright side, Smith noted that many of these legislative efforts are dead or dying.
Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, is killing SB1023, which would shield some campaign contributor s from exposure, in the face of opposition, including some from his own party. A Thorpe bill to exempt communications on personal devices from the public record never passed a committee hearing.
But bills like the dark money ban pre-emption and an effort to overhaul Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission are alive and will likely be approved along party-line votes. Progressives like Edman are hopeful that the changing demographics of the state will alter that reality.
Some see a not-too-distant future where that might be the case.
In a committee hearing on the resolution to undermine the voter-approved minimum wage hike, Sen. Robert Meza, D-Phoenix, warned his GOP colleagues that a wave is coming in the form of a young, educated, and arguably angry voter fed up with legislators who don’t listen to the people.
Smith isn’t so sure.
“You know if you’re a Republican sitting in a safe district, you can do just about anything,” he said. “Is there gonna be a backlash? Yeah, I think some of these things are going to be a bit too far. Is the backlash gonna extend to throwing people out of office? No.”
Legislation voters likely won’t love
Critics say that Republican lawmakers are pushing ideas to make legislators’ lives easier at the expense of voters, who would be cut off from vital knowledge about their elected officials and in some cases denied opportunities to vote. Here are a few examples of those bills they oppose – many have failed, but others are still making their way through the process.
Sponsored by Sen. John Kavanagh, the bill would have hidden the identities of most individuals who donate to political campaigns and legislative candidates in elections. Roughly three out of every four donors would not have their identities disclosed. Kavanagh won’t pursue the bill after facing some criticism from his GOP colleagues.
Sponsored by Rep. Vince Leach, the bill would bar Arizona municipalities from requiring politically active, tax-exempt organizations from revealing their donors. No city, county or town currently does this, but Tempe is considering the idea. The bill already passed the House, but must now be voted on in the Senate.
Sponsored by Rep. Bob Thorpe, the bill would undermine a recent ruling by the Arizona Court of Appeals that found records stored on public official’s personal media devices are subject to public records laws. The bill would exempt those records, even if a public official was using a personal device to conduct official business. The bill never received a hearing.
Sponsored by Senate President Steve Yarbrough, the resolution would increase the members serving on the Independent Redistricting Commission, the body responsible for redrawing Arizona’s congressional and legislative district boundaries. The bill has faced criticisms that it re-politicizes a process that voters explicitly don’t want legislators to be involved in. It awaits a vote on the Senate floor.
Sponsored by Sen. David Farnsworth, the resolution sought to require voters to re-consider statewide initiatives or referendums every 10 years, essentially putting laws up for a revote each decade, something not required of laws approved by the Legislature. The resolution never received a hearing.
SCR 1016 and HCR 2026
Sponsored by Sen. Sylvia Allen and House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, the resolutions second-guess the voters, who in 2016 approved an initiative to hike the minimum wage and give protections for employees who need paid sick leave. Mesnard’s resolution would weaken those protections, while Allen’s goes further and seeks to freeze the minimum wage at its current rate of $10.50 per hour, rather than let it climb to $12 as voters approved. Both measures are working their way through the Capitol.
Sponsored by Rep. Travis Grantham, the resolution would eliminate primaries when it comes to electing U.S. senators to represent Arizona in Congress. Legislators, not voters, would get to decide which partisan candidates run in the general election. It was approved in a House committee, but awaits a vote by the full chamber.
After a one-time windfall from the Legislature, affordable housing supporters who’ve advocated for restoring the State Housing Trust Fund to pre-recession levels are looking at how to best stretch the new money and make the case for more.
This year’s budget appropriated $15 million to the fund, reversing a nearly decade-long trend of capping it at $2.5 million annually.
As the Arizona Department of Housing finishes collecting public comments about what to do with the additional funds, it’s hearing a few common themes – older adults increasingly experience homelessness; renters need protection from evictions; families of people with severe mental illness are desperate for secure living situations for their relatives, and $15 million is nowhere near enough.
Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, said, “I’m really excited that we got what we got, and I’m really hopeful that we’ll get more next year as people seem to realize what a desperate problem this is. It’s not just homelessness but low-income housing and workforce housing as well.”
The State Housing Trust Fund, created in 1988, is funded through the sale of unclaimed property. Prior to the recession, it contained more than $30 million and the Department of Housing was able to use those funds as a match to leverage more than $350 million in federal funds, according to the Arizona Housing Coalition.
But in 2010, as part of statewide budget cuts caused by the Great Recession, the Legislature capped the State Housing Trust Fund at $2.5 million per year. Building affordable housing typically takes multiple different grants, low-interest loans, tax breaks and donations, but having less money available from one source can have a domino effect on others.
“When you create affordable housing, the amount of different funding streams that are necessary to create affordable housing projects, it’s almost mind-numbing,” said Joan Serviss, executive director of the Arizona Housing Coalition. “The housing trust fund has historically served as gap financing for the creation of affordable housing.”
In addition to being used to get more federal funding, the State Housing Trust Fund can be more flexible than federal funding streams, Serviss said. For instance, she said she knew of one family in the eastern part of the state that was able to use housing trust fund money to help pay for an extended pantry connecting their home to an outhouse on the property, making it easier for the older family members to remain living in their family home.
“You can sprinkle housing trust fund dollars on a house and make it more accessible for seniors to age in place, create wheelchair ramps, that kind of thing,” she said.
Also unlike federal grants that are restricted to helping families earning a certain percentage of their area’s median income, the housing trust fund can be used in other areas. The Department of Housing focuses on extremely low-income households and cost-burdened households where residents pay more than 30 percent of their income toward rent, Serviss said.
Earlier this year, the department used money from the Housing Trust Fund to launch a pilot program to help low-income renters in some parts of the state by providing emergency grants and case management to families who receive eviction notices for unpaid rent. By intervening before families are evicted, the department hopes to prevent them from falling into a spiral of unstable housing.
“Once you get evicted, it’s that much harder,” Serviss said. “It becomes a black mark.”
A theme reflected in public comments at a packed public meeting the Department of Housing held June 21 was the need for support for older adults who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
“We’ve been hearing a lot about the need for shelters for the older population that have unique medical needs that the typical shelter can’t provide,” Serviss said.
Representatives from Arizona AARP became aware of the meeting after touring Central Arizona Shelter Services and learning that 31 percent of the people staying there are seniors, Arizona AARP Director Dana Kennedy said.
Kennedy said she learned that some seniors are discharged from the hospital directly to the shelter, but it’s not designed for older adults.
“We advocated to look into the potential of providing a shelter specifically for seniors,” she said. “Once there, they can get connected to services and case management and back into housing.”
Rep. Robert Meza, D-Phoenix, said he was pleased with the additional money obtained for the State Housing Trust Fund this legislative session, but he already has his eyes on next year.
He noted more and more elderly residents of Maricopa County in particular are being priced out of their homes, a trend he called “the silver tsunami.” He described grandmas and grandpas forced to move in with their children and grandchildren, or wind up on the street.
They’re on fixed incomes and unable to keep up with a housing market that is increasingly in demand, Meza said.
And, Kennedy said, seniors who still can afford to live in their homes may do so at the cost of other necessities. She said she can’t stop thinking about the death of Stephanie Pullman, a 72-year-old Sun City West woman who died from heat last September after Arizona Public Service turned off her electricity for not paying her bill in full.
As baby boomers get older, Kennedy said they’ll need more help. More older adults will face chronic health conditions and dwindling savings, making it harder for them to continue to afford housing or other basic needs.
“Your Social Security is only going to go so far and your savings are only going to last for so long,” she said.
Homes for the seriously mentally ill
This year’s $15 million appropriation to the State Housing Trust Fund contains a stipulation that $3.5 million be set aside for beds for housing people who are seriously mentally ill and resist treatment. It stems from a separate bill supported by the Association for the Chronically Mentally Ill.
Laurie Goldstein, the association’s vice president, is seeking state funding for a program like the one that ultimately helped her son. He was diagnosed schizoaffective, and spent years cycling between homelessness, apartments his parents rented for him and short stays in hospitals.
Finally, his parents were able to have him held in a state mental hospital until he reached a level of stability. Now, he stays at a community home, where he’s still supervised.
“The system right now, there’s a gap in the care and folks like that are being thrown out of programs,” Goldstein said. “What they don’t need is short seven-day stays in psychiatric hospitals.”
The model she wants to see is similar to the community living center where her son now lives. Residents would be ordered there by the courts, and they could end up staying for months or more than a year, with an ultimate goal of learning how to live independently.
“It’s not a forever home,” Goldstein said. “It’s not like the old asylum where you get in and don’t get out.”
Alston said she supports additional housing for the seriously mentally ill population, but she’s concerned about how the money was set aside this year. Lawmakers shouldn’t be able to earmark specific projects, she said.
“We’re not the experts, and by doing it once, that opens it up to the other 89 (legislators) to find their little special housing project to earmark, and that’s wrong,” Alston said. “We should leave it to the experts.”
And she noted that the state already has a separate housing trust fund for the seriously mentally ill, under the direction of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.
“They know that population much better than the housing people do, so I think it would have made a lot more sense to put that money directly into AHCCCS, who’s doing the work already and know what they’re doing,” Alston said. “I basically trust most of our people in state government to do a good job and to be the experts in whatever that field happens to be.”
Reporter Katie Campbell contributed to this article.
One of Tony Navarrete’s former seatmates is interested in filling the state Senate seat Navarrete left after he was charged with multiple sex crimes against children, and the other is considering it.
Navarrete, a Democrat, resigned August 10, days after he was arrested and charged with seven felony counts connected to alleged sexual contact with two teenage boys over the course of several years. While his criminal case continues, his resignation started a weeks-long process to appoint a new senator to finish his term.
Because Legislative District 30 has fewer than 30 elected Democratic precinct committeemen, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors must create a citizen panel to vet applicants for the seat. That panel will nominate three candidates who must be Democrats, and the board will pick Navarrete’s replacement from that group.
Supervisor Steve Gallardo, whose county district contains LD30, is leading the board’s efforts to pick a replacement. He said the county will form its citizen panel and appoint five to seven people to serve on it at the board’s August 16 meeting.
Candidates interested in the open Senate seat will have until 5 p.m. on August 23 to submit their applications, and the panel will have two more weeks to vet candidates before submitting their three suggestions to the county board.
Rep. Robert Meza, a Phoenix Democrat who has served in both the House and the Senate at various points since 2003, said he’s interested in the Senate seat if the panel picks him.
“If my name does come out of there as one of the top three people to be appointed, then absolutely I’m open to be appointed to the Senate,” he said.
Rep. Raquel Terán said via a text message that she’s talking with her family, friends and community to decide whether applying for the Senate seat is the right step. Terán, who is also the chair of the Arizona Democratic Party, was first elected to the state House in 2018 after years as a political organizer.
“This situation has shaken us all,” she said. “I know the process will happen in a blink of an eye, so we will make a decision soon.”
Meza and Terán don’t automatically have an upper hand because of their experience in the Legislature, Gallardo said, but he would encourage them to apply if they’re interested.
Gallardo, who served in the House for six years and the Senate for four, said he wants a candidate who really understands the district and will run for a full term next year. A lawmaker needs more than a single session to fully grasp the legislative process and make a difference for the district, he said.
“To be able to start looking at ideas, start identifying some solutions and start working them in the legislative process, generally you can’t do that in one session,” he said. “I’m looking for someone who’s interested in staying there for a while. I’m not looking for a placeholder.”
More than legislative experience, he said he’s looking for someone who has a real grasp of LD30. The West Phoenix district is one of the poorest, if not the poorest, in the state, and those economic challenges have only become worse with Covid. It needs representatives who can be a voice for that community and work with other lawmakers to pass policy that can help, he said.
“How are you going to address those economic and social challenges these families are facing right now?” Gallardo asked. “Many of them are on the cliff of being evicted. Many of them are in the cliff of losing their homes. How are you as a senator going to address that? Those are the questions I would have for any candidate that is interested in being appointed as a senator.”
Gallardo said he also hopes to set a standard for how to appoint replacements, as the Maricopa County board anticipates several more lawmakers resigning before the end of the year to focus on campaigns for higher office. In districts with more than 30 precinct committeemen, the county doesn’t need to appoint a panel to vet candidates, but standardizing the board’s approach once it gets candidates will be useful, he said.
During a brief press conference this week, Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios said she believes the panel of LD30 residents will pick good candidates to fight for their district.
“Ultimately this is going to be someone that they believe can take up the charge and represent them,” Rios said. “I have faith in this process, that those folks closest in the community will be making the choices and ultimately the Board of Supervisors will select one.”
Navarrete, 35, was released on a $50,000 bond over last weekend and resigned August 10 under intense political pressure. In an email to his former constituents after his resignation, he denied the charges against him and said he was resigning because he couldn’t give his constituents the full attention they deserved if he was focused on his legal defense.
“I adamantly deny all allegations that have been made and will pursue all avenues in an effort to prove my innocence,” he wrote. “In doing so, I will be focusing the vast majority of my time and energy on my defense.”
According to Phoenix police, a teenage victim contacted police August 4 to report sexual abuse by Navarrete. After taking the boy’s report, police recorded a call the boy had with Navarrete in which Navarrete admitted to and apologized for the abuse. Police arrested him August 5, and he was officially charged the next day.
His employer, Neighborhood Ministries, shared that it had placed him on leave immediately upon learning of the arrest and he will be fired as soon as that leave ends.
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