ACLU alleges in lawsuit state doesn’t update voter rolls properly

Michele Reagan at her 2015 inauguration (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting)
Michele Reagan at her 2015 inauguration (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting)

Saying she’s violating federal law, the American Civil Liberties Union wants a federal judge to order Secretary of State Michele Reagan to update the addresses of people who have moved so their votes will be counted in November.

Attorney Ceridwen Cherry said Monday the National Voter Registration Act requires election officials to automatically update people’s addresses on voter registration rolls when they update their addresses for their driver’s licenses. Only if people opt out of that change, she said, will their voting address be kept the same.

But Cherry said the procedures Reagan has set up with the state Department of Transportation work just the opposite: People have to affirmatively ask to update their voter registration when they change their license addresses. That, she said, creates additional burdens and could result in about 550,000 Arizonans finding out that they may not be able to cast a ballot in the new precinct where they have moved.

More to the point, Cherry said, it’s a direct violation of federal law.

State Elections Director Eric Spencer said his boss already is moving in that direction.

“The secretary is ready to give them what they want, but can’t do it with a gun to her head,” he said. Spencer said the system should be in place sometime this coming spring.

Cherry, however, said Reagan needs a prod from a federal judge.

“They’ve given us no guarantee about when that will actually take place,” she said. And then there’s the fact that, in the interim, perhaps 550,000 people could be denied the right to vote in November.

“There’s a big election coming up,” Cherry said. “So that’s not good enough.”

Central to the case is the “motor-voter” law that allows people to register to vote when they get a driver’s license or update their information.

Cherry said federal law spells out that if a motorist changes an address on a license, that is supposed to automatically update the address on voter registration records.

That ensures that the person can vote when he or she goes to the polls near a new address. It also eliminates the problem that someone who has signed up for an early ballot will not get it, as these ballots are sent out in non-forwardable mail.

What happens now under the procedure Reagan has set up, Cherry said, is someone who changes an address with ADOT has to actively also put in for a change of address for voter registration, including providing some of that same information all over again.

“She has transformed what under the National Voter Registration Act should be an ‘opt-out’ process into an ‘opt-in’ process,” Cherry said.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the League of Women Voters, Promise Arizona, and Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, groups that actively seek to get people registered.

They want more than just a court order directing Reagan to change the procedure — and now.

The lawsuit also asks for an order that if a voter turns up at a polling place at his or her new address, as registered with ADOT, that ballot be counted even if the person is still registered to vote at an old address.

And the ACLU wants Reagan to send out a notice to all 550,000 individuals who have changed their addresses with ADOT since the 2016 election informing them that their voter registration may be out of date. That notice also would tell them that they won’t get their early ballot even if they are on a list to have one sent out every election cycle.

Spencer said what ACLU is seeking would automatically change every person’s voting address to what is on a driver’s license. He said there are many reasons that people list different addresses on the two documents.

Cherry, however, said that’s not the case. She said all the ACLU wants is a notice to go out — and soon — to give people the chance to vote in November.

No date has been set for a court hearing.

AG convinced no problems with Sharpies, steps away from lawsuit

"Sharpie" permanent marker pen isolated against white background

Attorney General Mark Brnovich is apparently satisfied that no one is being cheated out of a vote by the use of Sharpies to mark ballots.

Michael Catlett, who handles election issues for Brnovich, said an extensive explanation of the use of the felt-tipped pen by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office now convinces him there is no basis to believe that ballots have been left uncounted based on a “bleed-through” of ink. So as far as he is concerned, the matter is closed.

But Catlett expressed no remorse for demanding answers to a list of questions about the process and requiring county officials to respond in less than 24 hours. He said his office had received “hundreds” of complaints from concerned voters.

“While some have attempted to characterize those complaints as the product of a ‘conspiracy theory,’ it was necessary and appropriate for the Attorney General’s Office to conduct some investigation, rather than simply brushing hundred of Arizona voters off, and to obtain information from the elected officials actually tasked with tabulating votes,” he wrote in a letter to Tom Liddy who heads the civil division of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.

And Ryan Anderson, a spokesman for Brnovich, said a review continues of the more than 1,000 complaints to separate out those whose votes may actually have been affected versus those who wrote in saying they had heard all about what has been dubbed #SharpieGate.

That decision by the Attorney General’s Office to declare there’s nothing to see here led

While Brnovich is walking away, that’s not the case for some Republican interests who are pushing ahead with litigation asking Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Margaret Mahoney to intercede.

Attorney Alexander Kolodin wants a ruling that ballots that were not accepted at polling places because of bleed-through or related problems must be identified and “cured.” And he wants a full-blown hearing to explore the legality of the process to mark and review ballots.

But Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, in her own legal filing Thursday, said there just isn’t the time for the judge to give Kolodin what he wants.

She pointed out that Arizona law requires the county to approve the formal “canvass” of the votes no later than Nov. 23. And that deadline, in turn, affects the ability of her office to finalize all election results for the state a week later.

So Hobbs told Mahoney if she’s going to set a hearing it needs to be no later than Monday, forcing Kolodin to present whatever evidence he has at that time. But the secretary also made it clear to the judge that, as she sees it, there’s nothing to the case, calling the claims of disenfranchisement due to the use of Sharpies “patently false.”

And Hobbs told Mahoney if she wants proof of that, all she needs to do is refer to the conclusion by the Attorney General’s Office that no one was cheated.

Liddy, in his own arguments, said there are no ballots cast at polling places that have been set aside that can be run through counting equipment.

He said if a ballot has extra or stray marks or marked more votes than allowed, then it is spit out by the tabulating machine. At that point, Liddy said, voters can “spoil” their ballot and get a new one from poll workers.

“For various reasons, some voters choose not to spoil their ballots, which is their right,” he said.

Kolodin, for his part, remains unconvinced.

“That’s what they say,” he told Capitol Media Services.

Kolodin also said there is evidence that people were denied new ballots or that the ballots with problems, rather than being counted by machines, were set aside and sent to county offices where individuals sought to “adjudicate” what is the voter’s intent. But that, however, runs afoul of the right of voters who show up at polling places to feed their ballots into the machines and verify that they are being tallied.

He also wants Mahoney to order that outsiders, including people who say their Sharpie-marked ballots may have been misread, to go to county offices and watch as these ballots are fed back through machines.

Liddy said there are no such boxes of ballots waiting to be rerun and tabulated. But here, too, Kolodin questions that assertion.

“That’s why we have courts to determine what are the facts,” he said.

And Kolodin sniffed at assertions that random outsiders are unnecessary and inappropriate at central tallying locations to monitor the process to be sure that no one’s ballots are being disregarded.

“You’ve got a lot of confidence in these party officials,” he said, saying they have “the party’s interest at heart” and not necessarily that of any individual voter.

Liddy is arguing that the maligned Sharpies actually are the device recommended by the manufacturer of the scanning equipment. That’s because they have quick-drying ink.

By contrast, he said, the ink in some ball-point pens stays wet as the ballot is being fed through the scanner. And that, in turn, “can cause smudges in the machine and foul them, while Sharpie markers do not.”

What Liddy also told Catlett as well as the judge is that even if there is a bleed-through, it doesn’t matter. That’s because the ovals on the back side of the ballot are offset from those on the front. So even ink that goes through to the other side would not affect any votes.

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.

Arizona Supreme Court allows ballot measures to stand

Arizonans will be able to vote in November on two controversial ballot measures even though petition circulators did not comply with the law, the state Supreme Court ruled late Wednesday.

In separate orders, the justices said those who gather signatures for money are required to register with the Secretary of State’s Office for each petition campaign for which they work. And Chief Justice Robert Brutinel said that did not happen in either the initiative to require disclosure of “dark money” in politics or another to cap medical debt payments.

But Brutinel pointed out that the Secretary of State’s Office provided no procedure for those already registered to circulate other petitions to submit new registrations. He said that made it physically impossible for circulators to comply with the law.

More to the point, Brutinel said knocking the petition drives off the ballot for a problem that circulators and organizers did not create – and could not fix – “would unreasonably hinder or restrict” the constitutional right of the people to propose their own laws. So he and his colleagues agreed that the signatures gathered by those who did not register anew should count.

That conclusion is crucial. A contrary ruling would have left both measures short of the number of valid signatures needed to appear on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Still undecided is the fate of a third initiative which would reverse some of the changes in election laws approved by the Republican-controlled legislature. Its fate hangs on whether the courts decide on the validity of thousands of petition signatures, unrelated to the registration requirement.

Wednesday’s rulings are setbacks for business interests who oppose both greater financial disclosure of who is putting money into political campaigns and those who believe it is a bad idea to provide individuals more protection from creditors.

In seeking to keep them off the ballot, attorneys Thomas Basile and Kory Langhofer, who represented the foes of both measures, pointed out state law requires anyone who is a paid circulator to first register before gathering signatures. The same requirement exists for out-of-state residents.

And that requirement, they argued, exists for each petition they want to circulate and for each election.

They said that did not occur for many circulators, saying that means none of the signatures they gathered were valid or could be counted.

Brutinel said the lawyers are legally correct. But the justices refused to void the signatures.

“Any circulators’ lack of compliance with (the law) does not invalidate the signatures gathered by these circulators on the record or circumstances before us,” he wrote.

And the key is that record – and those circumstances.

Brutinel pointed out the online portal set up by the secretary of state to register circulators does not allow any individual to submit more than one affidavit.

“By also refusing to accept manual submission of a hard copy affidavit, the secretary of state rendered it impossible for circulators to successfully submit a registration application as required … if they had already registered to circulate other petitions,” he wrote. And that would make it unfair and improper to keep a measure off the ballot for failing to comply with a law that could not be complied with, he said.

Going forward, Brutinel said, he and his colleagues have “every expectation” the secretary of state to fix the problem.

Separately, the justices rejected other challenges aimed at keeping the measures off the ballot, including the failure of circulators to provide apartment numbers with their addresses.

What’s dubbed the Voters’ Right to Know Act is designed to eliminate exemptions in state campaign finance laws.

Those statutes require public disclosure of who is spending money to influence candidate elections and ballot measures. But state lawmakers crafted an exception for “social welfare” organizations who are free to run commercials seeking to influence the outcome but can hide the names of their donors.

The initiative seeks to deal with that by requiring the disclosure of true source of donations of more than $5,000 on political campaigns. And former Attorney General Terry Goddard, who is leading the effort, said those dollars would have to be traced back to the original source and cannot be “laundered” through a series of groups.

Foes include the business-oriented Free Enterprise Club. Its president Scot Mussi, called it “an unconstitutional measure designed to silence and harass private citizens, and non-profit groups from exercising their First Amendment rights.”

This is the third try for the plan.

A similar 2018 effort failed after foes mounted a court challenge to some of the 285,000 signatures collected, many by paid circulators. The 2020 measure using only volunteers faltered during the Covid pandemic which included, for a period of time, a stay-at-home order.

The measure on debt, if approved by voters, would increase the amount of equity someone could have in a home to keep it from being seized in bankruptcy to $400,000, up from $250,000. And it would mandate annual cost-of-living increases in that figure rather than having to wait for state lawmakers to marshal the votes for future changes.

Current law also allows individuals to keep up to $6,000 in household furniture, appliances and consumer electronics. That would increase to $15,000, also with inflation adjustments.

And the protected equity in a motor vehicle would go from $6,000 to $15,000 for most individuals, with the figure going from $12,000 to $25,000 for any debtor or family member with a physical disability.

Separately, the measure would cap the amount of someone’s wages that could be attached. And another provision specifically limits the amount of annual interest that could be charged on medical debt to no more than 3%.

Michael Guymon, president and CEO of the Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce, argued that the measure would restrict the ability of Arizonans to access credit and loans.

“This is because lenders will have little or no ability to recoup money from people who don’t pay their debts,” he said in a statement against the plan.


Attorney general says counties can maintain own voter rolls

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich says county election officials can maintain separate voter databases but are legally required to send voter information to the secretary of state’s office.

Brnovich also said in an opinion released Monday that Secretary of State Michele Reagan can’t refer public records requests or legal subpoenas to counties since she also maintains the voter rolls.

The opinion also clarified what voter registration information county recorders are required to provide to Reagan’s office. Solicitor General Dominic Draye wrote that includes everything, and immediately.

He said that under federal and state law, all 15 recorders must provide names and addresses, cancelled and rejected registrations and records detailing early voting and provisional ballots.

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Bennett takes another shot at recouping money for failed gubernatorial bid

Ken Bennett (Photo by Gary Grado)
Ken Bennett (Photo by Gary Grado)

Gubernatorial hopeful Ken Bennett is making one last legal effort to get the public to reimburse him for the expenses of his failed campaign.

Bennett is asking Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Teresa Sanders to order state and county election officials to allow him to prove that the signatures they disqualified on his forms for public financing actually are legitimate. That would involve things like bringing in affidavits from the people involved.

But there’s a big problem with what Bennett wants. Tom Collins, the executive director of the Citizens Clean Election Commission, said even if Bennett can get such a court order and prove now he really had enough valid donations, there is no legal procedure to give him the money.

The fight is over $54,800. That’s the amount of money Bennett loaned to his ill-fated bid to defeat incumbent Gov. Doug Ducey in the Aug. 28 Republican primary.

Arizona law allow candidates for statewide and legislative office to get public dollars if they refuse to take private money and show sufficient support by gathering a set number of $5 donations.

Bennett had hoped to qualify for $839,704 in public financing for his run. But he failed to get the necessary 4,000 contributions by the deadline.

He complained that he came up short at least in part because the Secretary of State’s Office shut down the online portal for donations several hours early. And he managed to convince Judge Connie Contes to order the portal reopened for several hours.

Even with that, a legally required check of signatures on the paper forms submitted showed he still came up 120 short.

In the latest lawsuit he contends county officials erred and that at least 125 of the signatures they voided are valid. So now he wants Sanders to “analyze new evidence” that these were valid and issue an order that he be declared to have qualified for public funding.

There is no way for Bennett to get the entire $839,704, as the election is over. But he contends he’s entitled to use part of that to pay himself back.

Collins said even if Bennett wins this new lawsuit, it probably does not matter. Put simply, Collins said, it’s just too late.

He pointed out that Bennett lost his status as a “clean” candidate when he failed to submit qualifying donations by the deadline. That required Collins to reclassify him as a “traditional” candidate who takes private donations.

And there’s something else.

The lawsuit does not name the commission as a defendant. Collins said even if Sanders grants his request and even if the judge determines Bennett had enough qualifying signatures, none of that can force the commission to give him any money.

Big push on ballot referrals ends with just 2 passed

The Arizona Legislature referred two measures to the ballot this year, more than lawmakers referred in 2016 when they instead focused their attention on trying to defeat several citizen initiatives.

In total, legislators introduced 37 ballot referrals during the 2018 session, up from 23 in 2017 and tied with 37 in 2016. Lawmakers did not refer any measures to the 2016 ballot, and only two measures were referred by the Legislature in 2014.

While the majority of ballot referrals failed to receive both chambers’ approval, there was a greater push by legislative leadership to send measures up to the Secretary of State’s Office this year compared to previous years.

Of the 37 ballot referrals introduced, 12 measures were given the OK by members in the chamber it originated in. Most stalled in the other chamber, and at least two never came up for a second vote in their original chamber after being amended and passed out of the other.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (Photo by Katie Campbell/ Arizona Capitol Times)
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (Photo by Katie Campbell/ Arizona Capitol Times)

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said lawmakers concentrated their efforts in 2016 on attempting to defeat the minimum wage increase and the recreational marijuana legislation. They were also ready to fight a third citizen initiative that would have asked voters to cap the salaries of hospital executives but the measure didn’t make it onto the ballot, he said.

Instead of adding to the number of measures on the ballot, Mesnard said, lawmakers decided to run a “vote ‘no’ on everything” campaign.

“We thought there was going to be so many on there that were bad that it would be easier to have a ‘vote no’ campaign,” he said. “Had we known the hospital CEO one wasn’t going to make it, maybe we would have rethought not having any others.”

He said while voters will have the opportunity to decide the fate of the school voucher expansion law in November, and possibly vote on at least three other citizen initiatives, the Legislature still felt comfortable sending its own measures to the ballot.

“2016 was a strategic decision,” he said. “This year, it was clear we weren’t going to have a ‘vote yes’ or ‘vote no on everything.’ We will just have a smorgasbord of measures.”

The final measure lawmakers approved this session was HCR2007, sponsored by Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction.

If approved by voters, the measure would effectively eliminate the Clean Elections Commission’s oversight over “dark money” spending and other independent authority and place it under the authority of the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council.

The House approved the measure, 33-24, following a robust debate in which several Republican lawmakers accused Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, of impugning the body as a whole in the final moments of the night after she said lawmakers were controlled by dark money. The Senate approved the measure, 17-12.

Earlier in the session lawmakers also approved HCR2032, sponsored by Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, which would allow for changes to the public retirement system that otherwise are prohibited by the Arizona Constitution.

Interestingly, legislators asked the Secretary of State’s Office to return SCR1023, which they approved last year and also dealt with changes to the public retirement system, and replace it with HCR2032 on the ballot.

Senate President Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Senate President Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

State Elections Director Eric Spencer said his agency received the Legislature’s request a few weeks ago, and the Secretary of State’s Office transmitted SCR1023 back to Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, and substituted it with HCR2032. Spencer said it’s fairly rare to supersede a ballot referral, but it has been done before.

One referral that almost made it out was SCR1007, which was mistakenly sent to the Secretary of State’s Office in March following what House Majority Leader John Allen, R-Scottsdale, called a “clerical error. The House voted to reconsider its action, however, the second vote never took place.

A notable measure that didn’t make it onto the ballot was Yarbrough’s SCR1034, which sought to overhaul the Independent Redistricting Commission.

The measure was voted down shortly before the Legislature adjourned sine die after Republicans Bob Worsley, of Mesa, and Kate Brophy McGee, of Phoenix, joined Democrats in killing the measure.

And no one was more surprised than the Senate president, he said, especially given that the resolution passed out of the chamber with 17 Republican “yes” votes the first time around.

Another measure that failed to make it onto the ballot was HCR2017, a clean energy measure backed by Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest utility, that would have competed with the Clean Energy for Healthy Arizona initiative backed by California mega-donor Tom Steyer.

HCR2006, which sought to extend the length of terms for members of the House and Senate from two to four years, resurfaced in the final week of the session. The Senate approved a floor amendment that would have left the length of terms for representatives intact, but while bill sponsor Rep. Drew John, R-Safford, said he would have concurred to the changes, the bill never went up for a vote in the Senate.

Several of Mesnard’s measures also failed to get through the Senate after being approved in the House. HCR2029 would have asked voters to amend the state Constitution to prohibit taxes from being levied on the first $2 million of full cash value of personal property that is acquired in 2019 and used for agricultural purposes or business.

This is the third year Mesnard has introduced the measure, and despite unanimous approval in the Senate Finance Committee, it never came up for a floor vote.

“Once again it got shelved here at the end,” he said.

Bill to force voters to keep addresses with state agencies up-to-date dies

Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff (Photo by Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services)
Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff (Photo by Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services)

A House bill that would require voters to have the same address on file with the Secretary of State and the Department of Transportation or face a civil penalty failed in committee.

HB2397 would have required the person to update their address with ADOT within 10 days or register to vote using the address on file with the department. If they failed to do so, they could face a $25 fine and have their driver’s license suspended.

The measure failed in the House Federalism, Property Rights and Public Policy Committee, which sponsor Rep. Bob Thorpe chairs, by a 4-5 vote, with Republicans Noel Campbell and Travis Grantham joining their Democratic colleagues in voting to kill the bill.

But even Republicans who voted in favor of moving the bill out of committee said that if it passed, they would not support the bill without amendments.

Opponents of the bill said it was a way for the Flagstaff Republican to silence voters. Last year he sponsored legislation to ban students from using their dorm addresses to register to vote. That bill was declared likely unconstitutional by House attorneys and died without ever receiving a committee hearing.

Joel Edman, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network, said the legislation undermines the voting rights of students, low-income voters and active duty military members who move often.

“At AZAN, we believe registering to vote should be encouraged,” he said. “Exposing someone to potential criminal liability because they register to vote is, to state the obvious, just the opposite.”

However, Thorpe said in committee that the bill had nothing to do with voting or where a person registers to vote. The bill, he said, seeks to ensure that the voter database and the Motor Vehicle Department database are consistent.

He added that there is already a law in statute that requires people to update their address with the MVD within 10 days of moving or be subject to a penalty.

“It’s not an issue of where you’re registering to vote,” he said. “It’s an issue that you’re now telling a government agency that you live someplace else that doesn’t match your driver’s license so that shows that you’re in violation of statute.”

HB2397 would require the Secretary of State or county recorder to provide ADOT a summary of the voter registrant’s information “for the purposes of validating the registrant’s residence address.” It would only apply to voter registrants who provide their driver’s license or state identification number on their registration form.

ADOT would then be required to determine if the person’s address on file with the Motor Vehicle Department is the same as the address listed on the Secretary of State’s summary.

If it isn’t, the department is required to notify the person in writing that they must either update their address with the department within 10 days or register to vote using the same address on file with MVD.

Thorpe said the idea was brought to him by a county recorder. The Arizona Association of Counties and the county recorders opposed the bill.

He added that the Secretary of State’s Office told him that address inconsistencies have proven to be a problem for the agency, with about a third of the election literature sent to voters being returned as undeliverable.

However, Deputy Secretary of State Lee Miller told the committee that the agency was concerned about how the bill would affect the state’s youngest and oldest voter demographic. He said that there were also concerns about how much it would cost to implement this change.

Instead, Miller said, the agency and county recorders have a “better solution” to ensuring the voter registration rolls are accurate: by continuing to do what they are already doing.

Miller said Arizona joined at least 20 other states this year in becoming a member of the Election Resource Information Center. The nonprofit organization helps states improve the accuracy of their voter rolls by cross checking the state’s voter rolls against those of other member states and the private sector.

“They can accomplish the same thing without additional costs,” Miller said. “We think that is the best way we know how to keep the voter roll up to date.”

Brnovich sues Prop 127 campaign over political ads

Claiming he’s been defamed, Attorney General Mark Brnovich is suing the backers of the Proposition 127 campaign for telling what he said are lies about him.

Legal papers filed Wednesday in Maricopa County Superior Court claim commercials paid for by the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona Committee say there is a link between Brnovich’s changes to the Proposition 127 ballot description and money from the parent company of Arizona Public Service to help his reelection campaign.

Brnovich said there was no communication between him and the state’s largest electric utility as he crafted the ballot language and added that the new renewable energy mandate, if approved, would occur “irrespective of cost to consumers.” And he defended that language even though state Elections Director Eric Spencer, a Republican like Brnovich, called it “eyebrow raising” and suggested the changes come with both political and legal risks.

But what most offends Brnovich – and a key basis for the lawsuit – are contentions in commercials paid for by the committee that the attorney general is “corrupt” and that he was helping to “rig” the election.

With early voting already started and the election just two weeks away, Brnovich is not asking a judge to order the commercials halted. Instead he is seeking unspecified damages and a punitive award “to punish defendants and deter it and others from emulating defendants’ conduct.”

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Attorney Dennis Wilenchik who represents Brnovich acknowledged the question of the damage to his client’s reputation – assuming he wins the lawsuit – cannot for the moment be quantified.

If Brnovich wins his race against Democrat January Contreras, Wilenchik said it may be his client would simply seek his legal fees.

And if he loses?

The most visible damages would be the loss of his $90,000 salary. But Wilenchik said that charging publicly that Brnovich, as a state official, is corrupt, is “extremely hurtful” to his career.

“He’s a lawyer,” Wilenchik said.

“There could be Bar complaints about him,” he continued. “After the election, we’ll assess that.”

In a prepared statement, D.J. Quinlan, spokesman for the Proposition 127 campaign, said the lawsuit “will fail.”

At the heart of the issue is the role the attorney general plays in elections.

By law, the explanations that appear on the ballot of propositions are crafted by the secretary of state, subject to review and alternations by the attorney general.

Proposition 127 would constitutionally require most utilities to obtain half of their power from renewable sources by 2030. That would override the current policy of the Arizona Corporation Commission which sets a 15 percent renewable goal by 2025.

That policy is subject to review and amendment based on changing factors, including cost. The initiative has no such escape clause.

Based on that, Brnovich added verbiage to the ballot language to say that the 50-percent mandate, if approved, would come “irrespective of cost to consumers.” That is precisely the argument APS has been making against the measure, with the utility within days then using the explanation in its commercials.

The TV ads financed by the pro-127 organization accuse Brnovich of doing the company’s bidding, even superimposing APS logos on his suit jacket similar to the outfit of a NASCAR driver.

More to the point, the ad cites the more than $400,000 that Pinnacle West Capital Corp. gave to the Republican Attorneys General Association, a group that in turn has spent more than $1.2 million to win Brnovich another term.

“He rigged official ballot language to help APS block affordable solar,” the commercial says, urging voters to “say no to corruption and higher bills” and telling people to vote against Brnovich and in favor of the initiative.

Wilenchik said there are several problems, starting with the fact that any money APS and Pinnacle West gave to the national association was not earmarked to help Brnovich. And he said Brnovich had no communications with APS about the change in ballot wording, saying the added verbiage is factually accurate.

But he said the wording of the commercials is “patently false,” with words like “rig” implying that someone illegally and wrongfully interfered with an election.

“Nothing of the sort occurred here,” Wilenchik said. And he said Brnovich did not “manipulate” the ballot language “but rather exercised his duty as Arizona attorney general to assure that the descriptions of ballot measures are fair and accurate and provide necessary and appropriate information to the voting public.”

He also brushed aside Spencer’s comments about the changes being “eyebrow raising,” saying that Spencer himself sought to include language in the explanation of Proposition 127 that Brnovich believed would have been designed to sway voters.

Spencer, in an email to the Attorney General’s Office responding to the proposed addition, said the new language “is certainly eyebrow-raising because it cites information exogenous to the ballot measure itself.” That term means that the words in the explanation are not taken from the ballot language itself but from outside factors.

“But I’m sure you’ve calculated the legal and political risks of adding that,” Spencer added.

Cambodia to Arizona: Bo Dul’s extraordinary journey to democracy

Sambo “Bo” Dul is the elections director under Secretary of State Katie Hobbs
Sambo “Bo” Dul is the elections director under Secretary of State Katie Hobbs

Sambo “Bo” Dul wasn’t born in a democracy.

Her father gave his life to smuggle her and her family out of Cambodia following the Khmer Rouge genocide.

Thirty-five years later, she’s a crucial cog in Arizona’s elections.

On January 7, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs tapped Dul, a former election law attorney at Perkins Coie, to be her elections director.

“It was very hard to think of leaving [Perkins Coie], but I also couldn’t not think about it,” Dul said. “It was like once that genie came out of the bottle, I couldn’t put it back in.”


Dul was born in Cambodia at one of the most tumultuous times in the country’s history.

Her family fled the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge genocide when she was just a year old.

The trek to a refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border was perilous. Her father didn’t survive.

Pure luck may have been all that kept Dul, her pregnant mother and siblings alive.

Crying babies aren’t ideal for quietly fleeing a country, so her family slipped Dul a sleeping pill before the trip.

As the Duls approached the Thai-Cambodian border under the cover of night, the sleeping pill wore off. Dul, finding herself in the arms of a stranger as her mother had grown too weary to carry her, started wailing.

That might’ve been the end, but the wind was blowing away from the soldiers lining the border, carrying the sound of her cries in the opposite direction. She was carried to safety.

She lived in the camp on the Cambodian-Thai border until she was 5.

Her family arrived in the United States as refugees in the 1980s.

Her mother, Leng Poch Dul, didn’t speak English, so Dul was in charge of completing her family’s immigration paperwork and securing their place in the U.S.

While in high school, the Dul family’s immigration status was renewed for another year, but something had gone wrong with her paperwork and immigrations officials couldn’t pinpoint the problem even after she skipped school in Tempe to go to the immigration office in Phoenix.

Her experience highlighted how bureaucratic errors could plunge the lives of immigrants into a tailspin of anxiety, anger and even resignation.

“At some point, I was just like what can I do? There’s nothing I can do?” she said.

It took nearly a year for Dul to find out that someone had misfiled her paperwork. All this time, she feared deportation.

Dul later became a U.S. citizen, and took full advantage of what America has to offer.

She graduated summa cum laude with three degrees from Arizona State University, and went on to simultaneously earn a law degree from New York University and a master’s degree in public affairs from Princeton University. She built a successful law career and a family of her own.

And she set out to help others like her family through a pro bono immigration law program called the Phoenix Legal Action Network or PLAN.

Telling her story isn’t always easy, but it’s even more important now than ever to combat misinformation about other immigrants who fought so hard to get to America, she said.

Dul said it’s important to share what she went through – and what she does now – out of love for America, Arizona and democracy. Stories like hers prove that immigrants can be “patriots,” too.


Attorney Roopali Desai had made the call and given the pitch.

Desai was on Hobbs’ transition team and charged with finding someone to lead the elections office. Dul is more than just competent, Desai said.

Like Dul, Desai is a woman of color in the legal community. They met years ago and the two have been fast friends for so long that Desai can barely remember how they met.

The Secretary of State’s Office is a service organization and no one could connect with people quite like Dul, not after everything she experienced in life, Desai said.

“You can’t train people to have that kind of perspective. When you have and you own that kind of perspective because you’ve lived it, it’s invaluable,” she said.

When she made the pitch, Dul had just made partner at Perkins Coie.

Dul took it all in and was silent at first. But the next day, she agreed to apply.

Desai said she later learned that the idea of serving the public enticed Dul. Everything else that people usually think about when considering a new job was secondary.

“It wasn’t about how much she would make or what this could do for her professional trajectory. It was more about this moment,” Desai said.


Hobbs’ gain was Perkins Coie’s loss.

Attorney Dan Barr, who worked with her at the firm, described Dul as extraordinary, brilliant, a force of nature.

“As you can tell, I’m sort of a fan,” he said.

Dul impressed Barr in her early days with the firm, and that hasn’t stopped.

He recalled the first time she ever delivered an opening statement in court. She was representing a Native American prisoner who was not being allowed to practice his religion.

The judge kept interrupting Dul’s opening with questions.

What might have shaken any seasoned lawyer didn’t faze Dul. She just dealt with it as if she were a seasoned attorney, Barr said.

Shortly after the 2016 election, Dul and a group of young lawyers formed PLAN, which provides free legal services to immigrants who couldn’t afford legal aid. In some ways, the formation of PLAN was a direct reaction to the election of President Donald Trump, Barr said.

Barr, who runs the pro bono program at Perkins Coie, remembers Dul coming into his office one day with the proposal and a request for $150,000. Perkins Coie gave a similar amount of money to the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, which offers free legal work for detained immigrants and those facing deportation. Dul’s program would help people before their situations got so dire.


Barr anticipates Dul improving the frayed relationships with the state’s county elections officials.

That’s because “everybody likes Bo,” but also because he expects Dul to improve the elections manual and make it more useful to local election officials and others.

But perhaps most importantly, he’s counting on her to run fair elections and make voting as accessible as possible.

Mere weeks after starting at the Secretary of State’s Office, Dul spoke to the Arizona Asian Chamber of Commerce as part of the group’s annual Lunar New Year celebration.

She spoke about her new job, her childhood, her family’s journey to the United States and her career.

She issued a call to action – to register to vote and exercise that right consistently. Asian-Americans have the lowest turnout of any minority community in America, and Asian-Americans will not be full members of the community until everyone votes, and makes their voices heard, she said.

That was just the beginning for Dul.

“Phoenix and America welcomed my family many years ago,” she said. “We worked hard to get on our own two feet. Now that we’ve done that, I think we have a duty to work hard to give back.”

Campaign launches range from amateurish to slick


Arizona’s 2022 election cycle is taking full shape much earlier than any cycle before it, with 11 candidates already declared for the top two statewide offices. 

So far, four Republicans and two Democrats are running for governor, with more expected to jump in any day now. Three Republicans and two Democrats have announced campaigns for the secretary of state race. Each campaign launch from the 11 candidates had a different look and feel to it  most had videos, websites, logos and the whole nine yards.  

Several political consultants accepted the Arizona Capitol Times’ invitation to critique the campaign kick-offs and comment on how their candidacies stack up. They made sure to note that campaigns  especially ones that began more than a year before the August 2022 primary  aren’t all about the launch. 

Republican consultant Barrett Marson of Marson Media, disclosed he is working for a political action committee for Matt Salmon’s gubernatorial bid, so he sat out discussion of that race. 

Democratic consultant Stacy Pearson of Strategies 360 is helping on House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding’s secretary of state run, so likewise, did not speak on that race. 

Lorna Romero, a Republican with Elevate Strategies, and Julie Erfle, a Democrat with Erfle Uncuffed, did not have any disclosures to make.  

Arizona’s top job 

On October 28, 2015, Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz. talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington after a GOP conference meeting. Salmon, who did not run for re-election, is now running for governor. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)
On October 28, 2015, Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz. talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington after a GOP conference meeting. Salmon, who did not run for re-election, is now running for governor. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)

Gov. Doug Ducey is termed out after 2022 so the race is wide open for the first time since 2014, but unlike that year when Fred DuVal did not have a Democratic primary opponent, there will be competitive races for both parties.  

Romero said after looking through all the campaigns for governor, secretary of state and even the U.S. Senate race to unseat Democrat Mark Kelly, she thought former Arizona Congressman Matt Salmon had the best video.  

Salmon, a Republican, launched his long-rumored campaign on June 16. 

Romero said Salmon had a “traditional rollout” where he made his intentions clear. 

“I think he was able to touch on the issues of the Trump supportive crowd without doing something that was kind of inflammatory,” she said, specifically mentioning Salmon talked about immigration with footage of him at the border, but also education and footage with kids talking.  

Romero said it’s important to mention that campaign launches are not everything for a campaign, but more an introductory statement where a candidate can tell potential voters who they are and make it clear what their platform is. She said given Salmon’s political history, his message was understood.  

FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2019, file photo, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs talks about voter registration at Phoenix College on National Voter Registration Day in Phoenix. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs are sparring over an effort by Hobbs to introduce telephone and videoconferencing options for people to register and vote in certain circumstances. Ducey and some county election officials say the changes Hobbs seeks are illegal. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
FILE – In this Sept. 24, 2019, file photo, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs talks about voter registration at Phoenix College on National Voter Registration Day in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Salmon did include a video of himself with his apparent protegee in U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, one of the most polarizing and controversial politicians in the country who was a party-selected replacement for Salmon when he left Congress in 2017.  

Erfle questioned whether Biggs’ involvement was going to backfire against Salmon and early reactions show it might. Biggs came out quickly to put his support behind Salmon and was immediately thanked for it.  

“[Andy Biggs] is fighting every day to keep the Washington Establishment in check,” Salmon tweeted. “I’m grateful for his friendship, and thankful that Arizona can always count on his principled, conservative leadership.”  

Erfle’s view: “I think that a Biggs endorsement could hamper Salmon. I mean, you have Andy Biggs who just recently voted against the Congressional Medal of Honor for the police officers who defended the [U.S.] Capitol. How do you defend that? And why would you want somebody who was so closely tied to the insurrection, why would you want their backing or their endorsement?”  

Karrin Taylor Robson
Karrin Taylor Robson

She added that Salmon would be wise to not seek a Biggs endorsement because she thinks the congressman is “toxic.” Salmon got that endorsement on June 21.  

Salmon was the latest to jump into the race, joining State Treasurer Kimberly Yee; developer Karrin Taylor Robson; and former TV news anchor Kari Lake. 

Lake launched her campaign with a video that highlighted talking points aimed at drawing the conservative base and attacked the media, her own industry that made her a local celebrity. Her campaign site was unfinished, and once Twitter noted it, she removed a section that was incomplete. It also went live at the very moment the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers played Game 5 of their playoff series, potentially missing a good chunk of Arizonans focused on the Suns’ winning performance. 

Robson’s announcement was seen as rushed as she launched her bid mere hours after Yee with a quick and short video that did not have a lot of production value to it. Her campaign defended the launch, saying it was not going to spend a lot of its budget so soon into the cycle.  

“[Her] launch made me wonder if self-funded and homemade were being used interchangeably,” Pearson said. “It very much looked like someone drank too much coffee and stayed up all night and put together a launch themselves. Underwhelming to say the least.”  

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

Romero said for someone like Robson who doesn’t have a lot of name ID, it was important for her to get her name out there “as quickly as possible.” She added that it’s all about appealing to donors right now. 

“Some people do it in a flashy way like we saw, and some of them are just a little bit more direct and straightforward because from a voter standpoint, it really doesn’t matter,” Romero said. 

Pearson did not hold back on Yee’s launch, criticizing her for her voting record during her time in the Legislature. 

Her voting history is going to catch up to her, Pearson said.  

“She did the best she could in showing a cute smiling family, and x number of desert aerial shots to be palatable, but ultimately she is not going to be able to run from her record on education or the fact that she forces vaginal ultrasounds regardless of medical necessity,” Pearson said. 

On the Democratic side, there’s Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and former Nogales Mayor Marco Lopez, so far. 

Romero said Lopez announced early and he has since faded since his launch. 

Kimberly Yee
Kimberly Yee

“That’s always the risk when you announce too early, is that you get your little splash of a mention and then they kind of go away to the sunset for a little bit more,” she said, adding that Lopez should have focused on inserting himself into the media narrative. 

“But the problem is it’s hard to do that when no one knows who you are,” Romero said.  

Pearson agreed, saying, “nobody is talking about Marco Lopez.”  

“That launch was so desperate that it’s sort of going the other direction. His call for endorsements before the race had even begun is not one to get him what he wanted,” Pearson said. 

She continued that politicos had been discussing his early candidacy, questioning why he announced in March only to disappear almost entirely.  

“No one’s coming to him over Katie Hobbs right now, it’s just not going to happen,” Pearson said.  

Everyone pretty much agreed that Hobbs played to her strengths, which is her defense of democracy. Her entire launch practically focused on the Arizona Senate’s partisan audit and how the 2020 election was the most safe and secure in state history. 

Marco Lopez
Marco Lopez

But prognosticators all note how it’s not likely those topics will hold up one year from now or in November 2022.  

Romero said Hobbs will have to share a lot more than what Hobbs has done so far.  

The economy is one issue Romero noted that Hobbs will have to address, before launching into a lot of “potential similarities” she’s noticed between Hobbs and U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Hobbs’ former seatmate in the Legislature.  

Sinema is being attacked by progressives for being too moderate, Romero said, adding that Hobbs sees that and it’s likely what led her to call out Sinema for not wanting to kill the filibuster to pass a sweeping election bill in Congress, which ultimately failed on June 22.  

As evidenced in previous election cycles, Democrats can win statewide in Arizona by straying closer to the middle than too progressive to appeal to the broader electorate.  

Top elections official  

In the race to replace Hobbs as elections chief, Marson wasn’t too impressed with any of the campaign launches from either party. 

He said Bolding’s video seemed like a highlight reel for him to be re-elected to the Legislature.  

Marson gave out star ratings for the secretary of state candidates and said Bolding gets 2.5 out of five stars since he didn’t have anything personal in there and it didn’t seem like he was running for higher office. But that is 2.5 stars more than Bolding’s primary opponent. 

Former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian “Fontes gets zero stars,” Marson said.  

“It’s like he was just driving by, got out of his car, did the video really quick and thought ‘let’s get back in the car and go to lunch,’” he said about Fontes’ 17-second video shot on an iPhone.  

Erfle dug deeper into that race rather than focus on the launches and said Fontes has the name ID given his election experience before he lost to his Republican opponent in 2020, but that key factor, she said, will hurt him. 

“He did just lose Maricopa County, and to win a statewide election, you have to win Maricopa County as a Democrat, so that gives me a little bit of pause,” Erfle said. “I’m not really sure where that race is going to go. I think whoever wins that primary on the Dem side is going to need a lot of financial backing to really get their name out there.” 

She said where the race stands currently, a Democrat should be viewed as the favorite given the “huge ideological gap” over voter integrity. 

It’s between candidates who want to make it easier to vote versus those who are going to make it more difficult, she said, adding that it’s also those who support the audit versus those who oppose it.  

On the Republican side, there are three state lawmakers who will have to hash it out. Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley and Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix.  

Of the three, only Ugenti-Rita had a campaign video, and she’s also the only one of the three with a long track record on election-related issues.  

The consultants all agreed that for this race a big bloc of the voters will be looking to see who supports the audit outright while also trying to appeal to independents for the general election. 


Campaign season officially kicks off – let the games begin

It’s election season once more, and this cycle starts with a few curveballs.

May 30 marked the deadline for candidates to submit petitions to run for legislative, statewide and congressional offices. Unlike in previous election cycles, few legislative races are uncontested.

In addition to incumbents, a few familiar names popped up, including a surprise primary challenger for Gov. Doug Ducey, a bid by recently-expelled former Yuma Rep. Don Shooter to reclaim his old state Senate seat, and former House Speaker David Gowan, who was accused of misuse of state vehicles, likewise is running for the state Senate.

So, pop some popcorn and settle in for an entertaining election season.

U.S. Senate

Sen. Jeff Flake
Sen. Jeff Flake

The race to fill the U.S. Senate seat occupied by Jeff Flake, who is retiring, is expected to be the biggest contest in Arizona this year.

Republicans face a contentious primary with U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, former state Sen. Kelli Ward and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio duking it out in the primary.

Likely Democratic nominee U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema also qualified for the ballot. She faces first-time political candidate Deedra Abboud, who is also a lawyer, in the primary.


Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

State Sen. Steve Farley and educator David Garcia, who ran for superintendent of public instruction in 2014, will face off for the chance to take on Gov. Doug Ducey. Also on the Democratic primary ballot is Kelly Fryer, a first-time political candidate who is CEO of the YWCA of Southern Arizona.

But Ducey won’t get to coast to the general election. A last-minute addition to the governor’s race, former Secretary of State Ken Bennett gathered 7,828 signatures in about six weeks to qualify for the Republican primary.

Ducey’s campaign seems unfazed by the competition. “It would not be an election cycle without Ken Bennett on the ballot,” said J.P. Twist, Ducey’s campaign manager.

Ducey’s campaign war chest sits at $3 million on hand, which means Bennett, who is hoping to use Clean Elections funding, can’t compete financially. But Bennett, who came in fourth in the six-way Republican primary contest for governor in 2014, is undaunted by Ducey’s formidable cash advantage and is preparing to hit the governor on his record.

“Four years ago, he ran on a bunch of promises,” Bennett said. “Many of those promises turned out to be not true. We’re in this race because the truth matters.”

Secretary of State

Michele Reagan at her 2015 inauguration (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting)
Michele Reagan at her 2015 inauguration (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting)

In the secretary of state’s race, Republican Steve Gaynor takes on incumbent Michele Reagan. A wealthy businessman, Gaynor has vowed to self-fund his campaign to take out Reagan, who some Republicans fear may be vulnerable in the general election.  Democrats in the race are Sen. Katie Hobbs, Leslie Pico and Mark Robert Gordon.



Four Republicans and four Democrats are hoping to get their party’s nod for the congressional seat that McSally is vacating. This could be the most competitive congressional race, not only because of the open seat but because history shows the 2nd Congressional District is a true tossup district.

A similar situation exists in CD9, the seat occupied by Sinema, with three Republicans and two Democrats vying for the nominations. But that district leans slightly more Democrat in performance than southern Arizona’s CD2.

And in CD8, Republican Debbie Lesko, who just won a special election to replace Trent Franks, will have to defend her seat in the primary. Former Maricopa County School Superintendent Sandra Dowling, who pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor to end felony bid-rigging charges years ago, wants to be the GOP nominee in the heavy Republican district. Democratic candidate Hiral Tipirneni, Lesko’s opponent in the special election, is also gunning for a second chance at the seat.

Arizona Senate 

LD6: Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, who is termed out after serving eight years in the House, is looking to unseat her seatmate, Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake. The Republican winner will face off against Democrat Wade Carlisle in the general election.

LD23: Tim Jeffries, who was fired as head of the Department of Economic Security, is running in a four-way GOP primary that includes Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, who is termed out of the House. Jeffries was ousted amid reports that he fired hundreds of state employees and used a state plane to travel to Nogales to drink with employees who gave up their job protections.

LD27: As Sen. Catherine Miranda, D-Phoenix, steps down to run for Congress against U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, her nephew, Cipriano Miranda, aims to keep the family name in the Legislature and has filed to run for the open seat, but so has House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, who hopes to make the switch to the Senate.

LD28: Mark Syms, husband of Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley, is challenging Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, in a move that could jeopardize the GOP’s hold on the critical swing district. Running as an independent, Mark Syms’ candidacy has some Republicans worried that his campaign will throw the race to Democratic candidate Christine Marsh. Mark Syms had jumped into the legislative race after Republican Kathy Petsas, who is viewed as holding more centrist views, filed to compete for a House seat.

LD30: House Reps. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix, and Ray Martinez, D-Phoenix, are facing off for the seat.

Arizona House

Teachers: A handful of teachers inspired by the “Red for Ed” movement are running for legislative seats. Middle school teacher Jennifer Samuels qualified to run for the House in LD15 and is one of three Democrats in the race. Bonnie Hickman, a teacher in the Gilbert Unified School District, is competing in a crowded field of Republicans gunning to take out Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, in LD16. Several other teachers are seeking legislative seats.

LD2: Former state Rep. John Christopher Ackerley, a one-term Republican who held a seat in the predominantly Democratic district, is attempting a comeback. Ackerley pulled off an upset victory in 2014 but lost to Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, two years later. Ackerley will face off against Anthony Sizer, an engineer also seeking the Republican nomination. Hernandez and Rep. Rosanna Gabaldon, D-Green Valley, have also filed to run.

LD5: Incumbents Paul Mosley, R-Lake Havasu City, and Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, face two primary challengers – businessman Leo Biasiucci, who ran as a Green Party candidate in 2012, and Jennifer Jones-Esposito, first vice chair of the La Paz County Republican Committee. The two GOP winners will face off against Democrat Mary McCord Robinson in November. The race, however, recently turned ugly after Biasiucci and his allies accused Mosley of stealing his nominating petitions from a Lake Havasu City gun store. Mosley denied the allegation and instead accused the gun store owner of having thrown away his petitions. Though Cobb said she isn’t running on a slate with any of the three other candidates, she said she urged Biasiucci to get into the race and run against Mosley.

LD16: Five Republican candidates are looking to fill the seat being vacated by Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction, or to unseat Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, a vocal opponent of the “Red for Ed” movement. Townsend consulted with lawyers about the possibility of a class-action lawsuit on behalf of those affected by the walkout.

LD24: Democrats, including incumbent Rep. Ken Clark, of Phoenix, faces a seven-way primary for the district’s two House seats. Rep. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, is termed out and is running for the Senate.

LD28: Democrats abandoned their single-shot strategy as they seek to capitalize on an expected “blue wave” in November. In addition to Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, Aaron Lieberman, also of Paradise Valley, has filed to run for the Democratic nomination. This is the first time since 2002 that Democrats have fielded two House candidates in the district. Two Republicans are also gunning for the House seats: Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley, and Kathy Petsas, the district’s GOP chairwoman and a longtime Republican activist. While Petsas is ostensibly running against Butler and Republicans are hoping to get three for three in November, Petsas could unseat Syms instead. Syms has struck a decidedly conservative tone in her famously moderate district, while Petsas boasts more moderate credentials.

 Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.

Committee chairs seek balance between gatekeeper and ‘God’

The first major hurdle every piece of legislation faces in the House or Senate is a committee leader with the ability to unilaterally kill bills, and some chairs are more willing to do it than others.

While the vast majority of Democratic bills languish in committees, chairs typically let their Republican colleagues’ bills be heard. An Arizona Capitol Times review of data from Legislation On Line Arizona shows that a handful of committee chairs are difficult gatekeepers even for their GOP peers.

To some extent, that’s the job of a committee chair, Senate President Karen Fann said. As the Senate president and chairwoman of the Rules Committee, the Prescott Republican also has great leeway in keeping bills from getting votes on the Senate floor.

“This has gone on since day one and will go on for a long time as long as the system is the way it is,” Fann said. “As chairpersons of our committees, one of their responsibilities is in fact to not hear bad bills if they’re just plain bad bills.”

The risk, though, comes in making sure committee chairs don’t “play God” by deciding to kill bills because of their personal preferences, Fann said.

“There might be a perfectly good bill out there that 60, 70 percent of all the members think that it’s a really, really good bill and we’re all OK with it,” Fann said. “But when it comes to a committee where there’s a person who says, ‘Well no, I just personally don’t like it, I don’t care what the majority of the other people do,’ that’s wrong. That’s just totally wrong.”

Eddie Farnsworth
Eddie Farnsworth

The committee chairman who came under the most fire for holding bills that had support from a majority of lawmakers also proved to be the one with the third-highest kill rate for Republican bills. Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, killed 24 percent of the Republican bills referred to his Senate Judiciary Committee.

Farnsworth’s refusal to hear a bill written by Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, to expand opportunities for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to sue their abusers contributed to a bitter showdown at the end of session as Boyer and Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, refused to vote for the GOP budget until they got a vote on their bills.

This year, Farnsworth also prevented a resolution to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, supported by at least three Republican senators along with the entire Democratic caucus, from being heard in his committee. And he refused to hear a bill from Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, that would have prevented criminal defendants who have never before been sentenced from being charged as repeat offenders.

Toma and Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, succeeded in getting around Farnsworth by replacing one of Mesnard’s bills that had already cleared the Senate with the repeat offender legislation. An attempt to bring the ERA ratification to the floor failed.

Farnsworth did not return a message left with his assistant, and several phone numbers he has provided in response to Capitol Times questionnaires and on candidate filing forms with the Secretary of State’s Office have been disconnected. But earlier this year, he said he tried to kill Boyer’s statute of limitation bill because the founding fathers intended committee chairs to serve as gatekeepers.

“We are gatekeepers,” he said. “There are chairmen that hold bills.”

And in a 2011 interview with the Capitol Times upon his return to the House after two years away, Farnsworth said too many lawmakers were proud of the number of bills they got passed.

“The question for me is how many bills did I kill as a chairman?  In four years, I probably killed 500 bills,” he said. “I’m far prouder of being a gatekeeper of freedom than voting for a bill that tells people what to do. I’m very proud of my reputation.”

Boyer said he found Farnsworth’s refusal to hear his statute of limitations bill “frustrating,” though he acknowledged he probably frustrated plenty of members during his four years as chairman of the House Education Committee.

As a chairman, Boyer said he’d count votes on his committee ahead of time to avoid scheduling bills that wouldn’t pass, particularly if they were bills that would garner a lot of testimony or debate. And he said committee leaders’ personal opinions about bills shouldn’t determine whether they get heard.

For instance, Boyer had a bill this session to allow graduating high school students who have achieved a high level of proficiency in the fine arts to have a fine arts seal added to their diplomas. Rep. Michelle Udall, a Mesa Republican who chairs the House Education Committee, was not a fan of the bill, but the rest of her committee supported it so she heard it anyway.

“I think she was the only ‘no’ vote, to her credit,” Boyer said. “That was just a great illustration of a chairman doing their job.”

Anthony Kern
Anthony Kern

Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, came under fire more than once this session for his role as the gatekeeper of the House Rules Committee. Bill after bill went there to die without explanation, and his colleagues noticed.

House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez made a point of calling attention to Democratic bills being held “hostage” in Rules on more than one occasion this year. She accused Kern of being vindictive toward her caucus’ bills, a charge Kern said impugned his motives and that prompted a defense from House Speaker Rusty Bowers who argued each chair was an extension of himself as speaker.

Nonetheless, after even some of Kern’s own Republican colleagues complained that he was negating some of their work on committees and overstepping, Kern began freeing dozens of bills in early March.

Kern did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but he has gone on social media in the interim to note some of the casualties of Rules.

On June 14, he tweeted, “As Rules Chairman, I joined fellow House Republicans in making sure HB 2414 was held in committee. It would have made AZ part of an interstate agreement to decide presidential elections by popular vote alone. Founding Fathers had it right, every state matters!”

HB 2414 was sponsored by Tucson Democrat Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley and assigned only to House Rules in late April, when many bills were assigned to Rules strictly to comply with a requirement that all bills be assigned to at least one committee.

John Allen
John Allen

And Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, got more than he likely bargained for as chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Before session kicked off, criminal justice reform measures were expected to go before the Sentencing and Recidivism Reform Committee Bowers had created for Prescott Republican David Stringer. As scandal unfolded around the now former representative, though, that committee was dissolved, leaving the Judiciary Committee to pick up where Stringer had left off.

Allen’s views then fell in line largely with Farnsworth’s, and bills aimed at restructuring aspects of the criminal justice system from fellow Republicans like Toma and Rep. Walt Blackman of Snowflake weren’t heard. In sum, 29 percent of the Republican-sponsored bills assigned to Allen’s committee never rated a hearing.

Like Udall, he did hear one bill despite his opposition and the impossibility of its adoption: freshman Democrat Rep. Raquel Terán’s HB2696, a bill she admitted had gone far beyond her original intent to repeal a law requiring a physician performing an abortion to use any means necessary to keep alive a fetus that is delivered alive.

Allen did not return a request for comment, but he explained his reasoning for doing at the time.

Realizing her mistake, Terán repeatedly asked Allen not to hear the bill after all. But he did not relent, and in the hearing held on the bill, he said this: “What we’ve talked about today shows the true nature of what some of the political conversations are,” he said, adding that the inclusion of House Democratic leaders as co-sponsors on the bill demonstrated how the issue is a core value of the Democratic party.

Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, did not grant hearings to nearly one-third of the Republican-sponsored bills assigned to her Senate Education Committee.

“If I’m not going to vote for it on the floor, I’m likely not going to hear it,” she said.  “I’ve had plenty of my bills held by chairmen, and I understand the process.”

Among the bills held in Senate Education were several of Allen’s own bills, which she said she realized needed more work. And in many cases, she said she talks with members ahead of time about issues with their bills and they agree that it’s not ready for a hearing.

“If I’m holding something, usually the member is not too upset that I’m doing it,” she said.

Members, particularly Democratic members, find that success often depends on what committee their bills are assigned to, said Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix, one of only eight Democrats who sponsored a bill that was signed into law this year. That bill, which deals with suicide prevention training in schools, was assigned to Allen’s committee and Bowie said she worked with him to get it out.

On the other hand, a bill he sponsored with Republican co-sponsors to ban conversion therapy landed in Farnsworth’s Judiciary Committee.

“Like a lot of bills that were introduced to that committee, it didn’t get a hearing,” Bowie said.

Court stops County Recorder from sending ballots to all voters for Tuesday election

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes speaks at a press conference on Sept. 12, 2018. (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)
Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes speaks at a press conference on Sept. 12, 2018. (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)

A Superior Court judge has stopped Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes from sending ballots to all voters who aren’t on the early voters list for Tuesday’s Presidential Preference Election. 

Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed suit Friday for the emergency order after the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said Fontes disobeyed their orders to not mail out the ballots.

“The Maricopa County Recorder cannot unilaterally rewrite state election laws,” Brnovich said in a press release. “Fontes is creating chaos in our elections during an already difficult time. In times of crisis, the public looks to our elected officials to follow the law – not make reactionary decisions for political gain.”

Hobbs wrote a letter to Fontes this afternoon calling his actions illegal. 

Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs

“I want to reiterate what I communicated to you on the phone this morning,” Hobbs wrote. “My Office’s position is that you do not have legal authority at this stage to mail a ballot to all voters who have not requested one. The lack of an express statutory prohibition is irrelevant. If your view were correct, counties apparently have had authority to conduct countywide all-mail elections all this time.”

Hobbs also referenced in her letter a Fontes tweet Thursday in which he said “if it were up to [him]” he would have mailed all the ballots to voters already. 

“Apparently, sometime between that tweet and this morning, you decided it is up to you, despite the fact that the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors determined otherwise,” Hobbs wrote

A Maricopa County spokesman told Arizona Capitol Times the Board of Supervisors did not support the County Recorder’s decision and would try to stop it if possible. 

“It’s their understanding that this is outside of his and the Board’s legal authority to send ballots to people that are not on the (Permanent Early Voting List),” county spokesman Fields Moseley said. “The board is seeking legal advice, and will stop it if it’s at all possible.”

On top of those elected officials chiding Fontes for going rogue, two elections lawyers agreed his actions were either illegal or at least irresponsible. 

Kory Langhofer, a Republican elections attorney, said what Fontes is doing is clearly illegal. 


Mark Brnovich
Mark Brnovich

However, Fontes acted alone and planned ahead to mail out the ballots to voters with the intention that they would be in the mail before any legal action could be taken, but in a press conference, Fontes admitted no ballots were mailed. 

Tom Collins, the executive director of the Clean Elections Commission, said that aside from whether this is even legal, it creates concern from a “public confidence perspective.”

Fontes’ statement is in direct conflict with the message Hobbs sent out hours earlier based on advice from state health officials, Collins said. 

“At a time when clarity around public health communications is important and regularity in the competence of an election is of the utmost importance – and given that this particular election has been problematic within the recent memory – I would assume that the county, the governor, the secretary and the county recorder need to get on the same page,” he said. 

Hobbs also warned Fontes not to continue this approach in August and November because it will cause confusion among voters. “I … urge you to abandon your current effort, which will only cause massive voter confusion and, more critically, jeopardize the legitimacy of this election,” she wrote. 

Fontes, in his original announcement of this “unprecedented” plan, said there wasn’t a law preventing him from doing this.

“There is no explicit authority in law for this and there’s also no prohibition in law,” Fontes told Arizona Capitol Times today. “We’re doing this to support the Board of Supervisors to make sure that every eligible voter can safely fill out a ballot, put it in the envelope and maintain appropriate social distance by just popping in and dropping it off at any of the polling locations that will be open on Tuesday,” he said.

Since then, the county held a press conference addressing this issue and according to the Maricopa County Recorder’s website, some polling places have already shut down in the county. Moseley said there was a growing concern over not having enough poll workers given the state of emergency over COVID-19. 

The county reduced its vote centers from 229 to 151, but all of them will be used as drop off zones, which was Fontes’ intention.

During a conference call with county recorders last week, Fontes urged Hobbs’ staff to lean on  Gov. Doug Ducey to declare a limited emergency for the election, but Hobbs never took the idea to the Governor’s Office. 

Fontes wanted Ducey to declare a limited emergency to allow the election to go entirely ballot-by-mail, and allow the county to print ballots and mail them to the roughly 200,000 voters who didn’t get an early ballot – which he ultimately decided to do unilaterally, without an emergency declaration.

Reporter Andrew Nicla contributed to this story. 

Court voids 2017 ‘dark money’ law

Gavel and scales

A judge has slapped down efforts by Gov. Doug Ducey and the Republican-controlled Legislature to create new exceptions to laws that require disclosure of campaign finance spending.

In a ruling released Wednesday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge David Palmer said the 2017 measure unconstitutionally conflicts with a 1998 voter-approved law designed to reduce the influence of money on politics.

Wednesday’s decision most immediately limits the ability of political parties to spend unlimited dollars on behalf of their candidates without disclosing the expenditures. It also voids some exemptions that lawmakers created in campaign finance laws, like allowing people to pay the legal fees of candidates without it counting against the legal limit of how much financial help they can provide.

But attorney Jim Barton who represented those challenging the 2017 law said the most significant part of the ruling is it restores the right of the voter-created Citizens Clean Elections Commission to police and enforce campaign finance laws against all candidates and their donors, not just those who are running with public financing.

That is significant because the 2017 law stripped the commission of that authority, giving it to the Secretary of State’s Office. But it is the commission that has adopted — and has enforced — rules requiring any group that is spending money to influence campaigns to publicly disclose which candidates they are supporting or opposing and how much they are spending.

Wednesday’s ruling, however, leaves intact the ability of groups established under the Internal Revenue Code as “social welfare” organizations to continue to shield the identities of their donors as long as they report their expenditures. The lawsuit did not challenge that “dark money” exemption.

There was no immediate response from the Secretary of State’s Office, which was defending the law, on the ruling or whether there will be an appeal.

The 2017 law, known as SB 1516, was championed by House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler. He said that existing laws interfered with the rights of free speech and people to participate in the political process with their dollars without giving up their right of privacy. It was approved on a largely party-line vote and signed into law by Ducey.

But the flip side of that, according to foes of the law, was that any decrease in disclosure requirements denies voters of at least some indication of who is spending money to try to influence the outcome of campaigns. That, they said, is why voters in 1998 gave broad powers to the commission to police campaign contributions.

Palmer agreed. In fact, he took a slap of sorts at state lawmakers for failing to enact such comprehensive regulations themselves.

The judge pointed out that the people who crafted the Arizona Constitution directed the first state Legislature to “enact a law providing for the general publicity of campaign contributions to and expenditures of campaign committees and candidates for public office.”

“The Legislature has never complied with that directive,” Palmer wrote. He said it took approval of the Citizens Clean Elections Act to even begin to comply.

One of the key provisions of that 1998 law, was that requirement for “independent expenditures” on behalf of or against candidates to be disclosed.

Since voters approved the law, the commission has pursued several high-profile cases when there have been TV commercials attacking candidates with no disclosure of what group was financing the effort. Barton said that Palmer’s ruling “confirms the Clean Elections Commission’s authority” to continue enforcing those requirements.

“We believe that that’s the answer to fighting dark money,” he said.

Barton said one of the biggest loopholes SB 1516 created was the ability of political parties to spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of their candidates without disclosure.

In just the most recent election, for example, the Arizona Republican Party ran TV commercials on behalf of the reelection efforts of Gov. Doug Ducey and Attorney General Mark Brnovich. But the exact amount they spent on behalf of each was never reported because of the exemption created in the 2017 law.

This became particularly significant this year because Ducey raised money not only directly for his own campaign but also took corporate and large-dollar contributions, which he could not accept personally, through a separate Ducey Victory Fund committee. And any dollars Ducey could not keep himself were given to the Arizona Republican Party, which then was free to use it to help the governor’s reelection, all without detailing how much was spent on his behalf.

This isn’t just a practice of one party.

The Arizona Democratic Party also put $3.3 million into the effort to elect Katie Hobbs as Secretary of State. But that figure became public not through campaign finance laws. It was only because iVote, which promotes the election of Democratic secretaries of state, the group that gave the money to the state party to promote Hobbs, put out a press release detailing the expenditure.

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. 



Democratic SOS spurs talk of change in line of succession

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

The election of a Democrat as Arizona’s next secretary of state has renewed some Republicans’ interest in the line of succession.

That’s because if anything were to happen to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey – be it resignation, impeachment or an untimely death – Democrat Katie Hobbs would be next in line to serve as the state’s chief executive.

Given the lengthy history of Arizona governors who don’t serve full terms in office, some lawmakers want to shake up the gubernatorial line of succession by inserting a new player – a lieutenant governor. But they’ll have to convince voters, who’ve routinely rejected the idea, to go along with it.

Arizona is one of only seven states in the country that doesn’t elect a lieutenant governor.

Twenty-six states elect governors and lieutenant governors as a slate, according to the National Lieutenant Governors Association. Seventeen elect lieutenant governors in separately. In only three states, including Arizona, does the secretary of state serve as next in line.

GOP proposals to create a lieutenant governor in Arizona err on the side of electing the governor and his or her lieutenant as a team. Electing the positions separately could create the same problem Republicans are trying to avoid: A situation where a Democratic politician assumes the Governor’s Office in the middle of an elected Republican’s term.

It’s not an uncommon situation in Arizona. Five secretaries of state have become governor. Four of those instances have occurred since 1977.

And twice since the late 1980s, the governor of one party was replaced by a secretary of state from a different party.

Sen. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills)
Sen. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills)

Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said voters aren’t aware of what’s at stake when they elect a secretary of state – that they’re the proverbial “heartbeat away” from becoming governor. A lieutenant governor would clarify who’s second-in-command.

“It would be like the president. The same box would provide you with that team. The two would run as a team,” Kavanagh said.

There’s also the argument that being secretary of state doesn’t prepare you to be governor. The roles are too different, say Republicans like House Speaker J.D. Mesnard of Chandler. It’d be better if the gubernatorial nominee for each party could pick a running mate to serve as their lieutenant governor.

There’s a hurdle to those plans, however. The line of succession is enshrined in the Arizona Constitution, and only the voters can decide if that should change.

Voters have overwhelmingly rejected the idea, twice in the last two decades – first in 1994 by a 2-1 margin, then again in 2010 by a roughly 59 percent majority.

Republicans are also aware of the perception of proposing a lieutenant governor in the wake of the 2018 election. For more than two decades, Republicans have occupied the Secretary of State’s Office, meaning in recent memory, there’s never been the fear of having a Republican governor replaced by a Democrat.

In fact, the last time a governor resigned, the transfer of power worked in the GOP’s favor. Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano resigned from office in 2009, and was replaced by Republican Jan Brewer.

To assuage any concerns that their motives might be political, Kavanagh and other Republicans say that any effort to create a lieutenant governor must have a delayed effective date. That’s exactly what Mesnard proposed in 2015, and he may simply reintroduce that legislation. This time, he’d push the date a lieutenant governor would first be elected until 2026.

That would ensure that Hobbs, as the recently elected secretary of state, could serve at least two full terms in office without being affected.

As for what the role of a lieutenant governor would be, there are differences of opinion. Kavanagh said he sees the role as a fill-in for the governor – someone who can speak on the governor’s behalf, travel to events on his or her behalf, and most importantly, serve the state while the governor is traveling abroad.

Kavanagh also suggested the lieutenant governor could assume some of administrative duties of the secretary of state. And perhaps the secretary of state could be eliminated altogether, Kavanagh said, replaced by a gubernatorial appointee.

“You could simply make the Secretary of State’s Office a full time civil servant,” Kavanagh said.

Mesnard said it’d be a mistake to turn the secretary into an appointed role.

“The Secretary of State’s Office needs to be an elected position. It’s true that it’s mostly an administrative position… but no matter who is in that position, it’s going to be political,” Mesnard said. “At least if it’s an elected position, they answer directly to the people.”

Instead, Mesnard’s proposal would put the lieutenant governor in charge of the Arizona Department of Administration, a role in government operations that would better prepare a lieutenant to become governor if needed.

If approved by the Legislature, voters would have a final say on any lieutenant governor proposal in the 2020 election.

Ducey outraises 2 Dem foes combined in gubernatorial race

Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Gov. Doug Ducey raised more than $2 million more than his Democratic competitors for the 2018 governor’s race.

Sen. Steve Farley, a Tucson Democrat who’s challenging Ducey, raised more than his party-mate, David Garcia, a professor.

Both Democratic candidates had spent a good chunk of the money they raised so far.

Farley collected more than $500,000, mostly from individual donors. Farley has spent more than half of what he raised so far, largely on staffing, and has $232,000 cash on hand. He also transferred nearly $60,000 from his past campaign account to his gubernatorial one.

Garcia raised nearly $300,000, but he spent more than two-thirds of that and has $94,290 cash on hand.

While Farley reported no contributions from PACs, Garcia got $17,600 from PACs, including the UFCW Local 99, IBEW Arizona PAC and the Latino Victory Fund.

Ducey raised more than $3 million in the 2018 election cycle and has nearly $2.7 million cash on hand. Most of Ducey’s money also came from individuals, and more than $200,000 was from PACs.

His PAC contributions read like a who’s-who of the state’s business interests, with money coming from groups representing Pinnacle West, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, GEO Group, Coca-Cola, railroads, tech companies and banks, among others.

Much of Ducey’s spending so far went toward fundraising, with nearly $135,000 paid during this cycle to Lovas LLC, GOP fundraiser Corinne Lovas’ company.

Treasurer’s race

Arizona Treasurer Jeff DeWit announced in 2016 that he didn’t intend to run again for the office, leaving an open seat. He has since been tapped as chief financial officer at NASA, a post that requires U.S. Senate approval.

Republicans Tom Forese, chairman of the Arizona Corporation Commission, and Kimberly Yee, a state senator, are running for the GOP nomination for treasurer. Rep. Mark Cardenas, a Democrat, announced his run for the office last week, though he reported no numbers for 2017 since he only recently entered the race.

Tom Forese (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Tom Forese (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

When Forese announced in May 2017 that he had $600,000 in the bank for the treasurer’s race, he didn’t mention that most of it was his own money. Forese gave his campaign $420,000, and he raised about $130,000, mostly from individual donors. He has barely spent any of the money yet and has more than $620,000 cash on hand.

Forese also gave back $3,000 in contributions his campaign had received from the Robson family, owners of Robson Communities. The Corporation Commission came under fire recently over a water controversy involving the Robson family, and criticism of the commission’s actions revolved around the commissioners doing the bidding of the Robsons because they were campaign donors.

Yee’s husband, dentist Nelson Mar, loaned her the bulk of the money she reported this cycle as well, lending her campaign $400,000. She brought over nearly $129,000 from her past legislative campaign committees. Yee has raised little so far, less than $12,000. She has spent less than $1,000, and has $540,000 cash on hand.

Secretary of state

Secretary of State Michele Reagan showed strong numbers for her re-election campaign, though Democratic challenger Katie Hobbs, the Senate minority leader, boasted high contributions as well.

Michele Reagan at her 2015 inauguration (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting)
Michele Reagan at her 2015 inauguration (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting)

Reagan raised $412,000 from individual contributors last year and an additional $20,000 from PACs, to go along with $85,000 she loaned her campaign at the start of 2017. Including self-funding, Reagan brought in about $520,000 for her re-election campaign last year. She spent about $71,000 during that period, leaving her with $467,000 on hand to start 2018.

Hobbs raised just over $200,000 and has about $116,000 cash on hand. Most of her money came from individuals, while $22,850 came from PACs. She transferred more than $10,000 from her legislative campaign committee.

Meanwhile, former lawmaker Steve Montenegro, who was running for secretary of state and decided to run in the special election for the 8thCongressional District seat instead, showed much less in his campaign account. He raised less than $19,000 in 2017 and spent more than $16,000. He had nearly $28,000 cash on hand.

Ducey silent on knowledge of campaign contribution

Gov. Doug Ducey waves to supporters at a Make America Great Again campaign rally for President Trump in Mesa on Oct. 19, 2018. Ducey has been a leading fundraiser in the 2018 election. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Gov. Doug Ducey waves to supporters at a Make America Great Again campaign rally for President Trump in Mesa on Oct. 19, 2018. Ducey has been a leading fundraiser in the 2018 election. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Gov. Doug Ducey won’t say whether he knows who is behind the single largest contribution to his re-election campaign.

And he won’t even say if he asked who is actually funding Blue Magnolia, the limited liability company that had been incorporated in Delaware just two weeks before it put $500,000 into the Ducey Victory Fund.

“I’m going to leave this to the lawyers that are working through this,” the governor said in response to questions by Capitol Media Services.

But J.P. Twist, who managed Ducey’s re=election effort, has deflected questions about the donation in the wake of a complaint filed with the Secretary of State’s Office by the Campaign Legal Center. That organization alleges that the newly formed Blue Magnolia was simply a front for someone else — in this case they believe Larry Van Tuyl, manager of the Berkshire Hathaway Automotive Group which owns more than two dozen dealerships in Arizona.

The complaint itself is against Blue Magnolia and Van Tuyl. Brendan Fischer, director of the CLC’s federal reform program, said he has no evidence that Ducey or his campaign team were aware of who was actually behind the money from Blue Magnolia which, as a two-week-old company, had no assets to make that size of a contribution.

But Fischer told Capitol Media Services it “would be prudent to inquire further about the source of a contribution from a mysterious LLC with no public footprint.”

“Our campaign followed the law,” the governor said. “If there’s an issue through this contribution it’ll be figured out through this process.”

Ducey, however, would not answer questions about whether he even asked who put that much money into his campaign.

The question of what the governor knew is crucial: If Ducey was aware that Blue Magnolia was simply laundering campaign contributions from someone else he would be guilty of a felony.

Van Tuyl, who owned the Arizona dealerships before selling them to Berkshire Hathaway in 2014, is no stranger to Ducey or Republican politics.

Just days before the general election this year he gave $250,000 of his own to the Ducey Victory Fund. That is a separate campaign committee set up by the governor and his supporters which can take not only donations above the $5,100 individual limit but also corporate dollars.

Van Tuyl was less generous with Ducey in his first gubernatorial run, giving him just $2,000 in his bid for the Republican nomination.

But Van Tuyl also provided $90,000 to the Arizona Republican Party in 2010.

At the heart of the issue is a state law which makes it a crime to make a contribution in the name of another person. Violations are a Class 6 felony which carry a one-year prison term and a $150,000 fine.

The CLC complaint alleges that the money given to the Ducey Victory Fund by Blue Magnolia actually came from Van Tuyl.

As proof, Fischer points out that Blue Magnolia gave $100,000 to DefendArizona, a political action committee set up to help Martha McSally in her unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate.

After CLC filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission which oversees federal races, DefendArizona filed an amended report listing Van Tuyl as the actual contributor.

Fischer said he only became aware of the donation to the Ducey Victory Fund and filed his complaint with the state after a story by Capitol Media Services about contributors to the governor’s reelection efforts.

Van Tuyl has not responded to messages left with his Berkshire Hathaway office in Texas.

But the same Arizona law that makes hiding the true source of dollars a felony also makes it a crime for a candidate or committee to knowingly accept a contribution made by someone in the name of another person.

That, then, gets to the question of what did Ducey know — or should have known — about the single largest contribution to his re-election campaign.

“I don’t have anything more to say on that,” the governor responded when asked directly.

Technically speaking, Ducey did not get to use the $500,000 directly to ensure another four years in office because of the prohibition on corporate donations to candidate campaigns. Instead, the Ducey Victory Fund was set up so that any donations that Ducey could accept — meaning non-corporate dollars of less than $5,100 — would be transferred to the governor’s own campaign committee.

Anything else the governor could not accept personally was given to the Arizona Republican Party which, under current state law, not only can accept unlimited and corporate dollars but also is free to spend as much as it wants on behalf of any candidate — and without disclosing the amount. That’s why there is no record of how much the state GOP spent to help Ducey.

That exception may be going away.

Earlier this week Maricopa County Superior Court Judge David Palmer voided changes in campaign finance laws approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Ducey.

One of those changes created a new exception for political parties for expenses that have to be publicly disclosed when they spend money on behalf of candidates. Palmer ruled that lawmakers were powerless to make that change because the reporting requirement had been approved by voters in 1998 as part of creating the Citizens Clean Elections Act.

An appeal of that ruling is anticipated.

Ducey vetoes first bill this year

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

For the first time since 2019, Gov. Doug Ducey brought out his veto pen today saying no to an election bill from Rep. John Kavanagh that passed both chambers unanimously.  

HB 2360 would give complete authority to the Secretary of State’s Office to operate and maintain the online voter registration system, removing it from the Arizona Department of Transportation.  

Kavanagh had pitched the bill as putting the voter registration system in its rightful place under the Secretary of State’s Office, but Ducey‘s office panned it as unnecessary.  

“The Arizona Department of Transportation has developed a site and a system that Arizonans recognize and appreciate,” Ducey wrote in his veto letter.  

Ducey has not used his veto pen often, and this is his first veto since 2019.  

In total, since 2015, Ducey has signed 2,016 bills and vetoed 80 — including today’s veto. His predecessor, Gov Jan Brewer, also a Republican, vetoed bills at much higher rate (141 vetoes to 1,782 bills signed into law).  

“This falls under the category of it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” Ducey spokesman CJ Karamargin said. 

A spokeswoman for Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said the office is “perplexed.”  

“Especially considering it passed both chambers [unanimously]. This has been a deeply partisan session, this had support. We just don’t have a good explanation for it,” Hobbs’ spokeswoman Murphy Hebert said.  

The bill says it would not have gone into effect until December 31, 2023, which would be plenty of time before the 2024 presidential election and under whoever becomes the secretary of state in 2022.  

Ducey complimented county election officials in his veto letter and signaled that he could be signing more election bills, with plenty of controversial measures on the horizon.  

“There are many changes to the laws governing elections in this state that could continue to improve Arizonans’ confidence in our election system,” he wrote.  

Kavanagh told Capitol Times there were some problems with the way the bill divided power between the Secretary of State’s office and the county recorders and that it needed more detail. He said he expects to work on the bill during the interim and reintroduce it in 2022.  

“I don’t really have a problem with that (Ducey’s veto),” Kavanagh said. “Some issues with the way the bill was structured came up and I agreed it probably needs some sort of rewrite. Maybe next year.”  

Kavanagh said he introduced the bill at the behest of a county recorder who “didn’t think it was appropriate to have the election stuff in the Department of Transportation.” 

It’s still possible the Legislature could opt to override the veto. Overrides only need two-thirds vote in both chambers – which has yet to happen while Ducey is governor – and it passed the House 58-0 and the Senate 30-0 already.  

Reporter Nathan Brown contributed to this story. 


Elections chief candidates unknown across the state


Steve Gaynor and Katie Hobbs have one thing in common: They’re relative unknowns across the state as they make their bids to be Arizona’s next secretary of state. And since neither candidate has a distinct name identification advantage, the election will ultimately come down to who voters feel is more competent, said veteran political strategist Chuck Coughlin.

Arizona’s secretary of state is next in line to become governor if the incumbent leaves office. The state has a long history of governors not completing their full terms, in which case the secretary of state would move up to the Ninth Floor.

Coughlin said voters will have to ask themselves, do they want someone with Gaynor’s business background or do they want someone with a legislative track record like Hobbs serving as the state’s chief elections officer and second in command.

“One would have to ask the question at the end of the day of all the voters in Arizona: who do you trust more to run our elections? That to me is the key argument here,” he said.

Steve Gaynor
Steve Gaynor

Gaynor, a businessman and political newcomer, skyrocketed through political ranks this year to oust incumbent Michele Reagan in the Republican primary.

Hobbs, a Phoenix Democrat and Arizona’s Senate minority leader, worked her way up through the Legislature before seeking statewide political office.

Gaynor, who is president of Phoenix Management Group LLC, a private equity firm, and B&D Litho California, Inc., a commercial printing company, had never run for office before he filed to run for secretary of state in February.

He has shaped his campaign around his business background, saying he would run the Secretary of State’s Office like a business.

But there are some blemishes on Gaynor’s business record. He has been sued several times in business-related matters.


Gaynor blamed California’s business and legal environment after settling a lawsuit in California that accused him of underpaying workers. On the campaign trail, Gaynor has often decried the Golden State’s burdensome regulations and tried to paint Hobbs as a California liberal, who wants to make Arizona more like its neighbor.

But Gaynor also faced two business-related lawsuits in Arizona.

In 2010, he was locked in a complicated legal battle involving the sale of his Arizona and Colorado-based printing plants. The purchaser of the two plants sued Gaynor, alleging he violated a non-compete agreement by “soliciting customers for business forms” to his California plant, thus competing with the new owners of the Phoenix and Denver-based plants.

Gaynor made $12.5 million on the 2007 sale, according to court documents filed in Maricopa County Superior Court.

Gaynor’s California plant prints commercial materials like paperback books and catalogs. The other two plants printed business forms like checks and invoices.

In selling the two plants, Gaynor agreed the California printing plant couldn’t be in the business of manufacturing business forms. Although the plant occasionally printed some business materials, it was not in the business of printing business materials — an endeavor that would have required additional, costly printing equipment, Gaynor said.

Gaynor dismissed the suit as meritless, but he eventually settled for a “minor” amount. He said he couldn’t remember how much he paid in the settlement.

Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs (D-Phoenix) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs (D-Phoenix) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

“I paid them a little money kind of for them to save face and go away,” he said.

Gaynor also faced a lawsuit in 2005 for breach of contract from when he bought a small printing company through his business Gaming Supplies LLC. He agreed to purchase the company from a company based in California for $130,000.

Gaming Supplies was required to pay $40,000 in cash up front and then pay off the remaining $90,000 in 32 monthly installments. In the lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, the owners of National Card West Inc. claimed Gaynor didn’t pay any of the monthly installments.

Gaynor’s company then countersued.

The seller didn’t perform as promised, Gaynor said, explaining why he held back on payment. He said he was in the midst of coming to agreement with one of National Card West’s partners on payment when the other partner filed suit.

Both parties agreed to dismiss the case just months after it began, according to court records. Gaynor no longer owns Gaming Supplies LLC.

People can file lawsuits saying whatever they want, but that doesn’t make what they’re saying true, Gaynor told the Arizona Capitol Times.

“The mere filing of a lawsuit doesn’t mean there was something untoward about the action,” he said.

Lawsuits aren’t the best way to solve business disagreements, but the United State has turned into a “litigious society” wherein people often turn to litigation to solve their problems, he said.

Gaynor also said his experience with litigation is good experience for being
secretary of state because of the sheer amount of lawsuits the state office faces.

“For being secretary of state, it certainly is advantageous to have legal experience,” he said.

Specifically, Gaynor cited a recent voter registration lawsuit filed against the state last year, which resulted in a consent decree streamlining the voter registration process. Gaynor has said the consent decree is unconstitutional and the state shouldn’t have settled the case.

In an October 3 debate, Hobbs pointed out the California lawsuit.

“You talk about being a successful businessman and running the Secretary of State’s Office like a business,” Hobbs said. “Yet you have these problems and you didn’t follow the law and you settled a lawsuit.”

Middle Ground Voters

Although he has been a big donor in federal elections across the country, Gaynor was virtually unknown in state political circles before his secretary of state bid. But since he clinched the GOP nomination for secretary of state, he was welcomed into the political establishment.

Next week, Gov. Doug Ducey will attend a fundraiser for Gaynor, a sign that the political newcomer has earned the governor’s blessing.

Meanwhile, while Gaynor almost entirely self-funded his primary campaign — to the tune of $1.5 million — he is picking up financial support from other Republicans now that he is the party’s nominee.

“After the primary, people have been very generous. I’ve actually raised a lot of money,” Gaynor said in a recent debate.

But average Arizona Republicans don’t necessarily know who Gaynor is, Hobbs said in an interview.

“The Republicans don’t really know Steve Gaynor,” she said. “It’s going to be a fight for those middle ground voters because I don’t think they know either one of us.”

Hobbs is a social worker who served as a chief compliance officer for the Soujourner Center — a domestic abuse shelter. She was first elected to the Legislature in 2010, after she decided she wanted to do more to help vulnerable populations.

After a slew of bungled elections in recent years, both Hobbs and Gaynor have promised to fix the Secretary of State’s Office.

Both candidates also share some similar goals for the office, should they be elected.

Hobbs and Gaynor have cited protecting elections from cybersecurity threats as a top priority. They have also promised not to use the office for political purposes.

But there are some differences between the two.

Hobbs’ main goal is to make it easier for everyone to vote. Hobbs stressed that students, rural voters and low income voters struggle to vote because of various barriers.

Gaynor is more concerned about preventing election fraud.

Federal judge denies state officials access to Democratic voter data

A federal judge on July 24 denied the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office’s attempt to get privileged documents containing voter demographics and related information from the national and local Democratic Party.

The order stems from a legal battle that began following the 2016 Presidential Primary, when hours-long lines and lack of reasonable polling locations prevented some Arizona voters from making it to the ballot box.

In April 2016, the national and local Democratic Party interests called on a federal judge to reassess the way Arizona handles voting procedures and laws. In the original paperwork, the plaintiffs said the entire state has engaged in “consistent activity that has created a culture of voter disenfranchisement” since the U.S. Supreme Court decided Arizona could have free-reign over its voting procedures.

Michele Reagan
Michele Reagan

Secretary of State Michele Reagan and Attorney General Mark Brnovich requested access to numerous privileged documents from the Arizona Democratic Party, Democratic National Committee, and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on the basis that the documents contained “highly relevant information.”

But, the plaintiffs cited the First Amendment as reason for the judge to rule in their favor. The plaintiffs argued that the First Amendment protects “political association from government infringement.”

The state was requesting the disclosure of several emails, analyses and data reports. Arizona Democratic Party Chair  Alexis Tameron said in a sworn declaration the documents requested contain “estimates of demographic characteristics and likely voting behavior of the electorate” and “set forth the ADP’s strategies and targets for conducting outreach to voters to communicate ADP’s message, and for encouraging voters who associate with ADP and support ADP’s values to turn out to vote.”

The state argued that the plaintiff’s had waived their First Amendment rights to protect those documents as soon as they cited their demographic research as evidence of mistreatment of minority voters. The defendants also argued that some of the requested information had already been provided to the media, so the state should have that information as well.

A witness for the Democrats could not confirm whether the information cited in a story by The Arizona Republic was actually derived from the privileged documents.

The plaintiffs’ attorney argued that if the “highly relevant data” was all the state was after, it could find that data elsewhere, as most of it is available to the public. The documents however, are based on raw demographic data and overlaid with internal analysis and predictions.

Alexis Tameron
Alexis Tameron

Tameron explained that because of the additional information in the documents, she was worried that “disclosure of such communication risks revealing the viewpoints, political associations, and strategy of such partners” could harm the Democratic Party and its relationships in the future.

Furthermore, the party said some of the documents contain information from their election incident hotline, including specific voter information and precincts it was concerned about.

Finchem starts run for top election official

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. Finchem has filed a formal “statement of interest” in running for secretary of state next year. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR

One of the leading proponents of the claims of election fraud in Arizona now wants to be in charge of the system. 

State Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, has filed a formal “statement of interest” in running for secretary of state next year. That move allows him to begin collecting the signatures he would need to put his name on the ballot. 

Finchem is unlikely to be alone. 

Democrat Katie Hobbs, the current holder of the office, is likely eyeing a gubernatorial bid, what with incumbent Doug Ducey unable to seek a third term. That portends a wide-open race for the office whose duties include being the state’s chief elections officer. 

But the office holds far more importance than the assigned tasks which also cover everything from regulating notaries public to registering telephone solicitors. Under the Arizona Constitution, the secretary of state is first in line of succession if the governor quits, dies or resigns, something that has occurred multiple times over the past few decades. 

Also likely in the hunt, though there has been no formal action yet, is Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, who currently chairs the Senate Committee on Government and Elections. 

Finchem was one of the prime organizers of what was billed as a legislative hearing last year at a downtown Phoenix hotel to hear unverified claims of widespread election fraud in the November tally that gave the state’s 11 electoral votes to Democrat Joe Biden. The prime witness was Rudy Giuliani, attorney for PresidentTrump, and even included the now-former president calling in to complain about the process and the results. 

He also sought to have the Arizona Legislature called into special session to invalidate the results and award those electoral votes to Trump. That was shot down by House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, who said there is no legal authority to do that. 

Finchem, a figure in the “#stopthesteal” movement, also was at the Jan. 6 rally in Washington that later turned into an invasion of the Capitol. He denied entering the building, though he posted a photo on Twitter saying, “What happens when the People feel they have been ignored, and Congress refuses to acknowledge rampant fraud.” 

His participation led legislative Democrats to ask the FBI and the Department of Justice to look into his activities leading up to and at the event. To date, the only response from the agencies was that they had received the letter. 

House Democrats also filed an ethics complaint against Finchem in a bid to get him expelled. When that was dismissed, he turned the tables and accused the Democrats of unethical conduct but that, too, was tossed. 

Now Finchem has a defamation lawsuit against Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, one of the signers of the complaint. 

Finchem also has backed the move by the Arizona Senate to audit the results of the Maricopa County vote, a process that remains in limbo while lawmakers figure out how to hire someone who do the work. But he also has suggested in an interview with Epoch Times that if that audit finds no problems it would be because county officials have destroyed evidence. 

A retired Michigan police officer, he was first elected to the state House in 2014. 

Finchem did not return a request for comment. 

First-time candidates learn hard knocks of politics


Toward the end of May, Leslie Pico walked 12 to 15 miles a day to get on the August primary ballot.

Pico, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for Arizona secretary of state, spent most of April and May collecting at least 5,801 signatures to qualify for the ballot.

She collected 6,916 signatures, but they may not be enough.

Pico’s nominating petitions were challenged June 13. Like several other first-time political candidates, she is now tied up in a court battle for electoral integrity.

With a surge of new candidates seeking state and legislative offices this fall, many of them political newcomers who decided to jump into races close to the filing deadline, the Secretary of State’s Office has seen a jump in the number of candidate challenges this year.

The state’s chief elections office had 30 petition challenges in state and federal races this year. That’s up from 12 in 2016 and 22 in 2014. The number of candidate challenges this year exceeds the number of challenges in at least the past six election cycles, according to data from the Secretary of State’s Office.

Pico, 31, didn’t anticipate the petition challenge.

“I did know it was a possibility, but I guess this is where my idealism overpowered how pragmatic I should have been about the situation,” she said.

The consultant with expertise in programming and blockchain is challenging Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs for the Democratic Party’s nomination.

Former House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, Hobbs’ former seatmate, challenged Pico’s petitions, some of which are missing required information, were signed by Republicans or signed by people who are not registered to vote in the state, a complaint filed in Maricopa County Superior Court alleges.

Campbell also challenged the petitions of Mark Robert Gordon — another relatively unknown Democrat in the secretary of state’s race. Gordon has since dropped out of the race and thrown his support behind Hobbs.

Secretary of State Michele Reagan is up for re-election this year. She is being challenged by wealthy businessman Steve Gaynor in the Republican primary.

Campbell and Hobbs declined to comment on the ballot challenge against Pico. But speaking more generally, Campbell said candidates should always verify and validate their signatures before they turn them into the Secretary of State’s Office.

“As I always say, if you’ve got valid signatures, then you’ve nothing to worry about,” he said. “If you don’t, then you probably shouldn’t be on the ballot.”

Pico agrees with state requirements that candidates must get a certain number of valid signatures from registered voters to get on the ballot, but she said that for a lot of candidates, challenges can turn into a money issue.

Pico hired a lawyer to take her case and defend her in court on June 22, a cost of $5,000. Some close family friends forked over the cash to help her cause, she said.

“The signature requirement was developed around the turn of the century … to prevent the parties from having political control of who is on the ballot,” she said. “But now it has become a tool for them to do exactly this.”

But Campbell said that it can be hard for candidates to gather enough valid signatures in a short time span. This election cycle has seen a lot more candidates get into the race at the last minute, he said.

“When you have more candidates jumping in late and what seems to be more people out there that are gathering signatures that probably either don’t know what they’re doing or doing it in an fraudulent manner, I think that’s a perfect recipe for having this number of challenges,” Campbell said.

Money has been an issue for other candidates as well. Legislative District 16 candidate Bonnie Hickman had her petitions challenged by Adam Stevens — a Republican who had previously run in the district. Instead of hiring a lawyer, Hickman defended herself in court.

Hickman, a Republican, was inspired to run by the “Red for Ed” movement. Her challenger was a member of the Purple for Parents Facebook group — created by people opposed to the “Red for Ed” teachers’ strike.

In court, Hickman wore a red skirt suit. But she seemed unsure of herself as she moved around the courtroom and questioned witnesses. She often looked to the judge for guidance.

Hickman collected her 679 signatures in about five days in May.

“Two months ago, I wasn’t even involved in politics,” she said. “Two months ago, I probably couldn’t even tell you what legislative district I lived in. This has definitely been a learning curve.”

After a hearing this week, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Connie Contes ruled Hickman was seven valid signatures short of qualifying for the August primary ballot.

Kellie Engen, a Republican candidate for LD22 House, and Gabriel Escontrias, a Democratic candidate for LD30 Senate, both voluntarily withdrew from their races after having their petitions challenged. Both were political newcomers.

Engen, a nurse, said she’s unlikely to ever seek elected office again.

“I guess in some ways I was too naive,” she said. “I just thought I’d file my petitions, run a campaign and win or lose and be done. I didn’t think I’d have to go through all these hoops and then in the end, not be on the ballot.”

Escontrias characterized this more as a learning experience.

He naively thought it was a good thing when Republicans signed his nominating petitions. He thought his message was resonating with voters of all kinds. But candidates can only collect signatures from members of their own party and independents — people who could vote for that same candidate in the primary.

“I think there’s a lot of changes I would make next time just to be able to go above and beyond in signatures to make sure that my campaign is a little more challenge-proof,” he said.

Reporter Paulina Pineda contributed to this report.

Fontes seeks investigation of Lake for publishing voter signatures

Adrian Fontes (AP Photo/Matt York)

Secretary of State Adrian Fontes is seeking an investigation of failed Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake after the she published signatures of some people from the voter registration records.

In a letter late Monday to Attorney General Kris Mayes, Fontes cites a Jan. 23 Twitter post where Lake claims a “bombshell discovery,” saying 40,000 ballots were “illegally counted.”

As proof, she embedded an image of signatures from 16 ballot envelopes and what she said were the signatures of the same people from their voter registration records.

Lake, Hobbs, governor, Court of Appeals, election contest, general election, ballots, tabulation, Election Day, Republicans, Democrats, MAGA, secretary of state
Kari Lake (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

“Do you think these Arizona ballot signatures match???” the posting says.

But Fontes said while state law allows for public inspection of voter registration records for election-related purposes, it says those containing a signature “shall not be accessible or reproduced by any person other than the voter.”

There are other exceptions in the statute, ranging from government officials in the scope of official duties and verifying signatures on petitions and candidate filings, to news reporters and those with a court order. But Fontes said what Lake did falls outside of all that.

“The protections afforded by this subsection prohibit posting any information derived from voter registration forms or precinct registers to the internet,” he told Mayes, like him, a newly elected Democrat. “And under no circumstance may a person other than the voter or a statutorily authorized person reproduce a voter’s signature.”

What the law also says, Fontes said, is violations are a Class 6 felony, which carry a presumptive penalty of a year in state prison.

“Therefore, the Secretary of State’s Office is referring this matter to you for further investigation and possible prosecution,” Fontes wrote, both for violating the law cited “and any other applicable state laws.”

Tim La Sota, an attorney for Lake, told Capitol Media Services the complaint is “another attempt to weaponize the justice system with a phony allegation against a Republican.”

“Adrian Fontes selectively quotes the statute in an attempt to distort the law and smear Kari Lake in the process,” he said, saying that Mayes should announce “she will have no part in this shameful, disgusting effort.”

La Sota also pointed out that the documents actually came out of the state Senate investigation of the 2020 election when the Senate had subpoenaed ballot envelopes and voting records. Part of that inquiry, he said, was looking at “acceptance of clearly mismatched signatures on early ballots” by Maricopa County.

“Kari Lake has an absolute right under the First Amendment to republish the information presented to the Senate,” La Sota said.

Lake has continued to insist, both at public events and court filings, that the outcome of the election was affected by intentional actions and other Election Day mistakes.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson last month refused to overturn the official returns which showed Lake losing to Democrat Katie Hobbs by 17,117 votes.

He said she provided no evidence during the trial that she should have been declared the winner. And Thompson said her theories about what went wrong, and why, were not backed by facts.

Lake still contends that issues with ballot printers and tabulators at vote centers were part of a scheme to depress the votes of Republicans who tend to vote on Election Day rather than cast early ballots. Yet the final results showed that some GOP contenders not only won but did so by wide margins as Republicans apparently made different decisions on different races.

The state Court of Appeals is set to review her claims on Wednesday.

Lake also has had a series of overflow rallies, including one Sunday at a Scottsdale resort where she showed some ballot signatures on screen, took a cell phone call from former President Trump, which she played for the audience, called Hobbs a “squatter in the governor’s office” and told her, “don’t get too comfortable, sweetie.”






Gaynor concedes SOS race as remaining votes dwindle

Sen. Katie Hobbs (Photo by Gary Grado, Arizona Capitol Times)
Sen. Katie Hobbs (Photo by Gary Grado, Arizona Capitol Times)

Steve Gaynor finally conceded late Friday he isn’t going to be secretary of state.

In a Twitter post, the Republican contender said he called Democrat Katie Hobbs to congratulate her for winning the race.

But by that point Gaynor was simply admitting what was already obvious to others — including Gov. Doug Ducey, who said hours earlier he already had reached out to Hobbs after concluding there is no way his fellow Republican is going to be secretary of state.

“I said, ‘Congratulations, a race well run, and I’m looking forward to working with you, I think we can work well together,’ ” the governor said.

Ducey’s decision to effectively call the race for Hobbs, currently the Senate minority leader, came even before the vote tally released Friday night showed her increasing her lead over Gaynor since Thursday by close to 2,000. She now leads the race by more than 15,000 votes out nearly 2.3 million ballots already counted.

There were only about 67,000 ballots left to be counted.

That includes 60,000 from Maricopa County where Hobbs is slightly outpolling Gaynor. The balance are from Pima County which has provided three votes for Hobbs for every two for Gaynor.

As Gaynor’s late-night concession acknowledged, there was virtually no way for him to catch up.

Ducey, in speaking with reporters Friday, said he also is reaching out to other Democrats who won their statewide races against Republicans.

“I’ve spoken with Senator-elect (Kyrsten) Sinema and we’re going to be visiting on Monday,” the governor said. And Ducey said he “left a message for Kathy Hoffman” who won the race for state superintendent of public instruction over Republican Frank Riggs.

“So I’m going to be working with all elected leaders, just like I’m going to be governor of all the people,” he said.



Glassman concedes, Hobbs still leads

Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs (D-Phoenix) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs (D-Phoenix) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Republican Justin Olson will be taking the second open spot on the Arizona Corporation Commission.

New vote tallies Wednesday evening put Olson 4,422 votes ahead of fellow Republican Rodney Glassman. And while there are more than 100,000 votes yet to be counted, Glassman told Capitol Media Services he had no reason to believe he could make up the difference.

“On election night I was 4,000 votes behind Justin,” he said.

“Ten days later I’m still about 4,000 votes behind,” Glassman continued. “I have no reason to believe that there’s going to be any substantial changes.”

Glassman’s concession formally means that the commission, now an all-Republican affair, will have one Democrat. Sandra Kennedy, who had served on the commission between 2009 and 2012, was outpolling both of the Republicans.

In other results Wednesday, Democrat Katie Hobbs is making headway in her bid to be the next secretary of state, with her lead over Republican Steve Gaynor up by more than 1,000 from a day earlier. It now stands at 6,115 votes.

Hobbs is being propelled in part by the fact that voters in Maricopa County, where Republicans hold a voter-registration edge, were choosing her over the GOP nominee. As of Wednesday, Hobbs had a lead of more than 13,000 votes out of more than 1.3 million already counted in the state’s largest county.

She also picked up steam with another batch of votes from Coconino County where she is outpolling Gaynor by a margin of 2-1.

Gaynor has done better elsewhere.

Mohave County finished its vote counting on Wednesday, with 51,900 votes for Gaynor against just 18,774 for Hobbs.

In Navajo County, the final tally was closer, with Gaynor picking up 19,040 of the 35,970 votes cast there for that office.

But it’s not the votes that are already known that is keeping the ultimate outcome of the race in the air.

There also are about 19,400 ballots yet to be counted in Pima County. But election officials there have said they don’t intend to update their count until sometime Saturday.

Hobbs, currently a state senator from Phoenix, has been picking up close to three votes in that county for every two for Phoenix businessman Gaynor. But even assuming the remaining votes come in at the same rate — meaning perhaps 11,400 for Hobbs versus 8,000 for Gaynor — the ultimate outcome of the race rests with Maricopa County where Recorder Adrian Fontes said his office still has another 104,000 ballots to process.

To this point, the trend of early ballots now being counted from this county has broken in Hobbs favor, albeit just slightly. The latest tally has Hobbs picking up 50.5 percent of the votes tallied.

But at the processing rate of 20,000 a day, it could be days until either candidate has a sufficient margin to claim victory.

If Hobbs takes the office it will be the first time a Democrat has been in that position since Dick Mahoney, elected in 1990, left office four years later.

But it wasn’t always that Republicans had a lock on the office. In fact the post was occupied by Democrats from 1931 through Mahoney’s term, even through years when Arizona voters were electing Republicans as governor.

Wednesday’s numbers also keep incumbent state Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix ahead of Democrat Christine Marsh, though the difference between them now is just 472.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Rodney Glassman conceded. 

GOP lawmakers seek to nullify Hobbs in election litigation

From left are Katie Hobbs and Mark Brnovich
From left are Katie Hobbs and Mark Brnovich

Republican lawmakers took the first steps Tuesday to strip Secretary of State Katie Hobbs of some of her powers.

Measures approved by both the House and Senate Appropriations committees would take away her power to defend state election laws and give it to Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

It even prevents her from being able to get legal advice from the Attorney General’s Office. And it also would remove her purview over the Capitol Museum located in the historic Capitol.

But they insist it’s not personal, not a power grab and not punishment for her political stance, even as several said how unhappy they are with things she’s done.

It does, however, come as relations between Democrat Hobbs and Republican Brnovich have apparently reached a new low. It was disclosed Tuesday that she has filed more than a dozen complaints against Brnovich and staffers with the State Bar of Arizona, the organization that polices attorney conduct and has the ability to punish those who violate ethical rules.

A spokesman for the Bar said he is legally precluded from providing specifics. And there is no timeline for conducting any investigation and releasing any findings.

But Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, said the move by Hobbs only adds to why the Republicans in the legislature are moving against her. And he used them to respond to arguments by Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Tempe, that the action to remove some her authority was political.

“I don’t know what’s more political than the secretary of state submitting charges against almost the entire upper echelon of the attorney general,” he said.

“I would say the unprecedented attack on the attorney general, the chief deputy and many high-level attorneys is uncalled for,” Leach said. “This is really disconcerting and should be disconcerting to the people of Arizona.”

“She’s the one acting politically,” added Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria.

A spokesman for the State Bar said he can only confirm that a complaint was filed. And neither Hobbs nor Brnovich provided any immediate details.

And with no timeline on how long that inquiry would take, that leaves GOP lawmakers making the moves it can, using the state budget as their tool.

The actions spell out that the attorney general and not the secretary of state has the sole authority to defend the state when election laws are challenged. It also precludes the attorney general from providing any legal advice to the secretary of state, instead giving her $100,000 to hire a single legal adviser.

“This is a more efficient way of doing this,” said Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, who chairs the House panel.

But Democrats noted this isn’t a permanent change. Instead, it’s only for the coming state fiscal year. And that means it will expire after Hobbs leaves office in 2023.

Cobb acknowledged that a lot of this has to do with how Hobbs chooses to defend — or not — state statutes being challenged in court.

She said there have been instances where Hobbs and Brnovich have started on the same page, defending the changes enacted by the Republican-controlled legislature.

“And during the litigation, half way through the litigation, she’s decided to go the other direction from the AG’s office, from what they’ve been helping her with,” Cobb said. Then, on top of that, Hobbs is billing the state when she hires outside counsel to make those legal arguments.

And sometimes Hobbs actively opposed what Brnovich was arguing.

That’s the case with the challenge to the 2016 law on “ballot harvesting” where lawmakers voted to make it a felony for someone to take anyone else’s filled-out ballot to a polling place.

Brnovich sought review by the U.S. Supreme Court after a federal appellate court voided the law. But Hobbs urged the justices, who are still considering the matter, to uphold that ruling and void the statute.

Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, pointed out that Hobbs, like Brnovich, is elected directly by voters.

“The secretary of state is entitled to her own opinion of the law,” he said, pointing out her role as the state’s chief elections officer. And Friese said if her views differ from that of the attorney general she should be entitled to hire outside counsel.

Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, said there’s more to the move than that.

“I really believe that this is not about policy but politics,” she said. And Sen. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix, called it “politically driven.”

It also comes as Hobbs, who is expected to announce a run for governor in the 2022 election, has been vocal about what she considers a “sham audit” of ballots being conducted by Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott.

Republicans are not stopping with the question of election laws.

A separate provision takes away the authority Hobbs now has over the Capitol museum, the parts of the old Capitol building with historic displays. That would now be under the purview of the Legislative Council, essentially legal staff that advises lawmakers and helps draft legislation.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the transfer would ensure that better use can be made of the building by lawmakers. But Rep. Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley, said this appears to be a reaction to the fact that Hobbs in 2019 chose to hang a “gay pride” flag from the balcony of the building.

“Oh, I have an issue with that,” Kavanagh said.

“I don’t think we should politicize government buildings,” he continued. “But that’s not what this is about.”

Cobb agreed, saying the flag incident was “done a long time ago.”

Rep. Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley, said he wasn’t buying any of what he saw as excuses by Republicans for what they were doing.

“I learned a long time ago when smart people are saying things that don’t make sense there’s something else going on that’s not being talked about,” he said.

GOP outpaces Dems during extended registration


The voter registration period in Arizona has come to a close after a pressurized 10 days in which the deadline was challenged, extended and cut short. 

The Arizona Secretary of State Office said over 35,000 people registered to vote after the original cutoff date of Oct. 5, based on a preliminary count Friday morning. Although the numbers aren’t final, the Republican Party can now welcome nearly 11,000 new voters in their ranks — several thousand more than the 8,300 gained by the Democratic Party. About 15,000 newly registered voters didn’t identify a party label.

Arizona Coalition for Change and Mi Familia Vota had challenged the original deadline in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court. Ruling in their favor, Judge Steven Logan extended the deadline till Oct. 23rd. That window lasted until Tuesday, when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals curtailed the extension and made Thursday the final deadline to register.

Sena Mohammed, civic engagement director for Arizona Coalition for Change, didn’t expect the extension to be granted and said the last 10 days were “like a dream.” Despite the appeals court ruling, it was a win to be able to register even one more voter, she said.

Her canvassers lean on face to face conversations to help people understand the voter registration process, especially in communities where fewer people have state-issued IDs or face language barriers or other hurdles to registering. The coronavirus pandemic and the governor’s stay-at-home order interfered with that process, Arizona Coalition for Change and Mi Familia Vota said in their lawsuit.

It wasn’t about politics, Mohammed said. Arizona Coalition for Change is a nonpartisan nonprofit.

“No matter what side you’re on — an affiliated Democrat, Republican — doesn’t matter,” Mohammed said. “We’re happy to register everyone so that they can be able to exercise their rights as citizens.”

The extension still drew criticism from some lawmakers, including state Rep. Travis Grantham, R-LD12, who tweeted that the extension was slanted to help Democrats. In an interview, Grantham said he was still in opposition, even if it spurred more Republicans than Democrats to register to vote.

“There’s a reason we have deadlines,” Grantham said. “We have deadlines so that registration can stop, and if there’s challenges to registration or if there’s issues with registrations, we have time to work those out before a national election happens.”

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, also opposed the extension to avoid creating confusion among voters, according to a court filing during the appeals court deliberation. 

Despite the tug-of-war over deadlines, the new registrations barely shifted the party share of voters statewide. As of Friday morning, Democrats made up 32% and Republicans 34% of the 4.7 million Arizonans registered to vote this election. Another 34% were registered as Libertarians, independents or non party affiliates.

Green candidate drops out of U.S. Senate race, throws support to Sinema

Voters wait in line at dawn to cast their ballot in Arizona's presidential primary election, Tuesday, March 22, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
 (AP Photo/Matt York)

A last-minute decision by the Green Party candidate to drop out of the race for U.S. Senate could provide Democrat Kyrsten Sinema a needed bump.

Angela Green told KPNX-TV on Thursday she wants people to vote for “a better Arizona.”

“And that would be for Kyrsten Sinema,” she said.

Angela Green
Angela Green
U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. speaks prior to delivering her signatures to the Arizona Secretary of State's office Tuesday, May 29, 2018 at the Capitol in Phoenix. Sinema is officially running as a Democrat for U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Jeff Flake. Women running for office have crossed another threshold with a record number of candidates for the U.S. Senate. Actually winning those seats and changing the face of the chamber are a different matter. Many of the women jumping into Senate races face uphill campaigns. (AP Photo/Matt York)
U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (AP Photo/Matt York)

Green, whose polling has never gotten above single digits, said she struggled with the decision.

“But that’s what it is,” she said.

Green said she could not support Republican Martha McSally who, depending on which poll is cited, is in a neck-and-neck race with Sinema. That decision, Green said, had to do with Sinema’s views.

“They are more in line with what my political, my agenda is, what I’m looking to do to help Arizona become more green again,” she said. That conclusion, Green said, came following watching the debate between the two contenders.

“Sinema’s stance on a lot of things are close to mine,” she said.

Whether that moves the needle remains to be seen.

A survey by OH Predictive Insights released Wednesday put McSally at 52 percent versus 45 percent for Sinema. Green was polling at 1 percent, with 2 percent undecided. That survey was taken between Oct. 22 and 23.

But a CNN poll covering Oct. 24 through 29 had Sinema up 4 points, the poll’s margin of error.

And one done by NBC and Marist in the Oct. 23 to 27 had Sinema with a 6-point lead in a head-to-head race, though Sinema’s lead shrunk to 3 points when polled as a three-way race including Green.

Then there’s the question of whether there are enough Green supporters out there who have not already mailed in their early ballots.

Figures Thursday from the Secretary of State show about 1.35 million ballots already have been turned in.

U.S Rep. Martha McSally

There are about 3.7 million registered voters. But that still leaves the question of how many will actually cast a vote.

The last midterm election in 2014 had a turnout of just 47.2 percent of those registered.

There have been some predictions that voter interest is stronger this year than it was at that time, especially with the fight over the Senate seat that became open when Republican Jeff Flake decided not to seek reelection.

By comparison, turnout two years ago, with a presidential election, was 74.2 percent.

“Sixteen years later and Kyrsten Sinema’s still the Green Party’s candidate,” said McSally spokeswoman Torunn Sinclair. That is a reference to the fact that Sinema had aligned herself with the Green Party in her first bid for the Legislature in 2002; she did not get elected until two years later under the Democratic Party banner.

Green could not be reached for comment.

At least one area where Green’s views likely come closer to that of Sinema is on the issue of immigration.

“I, too, am an immigrant,” she wrote on the information submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office. “That is why I support programs like DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and laws that make it easier and more efficient for immigrants coming here to become valuable citizens in our society.”

McSally, by contrast, has hewed close to the positions of President Trump, promoting the fact that she supported legislation that includes building a wall. She also has come out in support of the president’s decision to send troops to the border.

Gubernatorial candidate files suit to keep campaign alive


Gubernatorial hopeful Ken Bennett is asking a judge to give him one last chance to qualify for public funding for his campaign.

The lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court contends that the Secretary of State’s Office shut down the online portal for people to make $5 donations that would entitle him to $839,704 in his bid to be the Republican nominee at 5 p.m. Tuesday. But he said Arizona law set the deadline for donations at midnight that night.

Bennett said he already has 3,995 donations. And he contends that he would have had the minimum 4,000 — and more — if the web site had not gone dark.

Representing himself, Bennett wants Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Connie Contes to direct the site to be reopened for at least four hours. He told Capitol Media Services that will give campaign volunteers a chance to contact people who had said they would have given but for problems with the portal.

And he wants Contes to order the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, which administers the public funding to accept these late donations even though they come after the deadline.

A hearing is set for Monday morning.

Matt Roberts, spokesman for Secretary of State Michele Reagan, said he does not know whether she will oppose what Bennett, himself a former secretary of state, is demanding.

“The lawyers will decide that over the weekend,” he said.

But Tom Collins, executive director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, said the extra time Bennett wants is contrary to the law.

Bennett acknowledged that by the time he gets a final ruling — especially if there is an appeal of whatever Contes decides — Tuesday’s primary election will be over. That means even if he gets his $5 donations and qualifies for the money it is too late for him to spend it in his bid for the nomination.

But Bennett said there still are reasons to pursue the case.

First, if Bennett defeats incumbent Gov. Doug Ducey, qualifying for public funding would entitle him to another $1.2 million for the general election campaign. And even if he loses, Bennett said the money could be used to repay him the $43,000 he loaned his campaign.

Bennett said he will produce at least one witness who will tell Contes of his inability to make a donation after 5 p.m. on Tuesday even though the site should have remained online until midnight.

Roberts acknowledged the portal did go dark at 5 p.m. but said that was the result of programming done under the administration of the prior secretary of state — meaning Bennett.

Bennett said that may very well be true, saying he was the one who first made online donations for public funding available. But he said it was up to Reagan and her staff to keep pace with changes in technology.

Roberts also said the site was reopened several hours later after Bennett complained.

Hobbs expects days of ballot counting after Election Day

An official with the Maricopa County Recorder's Office fills out paperwork after ballots were counted for the primary election Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
An official with the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office fills out paperwork after ballots were counted for the primary election Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

If you think you’re going to bed on election night knowing who won or lost, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has a bit of advice.

Think again.

Hobbs on October 14 sought to tamp down expectations of instant results – or possibly final tallies within a day or two – even with the automated process of balloting and counting. She detailed all of the things that have to happen after the polls close at 7 p.m. on November 3.

That includes not just the regular tabulation process that occurs at each precinct but also handling what could be a flood of early ballots that were not mailed in but are dropped off at polling stations. They cannot be counted until after the regular voting-day results are in.

Then there’s the fact that state law gives anyone whose early ballot signature does not match what’s on file up to five business days after the election – meaning the following Tuesday – to come in and fix it. A similar deadline exists for those who are handed “provisional” ballots because of some missing information or questions about their voting status.

Then there’s the required hand-count audit to physically compare what voters marked on their ballots with what the machines have tallied.

Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs

All that assumes the polls close as scheduled. State law requires them to remain open so that anyone who was in line at 7 p.m. actually gets to cast a ballot.

And then there’s the possibility of mechanical breakdowns or other issues.

“The election doesn’t end on Election Day,” she said.

Hobbs knows something about that.

Two years ago the Associated Press declared on election night that Republican Steve Gaynor had been elected secretary of state, a call the wire service later had to rescind as new counts, particularly of late-received early votes, erased Gaynor’s lead. In the end, it took 10 days to show Hobbs was the victor by close to 20,000 votes out of more than 2.4 million ballots cast.

That race, coupled with a close contest for U.S. Senate between Republican Martha McSally and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, led to some charges of fraud that were never substantiated.

“That contributed to people not trusting the results of that election,” Hobbs said.

This year might only be worse, with even President Trump stoking the fears that election results will not be accurate, with a particular focus on late-counted early ballots changing the election-night results.

That’s one of the reasons that Hobbs is reaching out now to create more realistic expectations of getting final results.

“These things take time,” she said.

How much time?

Legally speaking, counties have 20 days after the election to finalize the tally. And the results are not considered final until the formal statewide canvass which is set for December 3.

The concerns about election integrity also raise questions about possible voter intimidation.

“We’re certainly staying on top of any credible threats that exist,” Hobbs said.

It is illegal under state law to use force or threats to compel someone to vote or refrain from voting. And Hobbs said there are very strict rules for what happens not only at polling places but within the 75-foot perimeter around them in which any form of election activities are prohibited.

Less clear is what can occur outside that line.

“If folks are armed, if they’re in any way indicating intentionally intimidating behavior, it’s not allowed,” Hobbs said.

“The poll workers are trained in terms of responding,” she continued. “If folks witness this, you should report it to the marshal or inspector inside the polling place.”

Lynn Constable, the Yavapai County elections director, said most of these problems are pretty easy to resolve. In fact, Constable said, she’s done it herself.

“I go out and I put on an election vest and I tell people to ‘knock it off,’ ” she said.

“Sometimes they just need to see that authoritative figure,” Constable continued. “If I can’t go and stop it, then I will call on law enforcement to back me up.”

But she said law enforcement at polling places is not the answer, saying the presence of police can “create its own problems.”

That’s not just her assessment.

Hobbs, in advice to county election officials, said, “The continued presence of uniformed law enforcement personnel at a voting location, whether in or outside the 75-foot limit, may have the effect of intimidating voters, Counties will balance this potentially intimidating effect with the need to preserve the peace and respond to emergencies.”

The other potential form of intimidation is taking photographs of those who show up to vote.

Hobbs said that is strictly prohibited within the 75-foot limit. That’s also why, unlike some states, there are no Election Day photos of candidates casting their own ballots.

“Further, much like the open display of firearms, taking photos or videos outside the 75-foot limit may have an intimidating effect on others entering or exiting the voting location,” she is advising county election officials. “In particular, filming voters based on race, ethnicity, religion, or political affiliation is inappropriate.”




Hobbs not inclined to play governor when Ducey’s away

Secretary of State-elect Katie Hobbs (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Secretary of State-elect Katie Hobbs (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

When Doug Ducey crosses state lines, it will be “Governor Katie Hobbs” to you.

Much has been said about how Hobbs’ election to secretary of state catapulted a Democrat to the front of Arizona’s line of succession. But a lesser-known provision of the state Constitution also stipulates Hobbs will serve as acting governor anytime Ducey leaves Arizona.

That means, among other gubernatorial powers, Hobbs will have the ability to sign executive orders, and hire and fire state employees when Ducey is absent.

At least, in theory.

No secretary of state in modern history has stirred controversy by abusing gubernatorial powers when serving as Arizona’s acting governor.

But it’s not unheard of. In 1928, Secretary of State James Kerby fired a member of the Arizona Industrial Commission when Gov. George W.P. Hunt was in Washington, D.C.

Hunt was livid, according to a biography of the governor written by David Berman, a professor at Arizona State University.

The rumor at the time was that Kerby fired Henry McCluskey, a friend of Hunt’s, to get back at the governor for reneging on a promise not to seek re-election. Supposedly, Hunt had told Kerby months earlier he would not run again, prompting Kerby to jump into the governor’s race.

Later that year, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld Kerby’s ouster of McCluskey because he was neglecting his work on the Industrial Commission and because he was appointed as a commissioner on the Colorado River Commission, which was a violation of state law that stipulated members of the Industrial Commission could not profit from holding another office.

Hunt and Kerby were both Democrats, and still had a tiff. Hobbs and Ducey are from opposing parties, which could create more friction between the state’s top two elected officials.

The Arizona Constitution states that when the governor leaves the state, “the power and duties of the office shall devolve upon the same person as in case of vacancy.” That person is the secretary of state.

If the secretary of state is also out of Arizona or unable to fill in as acting governor, then the duties carry down the line of succession to the state’s attorney general. Next in line is the state treasurer followed by the superintendent of public instruction.

Ducey left Arizona at least twice in the past week, according to the governor’s public schedule, meaning Secretary of State Michele Reagan was technically in charge. He visited Mexico for a trade summit and attended the inauguration of the country’s new president Andrés Manuel López Obrador. He also attended funeral services for former President George H.W. Bush in Washington, D.C.

Ducey, who maintains he is still the state’s top brass even when he’s traveling, dismissed the idea that Hobbs will do more than serve as a placeholder when he is out of Arizona.

Ducey told the Arizona Capitol Times that he forged a strong relationship with Hobbs when she was in the Legislature, so he trusts her not to co-opt his job when he’s gone.

“Part of any relationship is built on trust and confidence, so I’m hopeful that soon-to-be Secretary Hobbs and I can work closely and that it won’t be those types of game-playing or unpleasant surprises,” Ducey said.

Similarly, Hobbs has not expressed any interest in co-opting the governor’s duties when he is gone.

In a press conference just days after her victory in the secretary of state’s race, Hobbs said the constitutional provision crafted in 1912 was written long before email, cell phones and other technological advances that help keep the governor informed while he’s traveling.

Hobbs also said she thinks it’s unlikely Ducey will leave much of anything for her to act on in his stead.

“The governor is not going to leave me when there’s pressing policy that he feels strongly about,” she said.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich raised the question of how much power the acting governor really has when he filled in for Ducey for a day in 2015. Brnovich jokingly asked his Twitter followers what he should do as governor when Ducey was on vacation in California and Reagan was out of town at a conference.

Upon realizing he may have struck a nerve, Brnovich walked back his joke, saying he had full confidence in Ducey to manage Arizona while across state lines.

Reagan and previous secretaries of state have been called on to sign emergency legislation or other urgent documents while the state’s governor has been absent. Typically, the governor is aware of the situation and gives his or her blessing for the secretary of state to act.

The 1928 Arizona Supreme Court case involving Kerby and Hunt, though it dealt with the fallout from Arizona’s secretary of state serving as acting governor, did not directly address the amount of power bestowed to an acting governor.

But high courts in other states have addressed the issue.

In 1979, California’s Supreme Court ruled the state’s lieutenant governor has complete gubernatorial power when the governor leaves the state after former Republican Lt. Gov. Mike Curb made appointments, signed bills and created commissions while former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown campaigned for president. The court case stemmed from when Brown tried to withdraw one of Curb’s judicial appointments.

Curb boasts of making 431 appointments and signing at least 30 proclamations and bills while serving as acting governor.

But in 1991, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled opposite of California that the lieutenant governor does not become acting governor on the “temporary casual absence” of the elected governor.

Hobbs pushes for relocation of confederate monument

This memorial to Confederate troops was erected in 1961 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, one of six monuments around Arizona. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
This memorial to Confederate troops was erected in 1961 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, one of six monuments around Arizona. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

After repeated calls to remove the confederate monument at Wesley Bolin Plaza (near the Arizona Capitol) have fallen short, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has a new plan — relocate it to the Capitol Museum. 

Hobbs wrote a letter to Andy Tobin, Department of Administration director, requesting the monument be placed in the Capitol Museum, which she oversees. She cited Tobin’s power under state statute to “relocate” monuments. 

Hobbs wrote that removing it “isn’t a choice to erase our history, it’s a choice to embrace our future.” 

A spokeswoman for the Department of Administration said the office will look into the issue, but would not specify whether the monument will be relocated. 

“We received the letter from the Secretary of State. We respect her position as an elected official and her position on this issue. We will look into the issue and follow up accordingly,” Megan Rose said in a statement.

Hobbs also wrote that the monument is undeserving “to sit among the honorable individuals and causes that are recognized in the Plaza.” 

“We won’t heal the divisions in our country by honoring those who would divide us,” she wrote.

Ducey’s spokesman said the governor’s office will work with Tobin’s department, but wouldn’t commit to relocating the monument. 

“We want to have a full understanding about it,” spokesman Patrick Ptak said. “There’s a reason that the Secretary wrote this to the Department of Administration … and we are going to coordinate with them on the next steps.” 

The issue of monuments and the Confederacy has taken on new life in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, an incident that was captured on video. 

That has energized nationwide protests and resulted this past week in Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam saying he intends to remove a statute honoring Confederate General Robert E. Lee from Monument Avenue in Richmond.

“It was wrong then, and it’s wrong now,” Northam said. “So we’re taking it down.”

This is far from the first time someone has requested to have the Arizona monument removed. Most notably, Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, called on Gov. Doug Ducey in 2015 and again in 2017 to have it taken down, though Ducey cannot make that decision alone. 

The plaza is overseen by the Legislative Governmental Mall Commission, which appears to be why Hobbs went to Tobin rather than the governor.

After the 2017 protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, several states attempted to remove confederate statues, including Arizona, but this one still remains upright.

Bolding, who is one of only three African American members of the Arizona Legislature, said in 2017 he thought Ducey was just offering “lip service” to the black community. 

Someone even dressed it up as a “participation award” with a banner that read “you lost, get over it.”

Arizona still has several other confederate monuments throughout the state as well.

What’s interesting is Arizona doesn’t have close ties to the Confederacy much at all, and the monuments were not given to the state until several years after the Civil War ended. The monument sitting at Wesley Bolin Plaza was not erected until 1962, according to Hobbs’ letter.

The Phoenix New Times detailed Arizona’s history behind the monuments in a 2017 article, where it was reported the first monument in the state came in 1943 and the most recent in 2010. 

Capitol Media Services contributed to this story. 

Hobbs rejects 2 GOP election bills

Gov. Katie Hobbs on Friday vetoed two measures which directly relate to the issues now being raised as her election is being challenged.

Hobbs rejected HB 2305, which would have ensured that representatives of both political parties could challenge the decisions made by the election workers determining whether a signature on an early ballot was valid.

That is significant because, while it would have affected only future elections, it parallels the bid being made by Kari Lake to overturn the results of the 2022 race.

She claims that Maricopa County election workers were verifying invalid signatures. And current law does not permit political party observers who believe a signature does not match to force it to be reviewed by anyone other than the election worker.

Separately, Hobbs vetoed a measure to force her successors as secretary of state to do something she refused to do voluntarily when she was running for governor last year: not perform any duties in a race in which that person’s name also is on the ballot.

That follows arguments by Republicans that the secretary of state, as the state’s chief elections officer, has an inherent conflict of interest. And Lake herself charged that Hobbs used her office to force supervisors in several counties to certify election results that they had questioned, though courts upheld her actions as legal.

The two new vetoes on Friday were just part of 14 measures approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature that Hobbs found unacceptable. That brings her total now up to 86 since the session began.

More than a handful have involved changes in election laws. Rejected measures included making it easier to remove people from the active early voting list if they don’t use it every election cycle, requiring all parts of election equipment to be manufactured and fabricated in the United States, and codifying the standards for signature verification on early ballot envelopes.

Her veto of HB 2305 on greater oversight of the signature review process relates to that last issue.

Cory McGarr

“What we have seen with most of the elections we have had recently is a growing distrust from ordinary, regular people, not hyper-partisan, where the outcome for them becomes in question,” Rep. Cory McGarr, R-Marana, told colleagues in pushing his legislation.

“There’s a severe lack of trust that can grow when you see an instance where someone literally draws a snowman and then that snowman passes as a signature when you see that signature right next to it,” he said, though McGarr did not say where he saw that image. “And so you can have instances where the public begins to doubt the circumstances of the voting process.”

Maricopa County officials have disputed such claims. They said while a signature on a ballot envelope may not appear to match a voter’s registration form, their reviewers have multiple other examples of a voter’s signature to use for comparison purposes.

And as a last resort, they – and all counties – can try to contact the voter to see if the person whose name is on the envelope actually is the person who sent it in.

Lake has claimed for months that her loss was tainted by mismatched signatures.

At last week’s trial, however, Lake’s attorneys did not present examples.

That’s because her case is based not on specific bad signatures but the larger contention that it was not possible for election workers to have properly reviewed and verified them in the time taken. That includes more than 240,000 signatures Lake’s legal team said were verified in fewer than three seconds.

Judge Peter Thompson is deciding whether that claim has any validity – the report used by the person who Lake brought to court as a signature expert was never admitted into evidence  – and whether there is enough evidence for him to overturn the results of the race that saw Hobbs defeat Lake by 17,117 votes.

The governor, in her veto message, addressed none of that.

Instead, Hobbs said that what is in HB 2305 “creates unnecessary burdens for election administrators.”

She also said there are “meaningful privacy concerns for Arizona voters.”

Only thing is, the measure was amended before it reached Hobbs to prohibit the observers that McGarr’s bill would have allowed from noting, transcribing or disclosing the personal information they see, ranging from dates and places of birth to phone numbers, driver license numbers and a mother’s maiden name. But gubernatorial press aide Christian Slater, in explaining the veto Sunday, said that wasn’t enough to satisfy his boss.

“We believe the bill still contains privacy concerns, even after the amendment,” he said.

Hobbs’ other election-related veto goes to the question of the role of people who serve as secretary of state, as she did until the end of last year.

Rachel Jones

HB 2308 was sponsored by Rep. Rachel Jones, R-Tucson. It sought to bar the secretary of state from personally performing any aspect of operations in an election in which that person is a candidate for office.

And the 2022 election was clearly on her mind.

“I think the optics of that, of a secretary of state running their own election for governor and then certifying that election was a major concern to some of my constituents,” she said.

Jones acknowledged that the Republican-controlled Legislature never pursued similar measures when Hobbs’ predecessors  – all Republicans going back to 1995  – were running either for reelection or a higher office. And her proposal also comes as the current secretary of state, Adrian Fontes, is a Democrat.

But Jones said those were different times.

“I think the environment then, I don’t think it had become such a topic of conversation until after 2020,” she said. That was the year of claims that Republican gubernatorial hopeful Donald Trump had been cheated out of the state’s 11 electoral votes when official results show he was outpolled by Joe Biden.

“There is a lack of confidence, all in all, in our election process,” Jones said.

During the 2022 race, Lake and other Republicans had called for Hobbs to voluntarily recuse herself. She refused, saying this has never been an issue before.

“I’m not going to recuse myself from the job that voters elected me to do,” Hobbs said.

In her veto message, the governor said that the position is elected and that the duties make the secretary of state Arizona’s chief election officer.

“There is no reasonable basis to believe that Arizonans should not trust the secretary of state to do their job impartially,” Hobbs wrote.


Hobbs steps into the sun as gubernatorial candidate

Secretary of State and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs speaks at a press conference Nov. 4, 2021, to present her platform. (Photo by Wayne Schutsky/Arizona Capitol Times)

In her first major event as a gubernatorial candidate, Katie Hobbs spoke before the press and handful of supporters in the rose garden at the Arizona Capitol to introduce her plan for “an accountable Arizona.” The plan includes a dozen policy goals that mostly focus on “cutting red tape” for Arizona small businesses and making the government function more efficiently and transparently.  

“I’ve always believed that government can be a force for good, and for too long your state government has been working for the powerful, the partisan and the special interests,” Hobbs said, adding that “we will reform your government and work to build the most ethical and accountable administration in history.”  

Hobbs, the current secretary of state, has seen her profile rise with a wave of interest in Arizona’s 2020 presidential election and the subsequent partisan audit effort. Thursday’s event marked her initial foray into formal campaigning.  

She was introduced by a local restaurateur, who said Hobbs would be a good governor for small businesses, and backed by a crowd of about 20 people of varying ages and races holding “Katie Hobbs” signs. 

 The plan’s outline includes the promise to create a small business council and streamline the process to file applications required to open a business by bringing functions currently under the purview of numerous agencies – including Corporation Commission, the Department of Revenue and the Arizona Commerce Authority – under one roof at a “Business One-Stop” shop. She also promised to strengthen conflict-of-interest laws for public officials, increase reporting requirements for lobbyists and replace antiquated state government systems that rely on outdated technology.  

Hobbs is the presumptive Democratic frontrunner in a field that features two other Democrats and five Republican contenders. She’ll face Marco Lopez and Aaron Lieberman in the Democratic primary.   

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s spokesman CJ Karamargin said her platform sounds similar to his boss’s approach to government.  

“If plagiarism is the highest form of flattery, I guess we should be flattered,” Karamargin said.  

 Hobbs acknowledged that under Ducey “good things have happened in the last six years,” but said the state can do more.  

“This is a really comprehensive plan that touches on a lot of areas, most importantly making government more accountable and transparent … red tape is a big part of that,” she said. Asked how a Hobbs administration would depart from Ducey’s policies, spokeswoman Jennah Rivera wrote: “We haven’t made nearly enough progress on making government work for all of us,” and Hobbs’ plan “will address the shortcomings of previous administrations.”  

Geoff Esposito, a consultant with the progressive firm Creosote, said he thought there were substantive differences between Hobbs’ platform and Ducey policies, noting the ongoing lawsuit related to health care in Arizona prisons.  

“If Doug Ducey campaigned on fixing the Department of Corrections, we wouldn’t be in the middle of this Parsons litigation right now,” Esposito said. “I think there’s a lot of things like that … that are very, very different here.”  

Plus, he added, Hobbs is likely to announce more policies going forward.  

“Particularly on issues that impact workers and families, that address these supply chain issues we’ve been having” he said, “I think those are the sorts of things you’re going to see.” 

Hobbs wants bigger budget – doesn’t ask nicely

Katie Hobbs

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs wants to nearly double her office’s funding next year because of new burdens imposed by Republican legislators. 

In a scathing letter accompanying her $37 million budget request, Hobbs, a Democrat, described a year of legislative attacks on her office, including new laws that block her ability to seek outside grants, receive legal guidance from the Attorney General’s Office or hire outside counsel.  

“At every step of the way, members of the legislature have sought to undermine my Office,” Hobbs wrote. “While these attempts are aimed at me and my administration, the true victims are the people of Arizona.” 

Roughly a third of the new funding Hobbs requested would go toward voter outreach, which has been a sticking point with Republican lawmakers over the past year. In 2020, Republican lawmakers lobbied by GOP Attorney General Mark Brnovich blocked Hobbs from using $500,000 in federal grant money for a statewide voter information campaign. Instead, the legislators divided those funds among counties, though the 15 counties supported Hobbs’ original plan. 

The Secretary of State’s Office first sought aid from Gov. Doug Ducey, who had a pot of federal Covid relief money at his disposal and offered $9 million for election security. The office then received additional private grants, and ended up spending $4.75 million during the 2020 election cycle on voter information campaigns detailing how, when and where to vote and combatting disinformation. 

Those private grants won’t be an option in 2022, because legislative Republicans passed a bill banning any private funding of elections on a party line vote. Instead, Hobbs is asking for an additional $5 million in state funding for voter education.  

“The fact of the matter is, is that we spent close to $5 million in the 2020 election on public education, and the legislature eliminated our ability to get private grants for those purposes in the future,” Assistant Secretary of State Allie Bones said. “We still need to be able to communicate with the public.” 

The Secretary of State’s Office also requested slightly more than $715,000 to create a legal services program within the office, after a provision of the state budget barred Brnovich’s office from representing or providing legal advice to Hobbs’ office through June 2023 and blocked Hobbs from hiring outside counsel. 

The new law gave Hobbs the authority to hire an in-house attorney, but it didn’t provide any funding. The office or Hobbs herself are typically named in lawsuits over election matters. 

A proposed new division would have a general counsel, paid $150,000 annually, as well as two staff attorneys paid $83,358, and a paralegal and legal fellow, both paid around $50,000.   

Those attorneys would provide legal advice on election issues, including the six current referendum petitions, complying with new election administration laws and handling lawsuits over signatures on candidate or initiative petitions. They would also have to provide legal advice to non-elections divisions of the office, including helping with contracts, rules created by the business services division and complying with public meetings and records laws.  

“By refusing the SOS adequate legal counsel, the Attorney General and Legislature have put the department at risk of not being able to fulfill the responsibilities of the office of Secretary of State and ensure full compliance with all applicable laws,” Hobbs wrote. “The SOS has had to create a position out of nothing, with no support.”  

Her office also asked to add three new employees to its 12-person election division, adding two customer service representatives and one budget analyst.  

After tabling a July request from Hobbs to use $1.5 million in federal grant funds to add new employees and set up a call center system, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee is expected to hear the pitch during its fall meeting. Several Republicans on the panel were leaning toward voting against the request this summer.  

Bones said the office, one of the smallest in the country, desperately needs more help. As the Senate’s audit and national attention on Arizona elections continue, staff have spent more time fielding calls and requests for information.  

“Our staff capacity is stretched to the absolute limit,” Bones said. 


Hobbs within striking distance as vote count nears end

Katie Hobbs and Steve Gaynor
Katie Hobbs and Steve Gaynor

New election returns Sunday put Democrat Katie Hobbs in striking distance in the race for secretary of state.

Late updated totals from the Secretary of State’s Office give Hobbs 1,057,229 votes. That’s enough to put her within 259 votes of Republican Steve Gaynor out of 2.1 million votes tallied in that race.

As recently as Saturday she was down by 2,000.

The new numbers also show that Democrat Kathy Hoffman continues to build her lead over Frank Riggs for superintendent of public instruction. She now has an edge of nearly 47,000 votes.

Democrat Sandra Kennedy remains ahead of both Republicans Justin Olson and Rodney Glassman in the race for the two open seats on the Arizona Corporation Commission. But if the current patterns hold, Olson, appointed last year, will get a four-year term of his own as Democrat Kiana Sears continues to trail in fourth place.

But in the race most people are watching, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema now holds on to a lead of nearly more than 32,000 votes in the bid to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake in the U.S. Senate. Her edge just a day earlier over Republican Martha McSally was only around 30,000.

McSally has been claiming for days that the tide will turn based on her belief that the early ballots cast at the last minute are more likely to have come from Republicans.

There is some indication of a small uptick in GOP ballots.

For example, state Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, has increased her lead slightly over Democrat Christine Marsh.

But time may be running out, for McSally, Riggs and Glassman.

Maricopa County reports it is down to the last 162,000 votes to be counted. And that means the GOP candidates will need to turn around a trend that has so far produced more votes in the state’s largest county for the three Democrats — and even for Hobbs — than their Republican foes.

Overall the Secretary of State’s Office reports there are 211,000 ballots uncounted. Aside from Maricopa County that includes about 36,300 in Pima County, 7,000 from Pinal, 4,800 from Coconino, 650 in Cochise and 576 in La Paz.

The new numbers come as Republicans are mounting new attacks on Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes for setting up five “emergency” voting centers.

Arizona law specifically authorizes county recorders to establish procedures to vote for anyone who has an emergency between 5 p.m. on the Friday preceding the election and 5 p.m. the following Monday. But state GOP officials are charging that Fontes acted illegally as there was no actual emergency.

The law, however, has no such requirement. Instead, it defines “emergency” as “any unforeseen circumstances that would prevent the elector from voting at the polls.”

Fontes, appearing Sunday on KPNX-TV, said election officials from other counties have been allowing emergency voting “for decades.” And he rejected arguments that he should force those seeking to vote at the centers to prove they have some legitimate reason to seek special treatment.

“It’s not my business what your emergency is,” Fontes said.

“I’ve got HIPPA laws that prevent me from asking,” he said, referring to the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 which has various provisions designed to protect the unauthorized release of anyone’s medical condition.

Fontes’ claim he cannot ask voters for an explanation hews closely to the position of F. Ann Rodriguez, his Pima County counterpart.

“If the voters say ‘it’s an emergency,’ we open it up and they vote,” she said, saying she’s not “judge and jury” over the matter.

Fontes also disputed charges that he deliberately set up these emergency centers in areas designed to benefit Democrats.

He acknowledged there were two in the largely Democratic West Valley area, one in Avondale and a second in Tolleson set up specifically at the request of the city mayor and the county supervisor who serves that area. But Fontes said there also were emergency voting locations in Scottsdale and Mesa as well as the county offices in downtown Phoenix.

But all the fuss about the emergency voting centers — and the possibility that Republicans may sue – may have little actual impact. Murphy Hebert, a spokeswoman for Fontes, said fewer than 3,000 ballots were cast at the emergency centers, unlikely enough to affect any of the statewide races.

Calvin Moore, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee that is pushing to get McSally elected, has sought to undermine Fontes’ credibility in other ways.

He said that before Fontes, an attorney, was elected county recorder in 2016 he “has an incredibly unscrupulous history of defending narco-terrorists” and that one of his clients was involved in the Fast and Furious investigation where federal agents sought to catch gun-runners.

There are other efforts aimed at discrediting Fontes.

On Sunday, calls were going out to homes in Maricopa County saying Fontes was allowing the election “to be stolen” and offering to connect the recipient of the call to the local county supervisor in a bid to have the board somehow exercise some control over him, something that likely is legally questionable.

When asked to explain who is sponsoring the calls, the woman at the other end, who clearly was in a room with others, responded only that it was “concerned citizens.” When questioned who actually was  behind the calls, the response was, “thank you for your time,” and hanging up.

The number on the caller ID proved to be fake. A spokeswoman for the Arizona Republican Party did not respond to inquiries about whether it is the source of the calls.

Hobbs: Reagan staffers deleted public records

Michele Reagan at her 2015 inauguration (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting)
Michele Reagan at her 2015 inauguration (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting)

Former Secretary of State Michele Reagan and top staffers deleted public records before leaving office in January, according to the new Secretary of State, Katie Hobbs.

Hobbs, a Democrat, alerted state attorneys of the issue on Feb. 14. The discovery arose while Hobbs’ staff attempted to fulfill a public records request, she wrote in an email to Assistant Attorney General Todd Lawson and Beau Roysden, chief of the Appeals and Constitutional Litigation Division.

“It has come to our attention that emails were deleted by the previous secretary and several executive staff prior to leaving office,” Hobbs wrote on Feb. 14. “Not sure if this should go to criminal or civil division, but wanted to be sure to bring this to your attention. We are happy to provide further details that would be helpful.”

It’s a Class 4 felony for officials to knowingly destroy public records in Arizona.

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

Hobbs and staff were attempting to comply with a public records request filed by the Arizona Mirror, which sought electronic and written communication between Reagan, her elections director, Eric Spencer, and assistant secretary of state Lee Miller between October and November 2018.

The Mirror also sought any communication by Reagan, Spencer and Lee with the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, which has faced scrutiny in the days and months following the general election on Nov. 6.

Reagan, a Republican, said she had no clue what Hobbs was referring to, and that she hadn’t deleted or destroyed emails intentionally. While she regularly deleted emails from her inbox, Reagan said they should all be backed up regardless.

“To my knowledge, we couldn’t delete something forever,” she said. “I don’t know if someone in IT did something hinky, but it wasn’t at my direction.”

Miller said it was standard procedure to let IT search for emails that were relevant to public records requests: “Every records request we ever got during the Reagan administration we routed down to the IT department and they gathered up the responsive information directly from the servers. What may or may not have been on any particularl users desktop was never relevant.”

Spencer said he left all his records intact on his last day at the secretary of state’s office on Dec. 28.

“This is news to me. I didn’t delete a single email.” Spencer said. “I can only imagine they must be referring to an inbox other than mine.”

C. Murphy Hebert, a spokeswoman for Hobbs, said staff has searched for backups of any emails. While a consultation with IT turned up some records, there were enough missing emails that the new administration was “surprised, to the point that we felt we needed to do some due diligence,” Hebert said.

House Speaker open to ‘grand bargain’ over Voter Protection Act

A top Arizona legislator said he would be open to making it easier for the state’s voters to circumvent the Legislature and pass laws by way of the ballot in exchange for easing restrictions that prevent the Legislature from tweaking those same laws.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said he’s “open to a grand bargain” if it means loosening the constraints placed on legislators by the Voter Protection Act, which prohibits the Legislature from making any change to voter-approved laws other than those that further the intent of the law. Even then, it takes a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber to approve such changes.

State Election Director Eric Spencer proposed altering the VPA as a truce of sorts. In exchange, Spencer offered suggestions for ways to make voter initiatives and referenda, staples of direct democracy baked into the Arizona Constitution, more accessible to the average Arizona voter.

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

At an Arizona Capitol Times panel discussion on direct democracy, Spencer and others conceded that the initiative and referendum process have been circumvented by special interests.

Put another way, the process of getting laws to a vote of the people has become outrageously expensive.

“If you go back and look at the history of our state, it was put there to combat the special interests, and the legislature, to go around the legislature and keep the legislators in check,” said Mesnard, R-Chandler. “Now I see it as having the opposite effect, where basically, if you have enough money, you can get something on the ballot. … It becomes a resource issue.”

When asked for input on what, if any ballot measure will make it to a vote in a given election year, Spencer said he usually needs to look no further than the number of paid signature gatherers that have registered to work on a given campaign.

“That’s my best proxy for how serious those folks are and how close that thing is going to get to make it to the ballot. So I don’t think it’s controversial to say that it’s a money-driven process,” he said.

In order to minimize the influence of money on the initiative and referendum processes, Spencer proposed a couple of ideas for making those tools more accessible, from lengthening the amount of time voters have to gather signatures to challenge laws passed at the Legislature to allowing petitions to be gathered online using the Secretary of State’s E-Qual system.

The online signature-gathering method is available for political candidates, who can collect 100 percent of the signatures they require to qualify for the ballot, but is banned from use by citizen initiatives.

“Those are just some public policy ideas, but I think you’re going to need a grand bargain if any of those ever came to fruition, and I see the bargain being a greater role for the legislature to play a role in these laws once they’re put on the books,” Spencer said.

Mesnard agreed, and said he’s open to such a bargain if it “means empowering the legislature to do be able to do its job in the lawmaking process.” That could mean increasing the threshold of votes required to make the VPA applicable, perhaps to more than 55 percent — currently, anything above a 50 percent vote of the people is protected. It could also mean placing time limits on protections applied to voter-approved laws.

“Most states that have any kind of restriction on ballot measures have a restriction for a finite period of time,” Mesnard said. “Some period of time after which times change and the legislature needs to be able to adapt, I would be supportive of that.”

Dawn Penich-Thacker
Dawn Penich-Thacker

Dawn Penich Thacker, the spokeswoman for the Save Our Schools Arizona campaign, knows firsthand just how difficult it can be for voters to challenge laws passed at the Capitol.

SOS Arizona’s effort is the 35th  time in the history of Arizona in which a law was successfully referred to the ballot. The group’s referendum still must survive any legal challenges or efforts at the Legislature to undermine it by repealing the law in question, an expansion of private and parochial school vouchers.

While she didn’t endorse making that process easier for voters, she discouraged recent efforts to make it harder, saying it’s important the voters can circumvent elected officials, even if they voted for them.

“It’s not hard right now in Arizona politics to concede that sometimes we have a representative who doesn’t represent our values, who doesn’t behave the way that we hope they would behave when we were electing them, and that can be in policy issues or in personal issues as we’re seeing right now in Arizona,” Penich Thacker said.

In Arizona, losing candidate points to perceived conflict

In this combination of photos Arizona gubernatorial candidates, Republican Kari Lake, left, appears before a PBS televised debate on June 29, 2022, in Phoenix and Democrat Katie Hobbs smiles prior to a televised interview in Phoenix, Oct. 18, 2022. Lake and supporters of her failed campaign for Arizona governor are attacking Hobbs as having a conflict of interest for overseeing the election she won. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX (AP) — Republican Kari Lake and supporters of her failed campaign for Arizona governor are attacking Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs as having a conflict of interest for overseeing the election she won.
Secretaries of state across the country routinely oversee their own races, and Republicans had no such criticism when one of their own was secretary of state in Georgia and oversaw his own election for governor four years ago. The criticism on Hobbs has persisted after one heavily Republican rural county declined to certify its own election results, forcing Hobbs to sue.
Lake said in a video posted to social media this week that Hobbs “is now threatening counties with legal action if they do not crown her governor by certifying the election that she botched. You simply can’t make this stuff up.”
Hobbs defeated Lake by a little more than 17,000 votes, and there has been no evidence that voters were disenfranchised, or that the result was in any way inaccurate. Every county in the state except one — Cochise County, in the state’s southeast corner — has certified its results. Hobbs’ lawsuit against the county has its first hearing on Thursday.
While most Republicans around the country who lost after spreading baseless claims about the 2020 presidential election conceded, Lake has not. She has embarked on a campaign on social media and conservative outlets to claim the election was tainted by problems in Maricopa County, which includes the Phoenix area and accounts for more than 60% of the state’s registered voters. County officials say everyone was able to cast a ballot and that all legal votes were counted.
Trey Grayson, a Republican who served two terms as Kentucky’s secretary of state, noted that he oversaw two of his elections — his re-election as secretary of state and then a bid for U.S. Senate.
“The system is designed so that there aren’t conflicts of interest,” Grayson said. “I can understand why Kari Lake might ask the question. But if you look at the actual division of labor, there is not a conflict.”
Grayson said he did not think an appearance of a conflict justified elected official recusing themselves from the process, pointing to various safeguards built into the system. The secretary of state merely administers laws passed by the legislature, he said, and courts can step in if someone tries to influence an election.

Trey Grayson

“If everyone has to recuse on the mere perception of a conflict, our system would fail,” he said. “There is no evidence that is necessary.”
Similar claims surfaced in 2018 when then-Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp and then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, both Republicans, were both running for governor in their respective states. While Kobach lost his bid, Kemp won amid criticism from his Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, for refusing to step down from his position before the election.
“Brian Kemp oversaw for eight years the systematic and systemic dismantling of our democracy and that means there could not be free and fair elections in Georgia this year,” Abrams told MSNBC in an interview shortly after the 2018 election.
Earlier this year, a federal judge ruled against a group associated with Abrams in a four-year-old lawsuit that had challenged various aspects of the state’s voting practices.
Kemp resigned soon after Election Day in 2018, and an interim secretary of state later certified the results.
Across the country this year, 15 secretaries of state were on the ballot — running for re-election or another office. Just before the Nov. 8 election, a nonpartisan group that advocates for election reforms called on the officials to recuse themselves from certifying themselves as the winner in a close election. The Election Reformers Network had previously drafted proposed legislation that would, among other steps, prohibit a state election official from overseeing elections in which they are on the ballot.
“Although many secretaries of state manage such situations of potential conflict of interest with integrity, the current environment of partisan animosity and voter distrust calls for proactive efforts to ensure voter confidence in results,” Kevin Johnson, the group’s executive director, said in a statement at the time.
This year, most of those contests were not close, but Hobbs won by less than 1 percentage point in the Arizona governor’s race. The secretary of state there certifies election results in the presence of the governor, the state attorney general and the chief justice of the state Supreme Court.
This week, Johnson said Hobbs should explore whether state law allows her to recuse herself from certifying her own race.
Hobbs’ spokeswoman, Sophia Solis, emphasized that the secretary of state does not handle ballots or play a direct role in vote tabulation, and said that neither the courts nor precedent in the state require Hobbs to recuse herself “based on purely speculative claims.”
“In fact, Arizona has a history of state officials who have been tasked with overseeing election administration or certifying election results who have continued to ethically perform their duties while on the ballot,” Solis said.
While Hobbs plays an important role in certifying an election, the procedure is routine and ministerial, meaning she is compelled to sign off on the results unless a judge has intervened in the process.
Nevertheless, the issue was raised by many of the dozens of speakers who urged supervisors in counties across the state not to certify the vote tallies in their jurisdictions.
“In my opinion, that opens the door to fraud because she’s in charge of an election in which she is a candidate,” Lawrence Neigel of Prescott told Yavapai County supervisors, saying Hobbs should have recused herself. “I mean, that’s crazy.”
In Cochise County, two Republican supervisors on the three-member board voted not to accept the election results on Monday, the deadline under state law, prompting Hobbs’ lawsuit and another representing voters in the county. On Wednesday, a Tucson civil rights lawyer filed a notice of claim with Cochise County, saying it was the first step toward a class action lawsuit on behalf of all 47,000 voters who are at risk of not having their votes counted.
The supervisors did not cite any concerns with the vote count but said they want to hear more during a Friday meeting about debunked concerns that ballot counting machines were not properly certified for use in an election.
The county attorney has refused to defend the supervisors, saying their refusal to certify is illegal. The supervisors voted Tuesday to instead hire a Phoenix lawyer who represented the firm Cyber Ninjas, which led a widely mocked partisan review of the 2020 election in Maricopa County.
It’s not clear whether the lawyer, Bryan Blehm, is willing to take the case. The supervisors were unable to reach him before voting to hire him.
Blehm and Cochise County Administrator Richard Karwaczka did not respond to emails Wednesday asking whether Blehm had agreed to represent the supervisors.
Two prominent former prosecutors asked the attorney general and county attorney to investigate whether the two Republican supervisors, Tom Crosby and Peggy Judd, should be criminally charged for failing to carry out their election obligations.
“We take no pleasure in making this prosecution recommendation, but we believe deeply that the rule of law dictates that public officials be held accountable when they refuse to comply with their legal obligations,” former state Attorney General Terry Goddard, a Democrat, and former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, a Republican, wrote in their letter.
Cassidy reported from Atlanta.

In Their Words: Jane Dee Hull

Jane Dee Hull in 1999
Jane Dee Hull in 1999

For almost 25 years Jane Dee Hull was in the thick of Arizona politics, governing and legislating, and yet she said she’s most proud of being proud of “very little” in her career, which speaks to her political philosophy. Hull became the first and only woman so far to be speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives when her colleagues elected her in 1989, and she held onto the post until 1992. Her election to secretary of State in 1994 set her up for her next political gig: governor. She filled out Gov. Fife Symington’s term and in 1998 she became the first woman to be elected to the office. Hull gave a one-hour and 37-minute interview on December 13, 2007, with the Arizona Memory Project, supported by the Arizona State Library, which has a collection of oral histories of former legislators. Below, are just a few topics from her expansive interview.

Former Arizona Governor Jane Dee Hull at the 2019 AZBio Awards ceremony on October 2, 2019. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Former Arizona Governor Jane Dee Hull at the 2019 AZBio Awards ceremony on October 2, 2019. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

On Evan Mecham

I was the majority whip. I think I was one of the first women in the House to be majority whip. To the surprise of everybody, Evan Mecham beat Burt Barr in the primary and was elected because of a three-way race. Hard feelings with some people [untelligible] about his election because he had a track record of not being real easy to work with, and so it was difficult. It was difficult for me as a woman because he basically held to the Mormon belief that women should be at home, and it was certainly difficult for the women Mormon legislators who supported him to the very end, but he really didn’t think women should be at leadership meetings, he really didn’t think women should be there, so I was always looked at askance when we went up to meet with him.

The impeachment just happened. It was one of those things: Don’t hire a lawyer and threaten something unless you know you can finish it. What he was impeached for I don’t think there was any doubt that he did. The question was some of the things probably were not worth an impeachment. In hindsight, as I’ve gone along I probably regretted that we took that step, but again, you start in, you can’t just investigate and say we’re going to stop. And the more it turned up, the more it made you go forth. I was the majority whip. I think I was one of the first women in the House to be majority whip. To the surprise of everybody, Evan Mecham beat Burt Barr in the primary and was elected because of a three-way race. Hard feelings with some people [untelligible] about his election because he had a track record of not being real easy to work with, and so it was difficult. It was difficult for me as a woman because he basically held to the Mormon belief that women should be at home, and it was certainly difficult for the women Mormon legislators who supported him to the very end, but he really didn’t think women should be at leadership meetings, he really didn’t think women should be there, so I was always looked at askance when we went up to meet with him.

I was the one who had to go up and tell Rose Mofford that she was going to become governor because, as I recall, he had to move out as the House voted, not with the Senate vote. To this day, when we’re on the same platform, which we have been occasionally, somebody will ask her what was the worst day of her life and she’ll say, “The day someone came up to tell me that I was going to become governor,” and mind you I was that somebody.

Jane Dee Hull, Speaker of the Arizona House, in her office circa 1989-1992. FILE PHOTO/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Jane Dee Hull, Speaker of the Arizona House, in her office circa 1989-1992. FILE PHOTO/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

On being speaker of the House

I think one reason I had not been particularly eager (to be speaker) is if you’re in leadership you endorse the majority program and you vote yes on bills that (previously) I had the luxury of not voting on, so my voting record kind of changed probably from conservative to conservative, slash, moderate. Because again, you’re dealing with 35, 38 people in the majority and there’s a (unintelligible) you have to realize you have to cope with it. And, you’re representing the whole state – you’re not just representing District 18.

[I ran the Legislature] with an iron hand. I had a majority whip and a majority leader and my whip was stronger than my leader. After the impeachment, the caucus kind of broke down into two groups: The pro-Mecham and the anti-Mecham, or whatever it was, even though with the turnover of the election, particularly in the House there weren’t that many pro-Mecham people – maybe ten, twelve out of the caucus. You had to balance those when I came in probably more than had ever happened before. And what has continued to change – what I used to say was don’t ever let it happen in Maricopa County – when I began you didn’t have an East Valley and a West Valley and a central Phoenix caucus and a north Phoenix caucus and a Tucson caucus, but now  those things because we’ve grown are so much more prevalent.  As speaker, I had to know how to move between the two groups and keep them all as happy as they could be while saying no once in a while.

Political philosophy

I really have never thought we needed as many laws as we have. While I would sign onto bills, I rarely let myself get into a position where a bill was more important to me than my word or anything else. I didn’t want to be blackmailed for a vote. I learned you could legislate, you could legislate fairly, you could work on the budget, there were a lot of things you could do but you don’t have to go back to your district and say I just passed forty new laws for you all to take care of and live with.

On learning the ropes in the legislature

You watch people. You watch people that were very successful. You watch people that were very unsuccessful. You say, “I don’t want to be like them and talk all the time.”

Editor’s note: This interview was edited for space. 

Incoming SOS Katie Hobbs to ‘take the politics out of the office’

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

Secretary of State-elect Katie Hobbs will push to take the politics out of Arizona’s elections office.

Vowing not to endorse candidates, ballot measures or limit herself to Democratic speaking engagements, the newly elected Democrat insisted the state’s elections office must be Arizona’s most nonpartisan office.

“This is not a win for me,” she said. “It’s not a win for Democrats. This is a win for all of Arizona. It’s about restoring integrity and transparency to government, creating a government that works for all of us.”

Hobbs outlined her priorities as Secretary of State at a press conference in the state’s Executive Tower, where she will have an office once she is sworn in early next year.

She did not address questions about her soon-to-be staff or who will head up her transition team and similarly, did not reveal her legislative agenda, saying it still needs to be fleshed out.

But Hobbs already made clear that she will push for increased transparency in campaign spending and reforms that will make it easier for all eligible voters to vote.

Perhaps the most significant part of her agenda that she outlined for the press today, was that she aims for every county to have in-person voting centers open the weekend before an election.

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes recently took flak for opening five emergency voting centers for people to cast their ballots the weekend before the Nov. 6 election. The state Republican Party criticized Fontes’ use of the voting centers, saying many of the people casting ballots at the centers did not have legitimate emergencies.

State law allows for early voting centers beginning 27 days before the election through the Friday before Election Day. But Hobbs indicated that early voting should be allowed on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Election Day,

“There’s absolutely no reason why that shouldn’t happen,” she said.

If she were able to expand the window for early voting that could make emergency vote centers unnecessary and obsolete. Ultimately, there needs to be consistency among all counties in terms of early voting and emergency voting centers, Hobbs said.

Changing election procedures to expand early voting would likely take an act of the Legislature, which is still Republican controlled.

But Hobbs is optimistic that Republicans will be more likely to work across the aisle this year considering Democrats made gains in statewide and legislative offices this election cycle.

“I think the one thing that was made loud and clear this election is that Arizona is not a one-party state anymore,” Hobbs said. “There’s a mandate for Republicans to work with Democrats to get things done for the good of our state.”

Having early voting in all Arizona counties the weekend before Election Day could also come down to whether the state and localities have the money to afford such a change.

Hobbs said she’s prepared to fight for all the funds she can get to make it easier for Arizonans to vote.  

“Resources are always an issue and something we’re going to continue to fight for to make sure that our elections are conducted in a way that allows every voter to participate,” she said.

Hobbs also said she will look into what she can do independently of the Legislature to increase campaign finance transparency, but said she will also support legislation that will shine additional light on political spending.

Despite what Hobbs said, her victory over Republican Steve Gaynor is a significant win for Democrats because a Democrat hasn’t held the Secretary of State’s Office in more than 20 years. It’s also significant because it means Hobbs will be second-in-command to Gov. Doug Ducey.

Should Ducey leave office, Hobbs would take over as Arizona’s governor. Hobbs’ role as Secretary of State could also position her well to run for the open gubernatorial seat in four years when Ducey is termed out of office.

Judge lets Arizona law on initiative petitions to stand

court decisions binders

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.”

Lawmakers Exempt

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. 

Judge refuses to order Reagan to update voter registrations

A federal judge refused to order Secretary of State Michele Reagan to immediately update voter registration addresses of 384,000 Arizonans who moved since the last election.

But he left the legal door open to eventually order Reagan – or whoever succeeds her – to finally bring the state into compliance with federal voting laws.

Judge James Teilborg acknowledged Wednesday that the current system operated by the Motor Vehicle Division for address changes for driver’s licenses requires people to affirmatively “opt-in” to also update their voter information. And the judge did not dispute that the National Voter Registration Act requires these forms to make registration changes automatic unless people opt out.

The result, according to the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups, is that many people will show up at the wrong polling place on Election Day.

Michele Reagan
Michele Reagan

But Teilborg said it would cause chaos so soon before the November election to change all of those registrations. And he’s not convinced that leaving things as they are really will disenfranchise people.

First, he said, there is no evidence that anyone is unable to update his or her voter registration.

More to the point, Teilborg said there are more practical solutions to the problem than a wholesale reregistration of people.

“If a voter moved within the same county but did not update her voter registration address and appears at the precinct corresponding to her new address, the voter may cast a provisional ballot at the new precinct, update her voter address on-site, and the vote will count,” the judge wrote.

“If the individual did update her voter address, but appears at her old precinct, the individual will be directed to the correct precinct, in which the voter resides, and her vote will count,” Teilborg continued. “The only time an eligible voter’s vote will not count would be when an individual insists on voting at the wrong precinct.”

At the heart of the issue is a federal law designed to make it easier for people to register to vote.

One section says that any change of address form submitted to the state for driver’s licenses “shall serve as notification of change of address for voter registration.” Only if the person says he or she does not want to change voting address does the mandate not apply.

State election officials say they are in the process of working with the Motor Vehicle Division to update the forms and web site to comply with federal law. But none of that will be ready by the November election.

That did not satisfy challengers who argued that about 384,000 registered voters updated their addresses with MVD since the 2016 election and are still registered to vote at their old addresses. So the challengers, who also include the Mi Familia Voter Education Fund and Promise Arizona, asked Teilborg to direct Reagan to fix all of their addresses – and do it ahead of the general election – to ensure that people are not denied the right to vote.

They also wanted Reagan to send out a notice to all those who have changed their address with MVD since the 2016 election informing them that their voter registration may be out of date. That notice also would tell them that they won’t get their early ballot even if they are on a list to have one sent out every election cycle.

And finally they wanted Reagan to order that all ballots of those who had changed their address with MVD but not updated their registration address be counted, even if cast at the wrong precinct.

Teilborg suggested that the threat that voters would be disenfranchised was speculative at best.

He said the challengers produced no evidence that any person will attempt to vote in the wrong precinct solely because the voter’s address was not updated automatically to match an MVD address change.

On the other side of the equation, Teilborg said issuing such an order would result in “great expense” to post notices at all polling locations, retraining poll workers to count ballots of those who do not live in the precinct, and sending out hundreds of thousands of mailers that would likely confuse voters.

And there’s something else.

Teilborg said the challengers said they first became aware of the violations of federal law in November, 2017. Yet they waited until last month to seek an emergency order to revamp the registration process, less than three months before the general election.

The new ruling does not end the lawsuit but simply rejects a request to order Reagan to make the immediate fix.

Judge scorches Finchem, will consider sanctions

Arizona Secretary of State republican candidate Mark Finchem listens to instructions prior to debating democratic challenger Adrian Fontes Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

A judge late Friday quashed a bid by Mark Finchem to overturn his loss to Adrian Fontes for secretary of state, saying he presented no evidence to support such a radical move.

And Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Melissa Julian said she may order Finchem and his attorneys to pay the legal fees for Fontes and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs who had also been sued.

In a 13-page order, Julian said the Republican contender failed to present any evidence that showed the outcome of the race – and his loss by more than 120,000 votes – was in any way affected by misconduct or fraud by anyone.

Melissa Julian

“Honest mistakes or mere omissions on the part of election officials, or irregularities in director matters, even though gross, if not fraudulent, will not void an election, unless they affect the result, or at least render it uncertain,” Julian said. “A valid election contest may not rely upon public rumor or upon evidence about which a mere theory, suspicion, or conjecture may be maintained.”

And here, the judge said, there is not even the evidence of mistakes.

“Mr. Finchem does not allege that any of the votes cast were actually illegal,” she said. Nor, said Julian, did he present evidence that ballots were cast by people ineligible to vote.

“What Mr. Finchem argues is a case of missing votes,” the judge said. That includes claims that people were disenfranchised because they were frustrated due to the malfunction of tallying machines at some Maricopa County vote centers and delays and left without voting, leading to “suspicions that some votes may not have been counted.”

And that, said the judge, is insufficient to void an election.

Julian was no more impressed by Finchem’s claims of “misconduct” by Hobbs, including the fact that she failed to recuse herself from her role in overseeing elections after her foe, Republican Kari Lake, said there appeared to be a “conflict of interest.”

The judge said Arizona law does require public officials to step aside from decisions in which they have a financial or proprietary interest in the outcome. But Julian said that didn’t apply here and nothing there required Hobbs to step away from her public duties merely because she also was a candidate this year.

Julian was no more impressed by a claim by Daniel McCauley, Finchem’s attorney, that Hobbs had acted improperly in telling county boards of supervisors that they had to formally certify the returns for the general election by the Nov. 28 deadline and could not instead conduct their own recount. Mohave and Cochise County, which initially had balked, eventually complied, though it took a court order to get a vote in Cochise.

“Where would I find the authority for the proposition that the boards have discretion in respect to whether or not to complete the canvass, their parts of the canvass, and certify, and whether or not they can direct a recount of some kind if they are concerned about it?” she asked McCauley.

“I don’t think it’s been really tried,” he conceded. But he said it falls under the responsibility of county supervisors “to make sure their constituents get a full and fair election.”

Julian wasn’t buying it.

“The law does place the final burden on the secretary to ensure the canvass and certification of a general election is completed within the statutorily prescribed timeframes,” the judge wrote. “It is not ‘misconduct’ for the secretary of state to communicate with other governing bodies to ensure the canvass and certification are completed.”

McCauley also argued that a new election is merited because an aide to Hobbs asked Twitter in January 2021 to remove a post, one Hobbs said provided incorrect information about voter rolls. He argued that was hardly an innocent act.

“The evidence, for want of a better term that’s out there, shows clearly that, as the secretary of state … (Hobbs) cajoled the Twitter people into censoring possibly as much as 50% of her constituency,” McCauley said. “This was a political issue.”

And he said that a decision by Twitter to suspend Finchem’s account one week before the election “was directly caused by Hobbs’ illicit censoring of her constituents in concert with Twitter.”

Julian questioned the relevance of all that.

“How do you get from the Twitter communications to misconduct under the elections statute?” she asked. Anyway, she ruled, any decision by Twitter to suspend Finchem’s account in October of this year, as he alleged, is legally irrelevant in an election challenge “as Twitter is not an ‘election official.’ ”

Separately, Julian tossed out a series of claims that the machinery used in the elections was not certified. She said the evidence presented shows that wasn’t true.

“Indeed, even if the voting machines were incorrectly certified: what then?” the judge asked.

“What, apart from a general pall of suspicion could result from such a conclusion?” she continued, noting that there wasn’t even an allegation that issues with who signed the certification certificates caused even one illegal vote to be cast. “The law in Arizona does not permit an election challenge to proceed based solely upon a vague sense of unease.”

Andrew Gaona, who represents Hobbs, called the lawsuit filing a “political sideshow” and said Julian should “send a strong message to (Finchem) and future litigants like him that the judiciary is not the appropriate venue to air political grievances and conspiracy theories.”

Fontes’ attorney Craig Morgan echoed the sentiment, saying there was “absolutely no legal or factual basis asserted” to seek to overturn the election. And he said that Finchem or McCauley – or both – should be required to pay the legal fees of those who had to defend against what he called a “frivolous lawsuit.”

“I do think this court needs to make a stand and remind all counsel and litigants alike that there are standards for filing a lawsuit,” Morgan told the judge.

“This is just one in a series of meritless lawsuits that continue to perpetuate divisive and, frankly, harmful rhetoric,” he said. “And these just need to stop.”

Julian gave the defense attorneys 10 days to file a formal request for their fees.



Judge skeptical law racially discriminates against Native American voters

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The fate of a voting rights lawsuit could depend on whether a federal judge believes current practices discriminate against Native Americans or just people who live in rural areas.

Bret Healy, an expert witness for members of the Navajo Nation, testified Tuesday on how much more time it takes for an early ballot to be received at reservation addresses than in cities. On top of that, Healy said it can take up to 10 days for something mailed from certain reservation locations to make it to the county seat to be tallied.

He told Judge Murray Snow that this gives reservation residents far less time to consider their options before they have to mail them off. And in some cases, Healy said, it is physically impossible for a reservation resident to get a ballot, mark it, mail it back and have it received by the current deadline of 7 p.m. Election Day.

All that is relevant because attorney Chris McClure wants Snow to order that any ballot from a reservation address postmarked by that deadline has to be counted, even it does not arrive at county election offices for days later. He contends the current state deadline violates federal voting rights laws because it discriminates against Native Americans.

Murray Snow
Murray Snow

Snow, however, said he’s not sure it’s that clear and simple.

He said the issue of having less time to return early ballots and get them in on time applies “whether you’re Navajo, whether you’re Hopi, whether you’re Caucasian, Latinex.”

“It’s a matter of geography,” Snow said.

McClure did not dispute that point. But he said the research shows a high correlation between the reduced time to vote early and the Navajo Nation.

“And I think similar situated tribes would probably fall under the same problem,” McClure added.

The effect on Native Americans is crucial to McClure winning his case.

Federal law says that states may not take actions that have a “disparate effect” on what the law calls “suspect” classes. These are groups that have been the historic victims of discrimination.

Without that evidence of disparate effect, McClure cannot use the Voting Rights Act to demand changes to state election procedures.

Snow was clearly skeptical of the claims about this being about race, saying that non-Indians in rural areas — and even those living on reservations — would have the same burdens. McClure, however, said the issue should be seen from a different perspective.

“Just because the Native Americans live in more desolate areas, have less resources available … does not justify having it be harder for them to vote based on their geography,” he said. And McClure said it’s not like the shorter time they have to return their ballots is their fault because they chose to be further from urban areas and in places with slower mail service.

“They have done nothing to impact their opportunity other than to live on the lands that have been their tribal lands forever, essentially,” he said. “And that should not be some reason they lose the opportunity to have their votes counted.”

Attorneys for Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who is asking Snow to dismiss the lawsuit, did not dispute that mailings to and from many reservation addresses take longer. But Marty Harper, one of her attorneys, said this has nothing to do with actions by the state — or the requirement for ballots to be in the hands of county officials by 7 p.m. on Election Day to be counted.

Harper told Snow that challengers must first show the deadline itself causes a discriminatory burden on Navajo Nation members living on the reservation. And then, he said, they have to show some connection between the deadline and any social and historical inequities that have been suffered by tribal members.

He said there is no such evidence.

And Harper said there’s another factor that Snow has to consider.

“Plaintiffs must show a discriminatory intent or purpose, or a substantial or motivating factor behind the law” which sets out the deadline for receipt of early ballots, he said. “And they don’t.”

McClure, however, argued the legal test is different. He said the key is whether members of the tribe have a way to vote in a way that gives them the same opportunity as those who are not Native Americans. And he said there is clear evidence of how non-reservation residents can mail ballots at the last minute and have them counted while those living on the reservation not only get their early ballots later but then have less time to mail them back in time to be counted.

That factor, McClure said, is further amplified by the fact that many reservation addresses have no home mail service with residents having to actually drive somewhere to pick up their ballots, bring them home, fill them out and then get them back to the post office.

State Elections Director Bo Dul told Snow that any ruling to county ballots from reservation addresses not received by Election Day would cause additional voter confusion. She said it would give voters incentive to put their ballots in the mail, even close to Election Day, “rather than taking it to a polling place where they can be sure it will be received on time.”

Snow gave no indication when he will rule.


Jury awards Senate staffer $2.7M in discrimination suit

A jury awarded Senate policy adviser Talonya Adams $2.75 million on Wednesday after finding she was fired due to racial and sex-based discrimination. 

It marks the second time Adams, who represented herself, won a lawsuit against the Senate in U.S. District Court over her termination in 2015. 

At the time, Adams, a Black woman, claimed that a white male majority caucus adviser was making over $30,000 more than her. She requested a raise but was later fired while in Seattle taking care of her son, who was sick at the time.  

Adams filed a lawsuit against the Senate in 2017, and a jury ruled that then-Senate Chief of Staff Wendy Baldo, former Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs – now the secretary of state – and Democratic caucus Chief of Staff Jeffrey Winkler were among those who discriminated unfairly against Adams.  

Talonya Adams

The court ordered the Senate to rehire Adams and awarded her $1 million in damages in 2019.  

Adams asked that her lost wages be calculated based on the higher salary of a white male colleague in the same position and asked to be reinstated with a higher salary than any of her white male Democrat colleagues. 

In 2020, U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Rayes granted the Senate’s request for a new trial to relitigate the retaliation allegation after finding that Adams did not present evidence to the jury to back up that claim. 

On Wednesday, the jury again sided with Adams. 

The Arizona Capitol Times confirmed earlier reporting by 12 News’ Brahm Resnik that the jury awarded Adams $2.75 million, including $750,000 for discrimination and $2 million for retaliation. 

It is still unclear whether Adams will walk away with the $2.75 million, though. 

After the original jury awarded Adams $1 million, U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Rayes reduced that award to $350,000 in accordance with federal discrimination laws, which imposes a cap on damages based on the number of employees a company has. 

That’s because Adams was – and continues to be – a staffer for Senate Democrats. And part of her lawsuit was based on her contention that she informed Katie Hobbs, now a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, of her concerns about discrimination by her immediate superiors but that Hobbs, then Senate Minority Leader, did not deal with it but instead was at least part of the decision to fire her. 

Adams did not respond to a request for comment. 

The verdict already is causing political ripples. Other candidates in Arizona’s 2022 governor’s race are already commenting on the verdict, using it to question Hobbs’ qualifications for the job. 

“There is no place in Arizona for hate or discrimination,” Democrat Marco Lopez said in a statement provided by his campaign. “This raises serious questions that Secretary of State Hobbs must answer and will cost taxpayers millions of dollars. As governor, I will not tolerate this type or any kind of discriminatory behavior in my administration,” 

Former state Rep. Aaron Lieberman, another Democrat running for governor, said, “This type of discrimination is abhorrent to all Arizonans. As Democrats, it is unacceptable from someone who wants to serve as our Governor.” 

A spokeswoman for Hobbs’ declined to speak on the record but forwarded an emailed statement that largely blamed the Senate Republican Caucus for underpaying Democratic staffers.

“The state legislature, both in 2015 and today, is run by Republicans who pay their staffers more than the Democratic Senate staff – which is dramatically more diverse than the Republican staff,” the statement read. “This problem is systemic, it persists today, and it needs to be fixed.”

But 12 News reported that Hobbs testified at the new trial this week that the dismissal was a “group decision” done by “consensus,” with the ultimate dismissal done by Baldo, then the Senate chief of staff.  

Hobbs, then two months into the job of minority leader, also testified that she had “lost trust’” in Adams over several issues, including her decision to take emergency leave to care for her son in Seattle – leave Adams’ supervisor approved. 

“I do not question that she felt discriminated against,” Hobbs said in an earlier interview with Capitol Media Services after the first verdict. But Hobbs also said that no one was wrongfully fired when she was heading the Senate Democrats. 

But Adams, also talking with Capitol Media Services after the first trial, took a swat at Hobbs for maintaining her position that her firing was justified, even after jurors concluded otherwise. 

“To have a sitting secretary of state state that there was no discrimination I think is disrespectful to our judicial system,” Adams said. 

In her 2019 interview, Hobbs said the fact that Adams was paid less than some others had nothing to do with race, calling it an issue with the salary structure. 

“Democratic staff get paid less than Republican staff,” she said. 

Hobbs testified at the new trial that she did not know that anyone had, in fact, approved the emergency leave. And she said that she wished he had been a “better ally” for Adams. 

Hobbs also issued a statement to 12 News stating, in part, “I should have been a stronger ally in this instance.” 

“I apologize to Ms. Adams,” she wrote. 

Capitol Media Services contributed to this report 

Lawmakers assert power grab over state offices

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. 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

For every headache another branch of government causes a legislator, there’s a simple solution – introduce a bill.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs got around Republican roadblocks and received private funding for election publicity efforts. There’s a bill to stop that.

The Arizona Corporation Commission passed new clean energy standards. There’s a (now-dead) bill to stop that.

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs addresses the members of Arizona's Electoral College prior to them casting their votes Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Phoenix. Lawmakers have introduced measures this year to assert control over the Democrat-run office.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs addresses the members of Arizona’s Electoral College prior to them casting their votes Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Phoenix. Lawmakers have introduced measures this year to assert control over the Democrat-run office.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

Gov. Doug Ducey enacted a year-long state of emergency and significant restrictions on businesses because of Covid. There’s a whole buffet of bills to choose from to overturn the current emergency and restrict future ones.

A host of bills that seek to assert the Legislature’s power over all other governmental entities isn’t new — just ask cities and counties that see a new round of pre-emption legislation every year. But this year, after lawmakers spent months spinning their wheels out of session during the pandemic, a push to make the Legislature the most powerful branch of government is at an all-time high.

“I feel like we’ve been non-feasant all year long,” said Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, one of several lawmakers who introduced bills to limit the governor’s emergency powers. “We’re allowing the executive to rule like a monarch.” 

Lawmakers who introduced these bills say the Legislature is the best place to set all policy – that representatives and senators are uniquely situated to make decisions in the best interests of Arizonans.

But critics, including some lawmakers, contend the Legislature lacks the expertise to handle all the issues they’re trying to take control of, and other government agencies exist for a reason.

“We have 1,000 things we’re looking at at the same time,” said Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson. “We don’t have the sustained attention span.”

State of Emergency

A group of lawmakers, including Townsend and Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, has pushed for the end of Ducey’s March 11, 2020, state of emergency since shortly after the governor declared it. 

Michelle Ugenti
Michelle Ugenti

Ugenti-Rita’s resolution to immediately end the current state of emergency was among the first pieces of legislation introduced this year, but it has not yet received a vote because at least one of her Republican colleagues is opposed. So are all Democrats, meaning a single Republican defection would kill the measure.

Without support for her resolution, Ugenti-Rita has returned to giving impassioned speeches and posting lengthy screeds on social media. In a March 11 speech on the Senate floor, she implored her colleagues to reflect on the year of restrictions. 

“We should take time to really quantify what’s happened, not only to our personal freedoms but the financial impact,” she said. “I don’t think we could ever experience the kind of restrictive proposals that have been put into place in the name of public safety.”

A Ducey spokesman responded to questions by sending a brief audio clip of the governor in a pre-session Q&A with the Arizona Capitol Times

“If other people want to criticize or make conversation about what they would have done better or different, that’s up to them,” Ducey said. “…It is possible that the authorities and latitude around the emergency order were not anticipated for something like a pandemic that could last 10-plus months, and if there’s reform that’s needed or checks around that, that’s something I’m open minded to.”

Sen. T.J. Shope, the Republican blocking Ugenti-Rita’s resolution from moving forward, said he still supports a Ugenti-Rita bill that would terminate future states of emergency after 90 days without legislative consent. That’s a better vehicle for starting a conversation with the governor, he said. 

A Democratic secretary of state

After Hobbs, a Democrat, took office in 2019, Republican lawmakers who hadn’t paid much attention to the Secretary of State’s Office when Republicans Michele Reagan and Ken Bennett held the seat were newly invested in watching the office. 

Over the summer, Republican lawmakers on the Joint Legislative Budget Committee abruptly voted to repurpose $500,000 in federal funding Hobbs and counties planned to use for voter outreach, sending the funding to counties directly. Attorney General Mark Brnovich lobbied for the change.

Ducey stepped in to offer funding from the bucket of federal money he had control over thanks to the first Covid relief package, but then he put additional restrictions on Hobbs’ use of the funds under pressure from fellow Republicans. Hobbs and election officials then received a last-minute $4.8 million grant from an election nonprofit funded in part by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, to spend the funds on a statewide voter outreach campaign. 

Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, is sworn in during the opening of the Arizona Legislature at the state Capitol Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Phoenix. Hoffman introduced a bill to prohibit the state or any subdivisions from accepting private money for elections after several counties and the Secretary of State received grants from an election nonprofit funded in part by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to spend on statewide voter outreach. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, is sworn in during the opening of the Arizona Legislature at the state Capitol Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Phoenix. Hoffman introduced a bill to prohibit the state or any subdivisions from accepting private money for elections after several counties and the Secretary of State received grants from an election nonprofit funded in part by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to spend on statewide voter outreach. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

Freshman Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Gilbert, followed up by introducing a bill to prohibit the state or any subdivisions from accepting private money for elections. The bill passed the House on party lines and could have a vote in the Senate as early as next week. 

Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, took aim at another division of the Secretary of State’s Office – the Arizona Capitol Museum, which has eight permanent employees, three or four seasonal ones and works closely with the state Library, Archives and Public Records, both of which are also under Hobbs’ control. 

A bill Gowan introduced, which died on the Senate floor, would have given the Legislative Council control of the museum. Hobbs said she could think of two possible reasons.

First, the Legislative Council effectively serves as a landlord for the old Capitol, where the museum is housed. When Hobbs hung two LGBTIQ pride flags over the balcony in summer 2019, the Legislative Council executive director responded to complaints from at least one Republican lawmaker and took them down – and changed the lock on the door to the balcony. 

Hobbs also wondered whether Gowan, who tried unsuccessfully as speaker of the House to build a gym in the basement, is looking for a new space to remodel. 

“I think that Gowan is partly looking to get a playground and wants to take control of the space in the museum to make some fancy offices for legislators and just saw this as a chance to get control of that space,” she said. 

Gowan also sponsored a bill to give the Joint Legislative Audit Committee authority to approve the next election procedures manual, now drafted by Hobbs’ office and approved by the governor and attorney general. His bill died, but a second one from Ugenti-Rita to have the Legislative Council approve the manual is moving forward.  

Hobbs, who was a state senator for six years before she ran for secretary of state, said lawmakers don’t know as much as they might think they do about elections. 

“What I knew about elections could fit in a small document, and now I have binders,” Hobbs said. 

Paul Boyer
Paul Boyer

The Boyer Factor

In the Senate, several of the bills that would limit other government entities have died because of one Republican – Sen. Paul Boyer of Glendale. Boyer said he looked at each bill issue by issue.

He thinks the museum, library and archives should belong to the Secretary of State’s Office, so he voted against Gowan’s bill.

He said he thinks Arizona has reliable, if not necessarily cheap, energy, and he doesn’t want to risk altering that, so he told Sen. Sine Kerr he wouldn’t vote for her measure to give the Legislature the sole authority to set energy policy.

And when other Republican lawmakers threatened to send Maricopa County supervisors to jail for not handing over election materials the supervisors said they legally couldn’t, Boyer said he put himself in their shoes and decided to vote against the contempt measure. 

Boyer, who was a former House Republican spokesman policy adviser before he ran for office, said lawmakers and their small staff don’t have the time or knowledge to fully research all the issues they vote on. That struck him as particularly relevant on the energy policy bill – the Arizona Corporation Commission has roughly 200 employees devoted solely to energy policy. The Legislature has two. 

“Sometimes we don’t always spend as much time as we need to,” Boyer said. 

Major takeaways from last night’s primary elections

A woman arrives to her polling station, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. Elections officials say 62 polling locations in the Phoenix area weren't operational when voting began in Arizona's primary. (AP Photo/Matt York)
A woman arrives to her polling station, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. Elections officials say 62 polling locations in the Phoenix area weren’t operational when voting began in Arizona’s primary. (AP Photo/Matt York)

In case you missed our coverage of last night’s primary elections, here are the major takeaways.

  • Arizona voters handed Secretary of State Michele Reagan the pink card in an apparent rebuke over troubles and misfires her office has made. Challenger Steve Gaynor, a political newcomer and a businessman, crushed her at the polls.
  • Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas also appears to be on her way out, although the race on the Republican side remains too close to call. Fewer than 2,000 votes separate Douglas from front-runner Frank Riggs in the crowded GOP primary. Meanwhile, candidate and educator Kathy Hoffman is posed to pull off an upset in the Democratic race for superintendent of public instruction. Hoffman has built what appears to be an insurmountable lead over David Schapira, a former legislator.
  • David Garcia, a professor at Arizona State University, dominated his primary rivals to clinch the Democratic nomination, while Gov. Doug Ducey cruised to victory against former secretary of state Ken Bennett.
  • Darin Mitchell is struggling in his re-election bid for the House in Legislative District 13, where Rep. Timothy Dunn and Joanne Osborn appear to have secured the two spots in the GOP primary. In the Senate race also in the same district, former legislator Don Shooter, who was expelled from the Legislature over allegations of sexual harassment, failed in his comeback attempt. In Legislative District 5, Rep. Paul Mosley, whose campaign was engulfed in the controversy over his alleged abuse of legislative immunity, has fallen behind in the House race to incumbent Rep. Regina Cobb, and Leo Biasiucci.
  • Finally, U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema will face U.S. Rep. Martha McSally in the general election for the U.S. Senate after the two candidates secured their parties’ nominations. For the first time in Arizona history, a woman is assured to hold seat vacated by U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, who is retiring.


Motive behind ‘ballot harvest’ law crux of SCOTUS debate

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)

The question of whether Arizona gets to keep its ban on “ballot harvesting” could turn on  what was in the mind of a now-ejected state legislator who first proposed the law and how that affected his colleagues.

During a two-hour hearing Tuesday, some of the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court were told that it was then-Sen. Don Shooter who first attempted in 2011 to make it a crime for anyone to collect anyone else’s voted ballot and take it to polling places. That came a year after Shooter had won his 2010 election with just 53% of the vote — receiving 83% of the non-minority vote but only 20% of the Hispanic vote.

It took five more years for lawmakers to actually pass the ballot harvesting law. But when it was challenged, Judge William Fletcher of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals cited the early effort and concluded Shooter was “in part motivated by a desire to eliminate what had become an effective Democratic GOTV strategy.”

And Fletcher said nothing really changed between 2011 and 2016.

“Republican legislators were motivated by the unfounded and often far-fetched allegations of ballot collection fraud made by former Sen. Shooter,” the judge wrote.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich, defending the statute before the high court, told the justices that’s irrelevant.

Mark Brnovich
Mark Brnovich

“You cannot impugn motive to one legislator to a group of 90 independent, co-equal actors spread across two houses in the legislature,” he said. And Brnovich said the law is a legitimate effort by lawmakers to minimize the possibility of fraud or coercion when political groups go door-to-door and seek to take someone’s ballot.

Brnovich also said there’s nothing inherent in the law that decreases the opportunity for minorities to vote which he said is the test under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, regardless of whether there is some evidence that minorities are more likely to depend on someone else to take their early ballots to the polls.

But his arguments weren’t helped by Michael Carvin who is representing the Arizona Republican Party, which was granted the right to intervene to help defend the 2016 law. He was asked by Justice Amy Coney Barrett why his client is in the case.

“Because it puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats,” he acknowledged.

“Politics is a zero-sum game,” Carvin continued. “And every extra vote they get through unlawful interpretations of Section 2 hurts us. It’s the difference between winning an election 50 to 49 and losing an election.”

That, in turn, goes to another finding by the 9th Circuit last year in voiding the law. Fletcher said the record shows that prior to 2016 minorities were more likely than non-minorities to get someone else to turn in their ballots. By contrast, Fletcher wrote, “the Republican Party has not significantly engaged in ballot collection as a get-out-the-vote strategy.”

There are some indications that the conservative justices may defer to the decision of Arizona lawmakers in enacting the 2016 law. But there are facts that complicate the issue.

One is that there was no actual evidence of fraud cited by Arizona lawmakers in enacting the law. In fact, statutes already on the books made it a crime to refuse to turn in someone else’s ballot.

But then-Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, argued that is irrelevant.

“What is indisputable is that many people believe it’s happening,” he told colleagues during floor debate. “And I think that matters.”

Don Shooter
Don Shooter

And Brnovich cited the 2005 recommendations of the Commission on Federal Elections Reform, co-chaired by former President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, which said states should prohibit outsiders from handling absentee ballots of others.

Anyway, Brnovich told the justices, it’s not like this law — and the other challenged one that says ballots cast in the wrong precinct are not counted — significantly impact the ability of minorities to vote.

He acknowledged there are “slight statistical differences” in how both laws affect minorities. But Brnovich said the court needs to look at the totality of the circumstances.

“No one was denied the opportunity,” he said.

He said the state provides many ways of voting, including early voting and at voting centers ahead of Election Day. And the state has a “no excuse absentee balloting,” meaning that anyone can ask for an early ballot by mail.

“So there are a whole plethora of options in ways for people to exercise their right to the franchise,” Brnovich said.

Chief Justice John Roberts specifically asked attorney Jessica Ring Amunson why that report by the commission that Carter co-chaired does not provide enough reason for lawmakers to ban ballot harvesting. She represents Secretary of State Katie Hobbs who has taken the position that both the ban on ballot harvesting and the prohibition on counting votes cast in the wrong precinct violate federal law.

“States can have an interest in securing their elections through limiting ballot collections,” Amunson responded. “But when you look at the particular fact here, that does not appear to have been Arizona’s interest.”

Bruce Spiva, attorney for the Democratic National Committee, which filed the original suit, underlined the point, saying there’s nothing in the legislative record to suggest lawmakers were persuaded by anything in that commission report. And he emphasized that legislators also had no evidence of voter fraud before enacting the 2016 law.

Amunson said there is something the court does need to consider.

“What we have is a record that shows that Native Americans and Latinos in Arizona rely disproportionately on ballot collection and white voters do not,” she said. And that, Amunson said, comes back to Shooter.

“The entire purpose of introducing the law by Sen. Shooter was to keep Hispanics in his district from voting and was premised on far-fetched racially tinged allegations that Latinos in the district were engaging in fraud with respect to ballot collection,” Amunson said.

Shooter, who later was elected to the state House, is no longer a legislator. He was expelled by his colleagues in 2018 after being accused of violating policies against sexual harassment.

Amunson also told the justices they should take note the admission by Carvin about the political nature of this legal fight.

“Candidates and parties should be trying to win over voters on the basis of their ideas, not trying to remove voters from the electorate by imposing unjustified and discriminatory burdens,” she said.

There was some indication that the justices could end up with a split decision on the two issues.

On one hand, they noted, the 2016 law changed long-standing practices allowing ballot harvesting. That might be considered an affirmative violation of the Voting Rights Act.

By contrast, they noted the policy of counting only the votes cast at the right precinct dates back to 1970. And Brnovich argued that is necessary to properly administer the voting system.

He also said that the extent of the impact of that law is minimal, saying that in the 2016 election there were only 3,970 ballots that were rejected because they were cast in the wrong precinct out of more than 2.6 million votes cast by all methods, including early and day-of voting.

But Amunson said the important thing for the justices to consider is the evidence that minority voters were twice as likely to have their ballots rejected because of being in the wrong precinct than white voters.

A ruling may not occur until June.

Observers keep eyes on signature validation process of voucher referendum

(Photo courtesy of Save Our Schools Arizona)
Observers who are for and against a referendum campaign to refer school voucher legislation to the 2018 ballot crowd around tables on August 9 as signatures are reviewed by employees at the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office. Observers were allowed to view the process of signature validation for transparency, according to representatives of the office. (Photo courtesy of Save Our Schools Arizona)

The process of verifying signatures to block a law expanding school vouchers has built up the scrutiny of Secretary of State Michele Reagan’s effort to be more transparent.

Observers are routinely allowed to watch as elections officials count and verify petitions gathered when Arizona voters want to challenge a new law. But never before have so many observers engaged in the process, according to election officials and attorneys.

Observers who oppose efforts to stop ESA expansion have raised objections as signatures are verified, according to Roopali Desai, an attorney for Save Our Schools Arizona, which this week turned in 111,540 signatures in opposition to SB1431.

“You can have observers, but they’re just that,” Desai said. “They’re not active participants in the process. They’re not really permitted to interfere and make objections and have their objections heard and weighed and decided in real time.”

Matt Roberts, a spokesman for Reagan, said that observers have had no impact on the quality of the work undertaken by elections workers to de-staple, scan, and review thousands of pages of petitions filed by SOS Arizona.

Conversations between observers and election workers are strictly monitored, he added.

“I think right at the beginning of the process, observers were making comments,” Roberts said. “Within a couple of moments of our staff learning about that, we put a stop to it.”

Chatter on Twitter and other forms of social media has left some with the impression that volunteer observers are the ones working to verify the signatures. Tom Jenney, director of the Arizona chapter of Americans For Prosperity, wrote a Facebook post calling for volunteers to protect the law and “help us verify signature petitions.”

State Elections Director Eric Spencer said no one verifies signatures but the Secretary of State’s Office.

“We are applying the law to the petitions, we are conducting the verification,” Spencer said. “At most, observers are documenting issues that they want to get a second look at at some point in the future, or maybe bring to the attention of a court. But they’re not verifying anything.”

Signatures can still be checked by volunteers and attorneys alike after the Secretary of State’s Office finishes counting petitions, Spencer said. Attorneys routinely challenge signatures in court, which is likely where the referendum on SB 1431 is headed.

Given the heightened interest in the referendum, and how close the outcome might be, Spencer said the decision was initially made to allow more observers.

That effort is admirable, Desai said, but it has left SOS Arizona’s volunteer force confused about the process and concerned that observers who want to see the referendum fail may have undermined the work of the Secretary of State’s Office. No written guidelines were available at the outset, she said.

Spencer told observers in the afternoon of August 10 that he had put a policy in writing that morning.

“I’m this close to having all observers leave,” Spencer told Sharon Kirsch, a volunteer with SOS Arizona, and Timothy La Sota, an attorney for the American Federation for Children, the group opposing the referendum.

Kirsch said the policies governing observers have changed day to day.

“It’s frustrating. We had people pounding the pavement all summer, and our volunteers are concerned about what’s happening here. There’s never been this level of scrutiny,” Kirsch said.

When asked about accusations that her volunteers had muddied the verification process, Kim Martinez, a spokeswoman for the American Federation for Children, said they’ve been pleased with the observation access thus far.

“From our side, we’ve been happy to be here, and we have not minded at all that both sides are here for fairness. It’s completely fine that both sides are observing this process,” Martinez said. “I think it’s good that we’re here and able to actually see what’s going on and fight for our sides.”

Organizers of proposed ban on ‘dark money’ initiative take case to Supreme Court

dark money light

Supporters of a ban on “dark money” in political races are making a last-ditch effort to put the issue to voters in November.

Legal briefs filed with the Arizona Supreme Court contend that Secretary of State Michele Reagan improperly refused to consider a number of petitions.

For example, attorney Kimberly Demarchi said Reagan concluded that several petitions were not attached to the actual text of the initiative as required by law. So she refused to count the signatures on those petitions.

But Demarchi said it is “undisputed” that the petitions were in the boxes with the text of the measure. In fact, she said, the photographs of the petitions show marks in the upper left corner where the staples would have been.

The fact that a staple was “lost in transit,” Demarchi said should not void the signatures.

And she said that petitions from some other circulators were improperly removed from consideration.

Every signature that Demarchi can add back in is important: A check of a random sample of the petitions found they came up just 2,017 short of the 225,963 needed to put the issue on the November ballot.

The initiative would overturn existing laws that allow groups established under the Internal Revenue Code as “social welfare organizations” to spend money to influence state and local races without disclosing the source of their donors. Instead, any individual that put in at least $2,500 would have to be named.

That question of missing staples, however, is not the only issue for Demarchi. She also wants the high court to overturn a ruling by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Teresa Sanders who tossed out even more petitions than Reagan had disqualified — and the signatures on them — when the circulators failed to show up in court after being subpoenaed.

That left supporters of the measure even further from their goal.

Demarchi is challenging that law that requires automatic disqualification of petitions when circulators do not show up.

If nothing else, she said the law, approved in 2014 by the Republican-controlled Legislature, does not comply with court rules that the people issuing the subpoenas show they have been properly served. And Demarchi said it was wrong to let challengers to the initiative wait until 11 days before the trial to even mention that they planned to subpoena circulators.

“The voters of Arizona are being deprived of even the opportunity to consider the proposed amendment referred for their consideration by hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens,” Demarchi told the justices. “This result should not be permitted to stand.”

But even as Demarchi seeks to add signatures back to the tally, attorney Kory Langhofer is trying to push the justices in the other direction. He wants them to rule that Sanders did not disqualify enough of the petitions.

Langhofer, who represents individuals who run some of those social welfare organizations that seek to influence elections but refuse to disclose donors, said Sanders should have tossed even more signatures than she did. He specifically is aiming to disqualify all signatures gathered by those who he said fit the definition of “paid circulators” but failed to register.


Panel OKs bill to require warning about Voter Protection Act

Maricopa County elections official Deborah Atkins hangs "vote" signs outside a polling station prior to it's opening, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Maricopa County elections official Deborah Atkins hangs “vote” signs outside a polling station prior to it’s opening, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

As advocacy groups gather signatures for far-reaching ballot initiatives on everything from criminal justice to marijuana legalization to voting rights, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 23 endorsed a bill that opponents warned could confuse voters instead of informing them.

Laws passed by voters are much harder to change than those approved by the House and Senate because of  a 1998 initiative passed in response to the Legislature’s repeal of a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative. For the past 20 years, any changes to voter-approved initiatives have needed to be approved by a three-fourths majority of both chambers and further the intent of the voter-passed law.

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, said voters should know how difficult it is to fix problems with laws they approve, which is why she introduced SB1020 to require each ballot measure to contain a disclosure about the 1998 Voter Protection Act.

Michelle Ugenti-Rita
Michelle Ugenti-Rita

“This is honestly a very simple bill,” Ugenti-Rita said. “I introduced the bill for this disclosure because I believe that fully informing voters of the implications of complex and far-reaching ballot initiatives would better enable voters to decide whether they want to support them.”

Lawmakers already receive information on their bill fact sheets about whether any measure requires a vote beyond a simple majority, either because it would change a voter-approved initiative or raise revenue.

That’s a faulty analogy, said Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale. Putting the disclosure on the ballot would be the same as pasting it over the red and green buttons lawmakers use to cast their votes on the floor, he said.

“The ballot is where you make the decision,” Quezada said. “The publicity pamphlet is where you provide information. The campaign trail is where you advocate.”

In recent years, Quezada said, progressive groups have found success at the ballot box that they haven’t found in the Republican-controlled Legislature. Voters increased the state’s minimum wage, legalized medical marijuana and rejected legislative attempts to expand school vouchers.

And if activists gather enough signatures, the November ballot could contain measures to shorten jail sentences, legalize recreational marijuana and curtail lobbyists.

Counties and the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office said the bill could lead to increased printing costs and potentially cause ballots to spill over to a second page, leading voters to return only one of their ballot pages.

Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said voters should have as much information as possible about the ballot measures they vote on. And opponents should give voters more credit, he said.

“It’s really disturbing to say our voters are just not capable of looking at two sheets and filling them out,” he said. “We have people that don’t vote down the whole ticket anyway.”

Emily Kirkland
Emily Kirkland

Members of voters’ advocacy groups who crowded the hearing room celebrated the apparent death of another Ugenti-Rita bill, which would have required anyone who drops off multiple mail-in ballots to show ID and attest in writing that the other ballot(s) they dropped off belonged to a family member or someone they care for.

The bill was originally scheduled for a hearing January 23, but Ugenti-Rita asked to remove it from the agenda. ProgressNow Arizona, a liberal advocacy group, claimed credit for the bill’s removal.

But Ugenti-Rita said pressure from progressives had nothing to do with holding the bill. Rather, she wants to reintroduce last year’s version, which would have barred anyone from dropping ballots off in person.

“It’s not as clean as last year’s bill that’s just a straight prohibition,” Ugenti-Rita said.

ProgressNow Arizona and other groups will fight Ugenti-Rita’s ban on dropping off ballots if it returns, Executive Director Emily Kirkland said.

“Her bill last year failed, and it failed for a reason,” Kirkland said. “It’s an incredibly unpopular proposal.”

Pascua Yaqui tribe fights for early voting site, citing history of discrimination


How far residents of the Pascua Yaqui reservation have to travel to cast an early ballot this year will depend on what a federal judge concludes is the reason for moving the site in the first place.

F. Ann Rodriguez
F. Ann Rodriguez

Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez says it’s just a matter of numbers. She argued there just weren’t enough people using the site during the last presidential election four years ago.

Attorneys for the tribe, which filed suit demanding restoration of the site this year, said it isn’t that simple.

They point to provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act, which limits the ability of state and local officials to take any action that disproportionately affects the rights of protected minorities. And that includes Native Americans.

But U.S. District Court Judge James Soto could sidestep the whole legal issue – at least for the time being – by simply ruling that the tribe waited too long to file suit.

The case didn’t exist until it was filed a week ago. And the tribe wants James to order Rodriguez to set up the early voting site for five days beginning this coming Monday.

Underlying much of the case during two days of testimony is the question of whether racism played a role in the decision to eliminate the early-voting site.

Tribal Chairman Peter Yucupicio talked of a history of discrimination.

“Some of us walked these lands way before everybody else,” he told the judge. “We welcomed everybody, along with all the other tribes in Arizona. And yet we still fight to be equal.”

But attorneys for Rodriguez hope to convince Soto that the decision has nothing to do with race.

Chris Roads, the county elections director, detailed the factors used in deciding where to put the sites.

Some of that, he said, is based strictly on population, with areas of greater density getting a higher concentration of places for people to cast their ballots or drop off their early ballots before Election Day. There’s the question of whether a facility is available.

Pascua Yaqui Chairman Peter Yucupicio
Pascua Yaqui Chairman Peter Yucupicio

Roads said the concerns about foreign influence in 2016 led to choosing locations that could be physically secure, including cameras, enhanced locks on doors and, where available, hard-wired internet access.

Roads said officers also considered serving minority communities. And he said that sites offered by the tribe were not appropriate.

And then there was the testimony of an expert called by Rodriguez who said that of the 248 early voting sites used in 2016, the turnout at the one located on the Yaqui reservation was No. 217 – with just 44 people using it during an entire week and only 29 of whom actually lived within the precinct.

That, however, may not matter.

The way tribal attorneys put it, Soto has to evaluate the “totality of the circumstances” to determine whether there is a legally significant relationship between a decision that has a disparate effect on minority voters and the “social and historical conditions affecting them.”

One of those is the history of official discrimination. That includes not just the fact the Arizona Constitution barred Native Americans from voting in state elections until 1948 but that literacy tests and other barriers existed for decades afterwards.

Another is the extent to which minority groups have been elected to public office.

The court heard testimony that no Native American has ever been elected to statewide office or to Congress. But there also was no evidence that any Native American had ever sought one of those offices.

Part of the defense mounted by Rodriguez is that alternatives exist to having an early-voting site on the reservation, and not just because there is one at the Mission Library, which is 8.5 miles further away. There also is the option of requesting an early ballot and dropping it in the mail.

But Rebecca Lewis, an administrative support specialist for the tribe who is involved in voter outreach, said that for many tribal members, that’s not an answer.

“Mailed ballots can be tossed for errors” versus problems being resolved at an early-voting location when the ballots actually are cast, she told Soto.

And then there was a study of Native Americans in the Southwest, which concluded just 29.2% trust their mail-in ballots would be counted.

The bottom line, the tribe’s lawyers say, is that turnout by Pascua Yaquis in 2018 was 39% versus more than 70% in the county. With limited access to early voting, they say, tribal residents will not have an equal opportunity to vote for candidates of their choice, among them a Native American candidate running for Pima County recorder in the 2020 general election.

That race is between Republican Benny White and Democrat Gabriella Cázares-Kelly; Rodriguez is not seeking another term.

The tribe said that it offered to provide various sites for an early-voting location. And Lewis testified that no one from the county ever said any of these was not acceptable because of questions like internet access or even the ability to accommodate wheelchairs.

Nothing that Soto decides will affect an existing polling place, which will be set up on the reservation on Election Day.

But Roads said there are substantial differences with early-voting sites required to have more electronic equipment and be available and secured for days at a time.

That question of an additional burden for early-voting sites came up during the testimony of Joseph Dietrich, an expert hired by the tribe to help make the case that removing the option for tribal members is discriminatory.

He pointed out that Secretary of State Katie Hobbs offered to pick up the cost of maintaining the site yet that did not sway Rodriguez. But Dietrich conceded under cross-examination that does not cover the need to actually find people to staff the site for five days.

How Soto determines whether the tribe waited too long may depend on what he believes are the reasons.

Tribal attorney said there had been multiple calls on Rodriguez – not just by the Yaqui leaders – but also county supervisors, the secretary of state and the mayor of Tucson to reinstate an early voting site. But they said it was not until she was threatened with legal action that she even began to look at possible locations and that she asked the tribe to hold off on filing suit.

Soto said he hopes to have a ruling by Thursday.







Petersen threatens lawsuit if state elections manual not revised

The top Senate Republican in Arizona is threatening litigation against Secretary of State Adrian Fontes over a proposed elections manual.  

Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, issued a warning to Fontes in a Monday news release following the public release of the 2023 Elections Procedures Manual draft.  

The secretary of state must produce an Elections Procedures Manual every odd year before a general election. The document is intended to provide legal guidance to election administrators across the state for how to run elections.  

Sen. Warren Petersen

The last time Arizona had a legal elections manual was in 2019. Former Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich sued then- Secretary of State Katie Hobbs over her 2021 manual but Yavapai County Superior Court Judge John Napper tossed Brnovich’s lawsuit and said Hobbs “properly exercised her discretion” in drafting the manual.  

Napper placed responsibility on Brnovich after the state didn’t have enough time to implement the 2021 manual and said Brnovich failed to negotiate with Hobbs or explain how the manual was unlawful.  

Petersen and Speaker of the House Ben Toma, R-Peoria, sent a letter to Fontes outlining why they believe the 2023 draft manual is unlawful on Monday, a day before the draft’s two-week public comment period ended.  

One of Petersen’s and Toma’s primary concerns was the manual failing to instruct county recorders to remove voters registered on the active early voter list who have not cast a ballot during two consecutive election cycles. A law was signed in 2021 that requires this practice. 

“Our current Secretary of State has a history of distorting our elections laws and pushing the envelope on questionable procedures,” Petersen said in the news release. “My hope is that he will update the EPM with our corrections before submitting to the Attorney General and Governor for approval. Failure to do so will result in legal action.” 

Toma, House, Senate, Prop 211, court filing, dark money
House Speaker Ben Toma, R-Peoria

Fontes must submit his draft to the other executive officials of the state by Oct. 1. The deadline for approval following the draft submission is Dec. 31.  

Republicans already had expressed frustration over the two-week public comment period for the draft manual. Reps. Michael Carbone, R- Buckeye, and Steve Montenegro, R-Goodyear asked Fontes to extend the deadline to Sept. 1 and said two weeks wasn’t an adequate amount of time to review the 259-page document. 

Carbone and Montenegro also sent a letter to Fontes on Tuesday expressing their disappointment in his denial of their request with their comments on the manual. They also asked Fontes to publish all comments about the manual on the secretary of state website.  

“We understand that you are not responsible for the errors of your predecessor. And we appreciate the work you have done so far to produce the draft 2023 EPM. Nonetheless, we firmly believe that because we all find ourselves in this unprecedented and preventable situation, we owe it to our constituents to provide them with as much transparency and participation as possible in this process,” Carbone and Montenegro wrote.  

Paul Smith-Leonard, a spokesman for Fontes, told the Arizona Capitol Times Aug. 9 in an email the public comment process for the Elections Procedures Manual is not required by statute and was instead an effort from Fontes to demonstrate transparency.  

Petersen and Toma pointed out in their feedback of the draft manual that government agencies in the state typically allow a 30-day public comment period for rulemaking.  

Other issues Republicans raised with the draft manual include language that states counties lack the discretion to conduct a hand count of ballots cast at precincts or early voting centers. Petersen and Toma also stated language that gives the secretary authority to regulate voter registration procedures and authority to extend the early voting period for uniformed and overseas citizens must be corrected. 

Voting rights groups praised the draft in a Tuesday press webinar held to discuss the manual.  

Rosemary Avila, the senior Arizona campaign manager with All Voting is Local, said she believed Fontes’ draft was receiving more attention this year and in prior years because the 2021 draft manual failed to be administered by election officials. 

“It feels like the 2023 version has been a long time coming so here we are – I think everyone is ready for it and we’re ready to make sure access is provided to all Arizona voters,” Avila said.  

She said positives with the manual included provisions that ensure ballot drop boxes are accessible for people with disabilities, although she said there was room for the manual to improve such as including provisions noting voting rights for people in jail with guidance to counties on how to facilitate voting within jails. 

Chris Gilfillan, the director of political strategies and development for Arizona Center for Empowerment, said the consensus from members of his organization was that the draft manual takes a step in providing access to other methods of voting that work for peoples’ schedules.  

“Voters are busy, they have lives, they have jobs,” Gilfillan said. “Voting is not always the most important thing for them. They need to have access to every method of voting available.” 

Another voting organization, Secure Democracy Foundation, noted guidance for counties to prevent voter intimidation and requirements to increase security for voting equipment and ballot drop boxes as some of its significant additions of the draft manual. 


Politicians weigh in on ballot measures

This April 11, 2018, photo shows a sign directing voters to an early-voting location in Surprise, Ariz. Secretary of State Katie Hobbs settled a lawsuit with the Navajo Nation by adopting an elections procedure that allows counties five days to fix early ballots that don’t match signatures on file or are missing signatures. PHOTO BY ANITA SNOW/ASSOCIATED PRESS
This April 11, 2018, photo shows a sign directing voters to an early-voting location in Surprise, Ariz.  PHOTO BY ANITA SNOW/ASSOCIATED PRESS

If you get your advice from Gov. Doug Ducey you’re going to want to vote against at least three of the four measures expected to be on the November ballot.

The governor has submitted statements in opposition to proposals to legalize recreational uses of marijuana, increase taxes on the wealthy to help fund education, and a third with various provisions relating to hospitals and health care.

But he took no position on a fourth ballot measure to give judges more discretion in sentencing.

On marijuana, the governor called what is expected to be on the ballot as Proposition 207 “a bad idea based on false promises,” saying the experience from other states shows it will lead to more highway deaths, dramatic increases in teen drug use and more newborns exposed to marijuana. Anyway, Ducey said, the current system of medical marijuana, approved by voters in 2010 “is serving the people who need it for health-related reasons.”

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

Ducey is not alone, particularly on the issue of whether Arizonans should be able to legally buy and possess marijuana for personal use. The Secretary of State’s Office got dozens of arguments from foes.

All those arguments will be placed into publicity pamphlets mailed to the homes of all registered voters.

So will the handful of arguments in favor of the measure, including one from former Gov. Fife Symington III.

“Today the evidence is overwhelmingly clear: criminalizing law-abiding citizens who choose to responsibly consume marijuana is an outdated policy that wastes precious government resources and unnecessarily restricts individual liberty,” he wrote. “A far more logical approach would be to respect the right of adults to choose to consume marijuana while regulating and taxing its production and sale.”

He has at least a passing familial interest in the issue: His son, Fife Symington IV, is managing director of Copperstate Farms, which operates what is believed to be the largest medical marijuana cultivation facility in the state. And those already involved in medical marijuana are going to get first crack at the expanded recreational system if voters approve.

The pamphlet actually contains two arguments by Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, one in favor and one against.

Humble told Capitol Media Services his organization sees the issue through a pair of lenses.

On one hand, he said, there are members of his organization who support the idea of “criminal justice reform,” getting rid of state laws that make it a felony to have any amount of marijuana at all.

Will Humble
Will Humble

“But, on the other hand, there is good evidence that these retail marijuana laws increase access to people under 21,” Humble said. “It’s harmful to adolescents.”

He said voters will get to read both perspectives.

“I’m probably going to vote for it,” Humble said, saying there’s no reason to make felons out of people who have small quantities of marijuana. “Even if they don’t do time for it … part of it is going through being arrested, paying the fees for the court, suffering through the criminal justice system, paying for all those classes they make you take.”

On the other side are Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall and Sheila Polk, her Yavapai County counterpart. The measure also is opposed by Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, whose organization is financing much of the campaign against the initiative.

The proposal to increase income taxes on the state’s top earners, Proposition 210, also drew lots of comments.

Most of the support comes from members of the education community like Joshua Buckley, president of the Mesa Education Association.

“A decade of cuts to education have hit hardest on our state’s most vulnerable population – our children,” he wrote.

And Steve Adams, co-president of the Tempe School Education Association, said the funding is needed to make up for cuts made during the past decade.

“Now is the time for smaller class sizes,” she said. “Now is the time to pay certified teachers a professional salary. Now is the time for all Arizona students to have access to a qualified school nurse, counselor, librarian and support staff who keep them safe and healthy.”

The measure would affect only the top 4% of earners in Arizona, raising the rate only on earnings of more than $250,000 a year for individuals and $500,000 for couples filing jointly. It is billed as raising $940 million a year for K-12 education.

Close-up of child's abacus in classroom.“That’s a whopping amount, especially considering that our economy is recovering from recession and high unemployment,” Ducey wrote. And he said there is no guarantee how much of this actually would wind up in the classroom.

Various business groups also have taken positions against the measure. And state Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, said the measure “will result in a huge drag on the overall economy.”

“If we can’t grow the economy, we can’t invest in schools and raise teacher pay,” he argued.

The health care measure, Proposition 208, pulls some of the same interests together in opposition.

It would require a 20% pay hike for hospital workers, impose new infection-control standards on hospitals, provide protections for insured patients against “surprise” medical bills for out-of-network care, and guarantee that people with pre-existing conditions can get affordable health insurance.

Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, called it part of a “radical agenda” by “out-of-state special interests.” That refers to the fact the measure is being financed by a California chapter of Service Employees International Union.

Glenn Hamer
Glenn Hamer

“Dramatically increasing health care costs at a time when the Arizona economy is struggling with double-digit unemployment rate and record jobless claims will devastate hardworking families and delay the state’s economic recovery,” he said.

But it has support from groups ranging from the Arizona Faith Network and Living United for Change in Arizona to Poder Latinx and the Sky Harbor Lodge 2559 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

The lone item Ducey has not weighed in on is Proposition 209, designed to partly reverse laws on mandatory prison terms imposed in 1978 and modify the 1993 “truth in sentencing” law that requires criminals to serve at least 85% of their term before being released.

It also would end the ability of prosecutors to “stack” multiple charges committed by someone before arrest to allow them to have the person designed a repeat offender.

State lawmakers actually approved that change last year only to have it vetoed by Ducey because of what he said where “unintended consequences that may raise from this legislation.”

Dawn Penich-Thacker and Beth Lewis, co-founders of Save Our Schools Arizona, argued that the state now spends more on incarcerating people than in state aid to colleges and universities.

“By emphasizing rehabilitation, reintegration training and smarter sentencing, the Second Chances Act addresses the other side of the school-to-prison pipeline that holds back too many Arizona families,” they said.

But Polk, the Yavapai County attorney, said voters should not dismantle the sentencing code.

“It will, once again, allow many very serious and repeat offenders to serve only half of their sentence before being released back on our streets and into our communities,” she said. And Polk said the current laws ensure that people are sentenced based on their crimes and not “who you are, where you live, and who your sentencing judge is will determine your sentence.”

Primaries 1-year away, races taking shape

A poll observer stretches outside a polling station on Election Day, early, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
A poll observer stretches outside a polling station on Election Day, early, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

With just less a year to go until the 2022 Arizona primary, most races have started to take shape.  

Legislative and congressional districts could change dramatically after redistricting, and some newcomers and incumbents alike are waiting to see what the new districts look like before they decide whether to jump into a race. Others are taking advantage of a state law that allows them to gather signatures from both their old and new districts. 

Statewide, only Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman and U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly are running for re-election to their current posts, leaving the races for governor, secretary of state, attorney general and treasurer wide open.  

It all adds up to a lengthy and expensive campaign season in a state that finally started its long-anticipated blue shift and an election cycle that historically would favor Republicans.  

That advantage is twofold: first, GOP voters more consistently turn out in non-presidential elections, and Democrats hold the White House and Congress. Typically, the president’s party does worse in midterm elections. 

Pollster Paul Bentz said 2022 is more likely to resemble 2010 than 2018. In 2010, Arizona Republicans had a 12-point turnout advantage, compared to seven points in 2018, when Democrats worked hard to mobilize voters and succeeded in flipping the U.S. House and electing Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Hoffman.  

“I do think Republicans will be more motivated to participate because (Joe) Biden won the election,” he said. “The only caveat to that is all of this election fraud discussion, and all of the behavior changes that we saw because the former president cast doubt on early voting in Arizona. That might impact what should traditionally be a very Republican year.” 

Multiple Republican lawmakers have warned that their voters have said they won’t participate in what they view as a rigged system, and Bentz said Georgia’s Senate runoffs bore out some of those fears. Democrats won both January elections with lower-than-usual Republican turnout after former President Donald Trump spent two months claiming the election system was rigged. 

“It should be a motivation for Republicans to try to wrap this audit up, because the longer the audit drags on, the less time they have to recover from it and restore integrity and Republican belief in the system enough to take advantage of what is traditionally a more Republican-friendly cycle,” Bentz said.  

State races 

The top of the ticket for statewide races pits five Republican candidates against three Democrats, with front-runners already emerging. Former TV anchor Kari Lake is in prime position to take the Republican nomination if she can keep her early grassroots momentum, and her likely opponent at this point is Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who continues to capitalize on her opposition to the Senate’s audit.  

Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake leaves the stage at the “Rally to Protect Our Elections” hosted by Turning Point Action at Arizona Federal Theatre in Phoenix on July 24, 2021. Lake, a former news anchor, is in prime position to take the Republican nomination if she can keep her early grassroots momentum. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/THE STAR NEWS NETWORK
Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake leaves the stage at the “Rally to Protect Our Elections” hosted by Turning Point Action at Arizona Federal Theatre in Phoenix on July 24, 2021. Lake, a former news anchor, is in prime position to take the Republican nomination if she can keep her early grassroots momentum. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/THE STAR NEWS NETWORK

Lake is running against former Congressman Matt Salmon, who lost the gubernatorial race to Janet Napolitano two decades ago; former regent Karrin Taylor Robson; State Treasurer Kimberly Yee, hoping to follow Gov. Doug Ducey’s footsteps to the governorship; and businessman Steve Gaynor, who lost his 2018 bid for secretary of state and could self-fundraise as much as $10 million.  

Hobbs is joined by former Nogales Mayor Marco Lopez and state Rep. Aaron Lieberman, who is expected to resign from his seat before next year to campaign full time.   

Depending on how long it lasts, the audit could determine the fate of secretary of state candidates, which could be a major swing for Democrats in the field. It’s a race between House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding and former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes. Fontes has name recognition, but Bolding has the advantage of not recently losing the county needed to win a statewide election as a Democrat.  

That winner will take on the victor between three lawmakers and an ad executive. Stop the Steal supporters Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, and Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, are locked in a two-person race to scoop up votes from hardcore audit supporters, while Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita of Scottsdale is distancing herself from the crowd that recently booed her off stage and is running on her extensive election integrity track record. Beau Lane is also in the mix, but hasn’t made much noise yet, outside of a video that claims people are spreading lies about the election – the 2016 election.  

The race to become the state’s top prosecutor hasn’t gotten a lot of attention yet, which could signal a problem candidates will face in 2022 – not enough voters care about down ballot races. That’s particularly problematic for Democrats, who historically are worse at turning out – and voting down-ballot – than Republicans.  

Kris Mayes, a former Republican from Prescott, seems like the favorite on the Democratic side against Rep. Diego Rodriguez, but progressives are skeptical, considering her Republican history. Mayes has a history of working across party lines – she was on Democratic Governor Napolitano’s staff before being appointed to the Arizona Corporation Commission. 

In this Dec. 14, 2020, file photo, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs addresses the members of Arizona's Electoral College in Phoenix. Hobbs on Wednesday, June 2, 2021, announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2022 while denouncing the Republican-controlled state Senate's ongoing audit of the 2020 presidential election. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)
In this Dec. 14, 2020, file photo, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs addresses the members of Arizona’s Electoral College in Phoenix. Hobbs on Wednesday, June 2, 2021, announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2022 while denouncing the Republican-controlled state Senate’s ongoing audit of the 2020 presidential election. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)

Meanwhile, the most recognition Rodriguez has received came in a loss to now-Supreme Court Justice Bill Montgomery in the 2016 race for Maricopa County attorney. Robert McWhirter, who finished the 2020 Democratic primary for county attorney in last place, is also running.  

So far, three Republicans are in the race and none have much name ID, though former congressional candidate Tiffany Shedd has campaign experience. Former Supreme Court Justice Andrew Gould was the first to jump in, followed by Shedd and Lacy Cooper, who formerly worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona. 

All three plan to run on the top Republican issue – the border, so it’ll be other issues that will separate them. Perennial losing candidate Rodney Glassman and Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Dawn Grove, who was just named as one of AZ Big Media’s most influential women, also entered the race.  

Yee’s gubernatorial run leaves open the treasurer’s race for the seventh consecutive election. So far on the Republican side, Rep. Regina Cobb of Kingman and Sen. David Livingston of Peoria are in the race and Corporation Commissioner Justin Olson, a former East Valley lawmaker, is expected to jump in any day. Cobb is entering her fourth year as chair of the budget-setting House Appropriations Committee, and Livingston has spent his past several years drafting complex financial legislation.  

No Democrats have yet entered the race, nor has a Democrat been elected treasurer since 1964. Sen. Tony Navarrete is the only Democrat expected to run this year. 

Hoffman is in prime position to remain as superintendent of public instruction. She will face the winner of a crowded field of mostly unknown Republicans plus former state schools superintendent and former attorney general Tom Horne. 

The five-person Corporation Commission, widely considered the state’s fourth branch of government, has two available seats next year and offers a chance for Democrats to seize a narrow majority.  

Olson, who was first appointed to fill former Republican Commissioner Doug Little’s seat in 2017, isn’t expected to run again. Democrat Sandra Kennedy is seeking re-election to her seat. 

Olson’s deputy policy adviser Nick Myers is running on a GOP slate with Mesa City Councilor Kevin Thompson. Ex-commissioner Little and public relations official Kim Owens are also seeking the Republican nomination.  

Kennedy will run on a slate with Tempe City Councilor and environmental activist Lauren Kuby as the Democrats in the race.  


It’s still too early to make any predictions about the balance of the next Legislature until new maps are drawn, Bentz said. And with a one-vote margin in each chamber, all eyes are on the Independent Redistricting Commission.  

Democrats fear the commission, vetted by Ducey appointees, will draw maps that favor Republicans. Republicans, who have spent the past decade insisting the current districts are gerrymandered in Democrats’ favor, say they think they’ll finally have “fair” districts.  

From left, Paul Boyer and Anthony Kern.
From left, Paul Boyer and Anthony Kern.

While many candidates, including roughly half the current Legislature, have filed to run, their districts might change. Republican voters anticipate a high-profile primary matchup between former lawmaker Anthony Kern and Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale. Kern is a Trump elector, short-lived audit volunteer, and outspoken figure in the “Stop the Steal” movement. He was photographed on the U.S. Capitol steps and video recorded in the doorway of the building after his fellow protesters breached multiple barriers and broke into the building on January 6. Boyer is the most vocal GOP critic of the audit and the first Republican legislator to publicly admit Biden won the election. 

But the two could end up in different districts, given that the northwest Valley has experienced substantial growth over the past decade and their districts will likely be geographically smaller. 

In other current swing districts, Democrats may get a leg up in Chandler as Rep. Jeff Weninger hits term limits and the current Legislative District 17 won’t have a Republican incumbent. Democratic consultants roundly criticized last year’s decision to run a so-called single shot campaign in the district, which already had a Democratic representative in Jennifer Pawlik.  

A north Phoenix race could also change depending on whether Lieberman serves his full term or resigns to focus on his gubernatorial campaign. Resigning would give his appointed replacement the advantage of incumbency.  


Several Republicans have announced their intent to take Kelly in Arizona’s fourth Senate election in as many cycles. While Attorney General Mark Brnovich appears to have a slight edge over other Republicans in what little polling is available so far, he may struggle to get the one endorsement that could matter the most in a GOP primary. 

Trump has repeatedly alleged that the 2020 election was stolen from him and has castigated Brnovich and Ducey for not overturning President Biden’s narrow win in Arizona.  

Ducey has said he is not running for Senate, but it hasn’t completely squelched speculation he might jump in. Florida Sen. Rick Scott, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, mused in a podcast interview in July that he might be able to get Ducey to run.  

Gov. Doug Ducey( AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)
Gov. Doug Ducey( AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)

“I think we have a shot with Doug Ducey,” Scott said. “I think there’s a chance he will run. He’s a very popular governor.”  

Also running for the GOP U.S. Senate nomination are Blake Masters, who is backed by billionaire Peter Thiel; former Arizona National Guard Leader Maj. Gen. Michael “Mick” McGuire, and businessman Jim Lamon, who launched his campaign with ads in New Jersey to attract Trump’s attention.  

The balance of power in Arizona’s congressional delegation may come down to where lines are drawn in southern Arizona. Ann Kirkpatrick is the only incumbent so far to announce she won’t run again, and the 2nd Congressional District flipped parties twice over the past decade. 

“I think southern Arizona in that District 2 general area, which has been a swing district in the past, is likely to be the one that most people are paying attention to because those lines will really make a difference on if that one stays Democrat or Republican,” Bentz said.  

  • Nate Brown contributed reporting.  

Pro-voucher lawyers say referendum petition identified non-existent legislative session

Save Our Schools Arizona spokeswoman Dawn Penich-Thacker addresses a crowd of volunteers and reporters after submitting more than 110,000 signatures to refer school voucher legislation to the 2018 ballot. The signatures were enough to put the legislation temporarily on hold on Aug. 8. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Save Our Schools Arizona spokeswoman Dawn Penich-Thacker addresses a crowd of volunteers and reporters after submitting more than 110,000 signatures to refer school voucher legislation to the 2018 ballot. The signatures were enough to put the legislation temporarily on hold on Aug. 8. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Supporters of universal school vouchers filed suit Friday in a bid to keep a referendum on the legislation from ever getting to the ballot.

The lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court contends that some of the people who circulated petitions to force a public vote did not comply with state elections law. That includes whether they registered as paid circulators and whether they were felons who are not permitted to circulate petitions.

If a judge agrees, that could disqualify all the signatures they gathered.

Whether that would be enough to quash the referendum depends on how many valid signatures remain. Backers turned in more than 111,000 on Tuesday; they need 75,321 of these to be found valid to give voters the last word on legislation to allow any student to get a voucher of public funds to attend private or parochial schools.

But voucher supporters already are working on a backup plan that, if successful, would void all the signatures and make the referendum drive disappear.

In a letter Friday to state Elections Director Eric Spencer, attorneys Thomas Basile and Tim La Sota, who represent interests seeking the expansion of the voucher program, contend all petitions are invalid because they said the law they seek to refer to voters was enacted during the “fifty-third session of the legislature.” But, technically speaking, SB1431 was approved during “first regular session of the fifty-third legislature,” with each “legislature” taking up two years.

There will be two regular sessions of the fifty-third legislature – in 2017 and in 2018 – as well as the possibility of one or more special sessions of this legislature.

La Sota, whose clients include the pro-voucher American Federation for Children, said this isn’t a question of whether the people who signed the petition by Save Our Schools were confused by that language. He said the law clearly requires petitions to refer legislation to the ballot to identify in which legislative session it was approved.

“The fifty-third session of the legislature, it doesn’t exist,” he told Capitol Media Services.

“It’s no more than a reality than is a unicorn.” And he added that entitles Spencer, the state Elections Director, to use his authority to invalidate all the petitions based on that error.

Spencer said late Friday he is reviewing that request, but added that, based on his preliminary review, he will not kill the referendum.

He said that does not preclude La Sota from raising the same issue with a trial judge.

The legal maneuvers come amid questions of whether voters support what the lawmakers enacted.

Until now vouchers, formally known as Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, have been limited to students in special circumstances, like having a disability or attending a school rated D or F. About 3,500 students now get vouchers out of approximately 1.1 million children in Arizona public schools.

SB1431 removes all those preconditions, though supporters had to agree to a cap of 30,000 by 2023 to get the votes to pass it, though that is something that can be removed by future lawmakers at any time.

The referendum, if it gets on the ballot, would prevent the law from taking effect until the November 2018 general election. Voters would then decide whether to approve or veto the new law.

Supporters have defended the expansion even though the vouchers would be available to families who already can afford to send their children to private schools. And even Gov. Doug Ducey said this past week he wants the program even if it would mean the use of tax dollars for children to get a religious education.

Whether that would survive public scrutiny remains to be seen.

Foes of expanding the program do have something else going for them.

In general, when voters are confused or unsure, they tend to vote “no” on ballot measures. And a “no” vote on this referendum is a vote to veto what the Legislature approved and Ducey signed.

There was no immediate response from the attorney representing Save Our Schools.

The wording difference in what legislative session resulted in SB1431 could prove crucial if that issue ends up in court.

Arizona judges have said that referendum petitions have to be in “strict compliance” with election laws. That’s because they allow a minority of voters – equivalent to five percent of the turnout in the last gubernatorial election – to hold up something approved by a majority of the Legislature.

By contrast, courts until now have used a “substantial compliance” standard for initiatives, where voters are proposing their own new laws or constitutional amendments. Aside from the fact that these require more signatures, an initiative changes nothing unless and until voters approve.

However, the Legislature earlier this year voted to require courts to also use “strict compliance” for future initiatives. That law took effect this past week, when a judge threw out a legal challenge to the change.

But Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens said she was not ruling on the constitutionality of the new standard. Instead, she said the lawsuit will not be “ripe” for court action until there is an actual initiative being challenged.

Prop 306 foe warns of ‘Trojan horse’ to undermine Clean Elections

A measure Republican lawmakers put on the November ballot could determine how much Arizonans actually know about who is trying to influence political campaigns.

Anyone reviewing all the statements in support of Proposition 306 in the brochure sent to voters would think the measure is aimed at keeping publicly funded candidates from buying services from political parties.

And that’s true.

Rep. Ken Clark
Rep. Ken Clark

But the proposal also contains what Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix, calls a “Trojan horse,” one that supporters say very little about.

If approved, it would allow the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council, which is entirely filled with people the governor appoints, to review – and veto – rules the bipartisan Citizens Clean Elections Commission enacted.

The reason all that is important is that the commission has taken it upon itself to enact – and enforce – rules which require certain groups seeking to influence political campaigns to disclose the sources of their funds, even as Arizona lawmakers have approved and Gov. Doug Ducey has signed legislation to shield the identity of contributors.

Ducey has depended on private donations for all of his campaigns, with much of his support coming from “dark money” groups that refuse to divulge their donors. And he is on record as opposing efforts to ban anonymous funding of political campaigns.

This fight isn’t just an academic exercise.

Last year GRRC ordered the Secretary of State to “depublish” a commission rule which dealt with the reporting of the sources of money spent by groups seeking to influence the outcome of elections. The commission responded by re-enacting the same rules, simply ignoring GRRC.

So the outcome of Proposition 306 could determine not just the future of whether the public gets a look at who is seeking to influence elections.

At the heart of the fight is the decision by voters in 1998 to create a voluntary system of public financing for candidates for statewide and legislative office. Candidates who get sufficient $5 qualifying contributions and agree not to take outside cash are entitled to set sums of money.

It is funded through a surcharge on civil, criminal and traffic fines.

The system has been fought from the beginning by the business community, particularly the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which has been the source of campaign dollars, particularly for Republicans. But while the U.S. Supreme Court voided one provision, the basic structure has been upheld.

What has made the role of the commission more significant is its conclusion that the voter-approved law gives it power not only over publicly funded candidates but also spending by outside groups on behalf of all candidates. That flies directly in the face of the Republican-controlled Legislature which has adopted various measures designed to shield groups set up as “social welfare” organizations from having to divulge the original sources of cash.

Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction, who is listed as the author of the measure, referred questions about the change in rule oversight to Scot Mussi.

Scot Mussi
Scot Mussi

He’s the chairman of the Stop Taxpayer Money for Political Parties, the group set up to convince voters to approve Proposition 306. That same group paid for 33 individuals to put statements into the ballot pamphlet being mailed to the homes of all registered voters detailing why publicly funded candidates should not be able to buy services from political parties.

But Mussi, who did not return repeated calls seeking comment, also is the chairman of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club which actually gave the money to the campaign committee for all those statements.

More to the point, the Free Enterprise Club has been a major source of funding to support candidates it likes – and oppose those it does not like – all without disclosing where the original source of the cash.

In the 2014 election the group reported spending more than $1.7 million to influence election outcomes. That included $150,000 spent in the Republican gubernatorial primary to defeat former Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, clearing the way for Ducey’s nomination.

That same year, the group also spent more than $437,000 in hopes of getting Justin Pierce nominated for secretary of state for the GOP while spending $198,185 against Wil Cardon and $97,505 against Michele Reagan.

During the campaign, Pierce was the only one who said he’s not convinced that Arizona law should bar anonymous spending on political campaigns. He said there are legitimate reasons to allow people to get involved in politics — and write out checks — without their names being made public.

As it turned out, Reagan won the nomination anyway.

But where Mussi and the club got the money remains hidden.

Mussi’s interest in keeping the source of his organization’s finances goes beyond any changes that Prop 306 would make in oversight of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission. He also was one of the plaintiffs who successfully sued earlier this year to block a public vote on a constitutional measure which would have required disclosure of all sources of funding of independent expenditures on political campaigns.


Proposed law takes away elections manual changes from SOS


A veteran state lawmaker is seeking to trim the wings of the secretary of state, at least when it comes to enacting procedures for conducting elections.

SB 1014, proposed by Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, would require that any changes in the formal election manual be approved by the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council. That means there would be formal public hearings.

What it also means, said Ugenti-Rita, is that the council would be able to quash any changes that members believe go outside the legal authority of the secretary of state.

This is more than an academic question.

Michelle Ugenti-Rita
Michelle Ugenti-Rita

Ugenti-Rita is particularly upset that Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has proposed to give people who fail to sign the envelopes on their early ballots an additional five business days − even after Election Day − to come in and make the fix and have their votes counted. The senator said that’s not something that’s allowed by law.

“That has to be something that’s done at the Legislature,” she told Capitol Media Services. “You can’t just arbitrarily put it in the manual.”

Ugenti-Rita also is separately preparing legislation to specifically ban counting any ballot when the voter did not sign it, effectively trumping the change she said Hobbs is illegally proposing.

Murphy Hebert, spokeswoman for Hobbs, said the provision was part of a deal to settle a federal court lawsuit filed against the state last year by the Navajo Nation. Attorneys for the nation argued that tribal members who did not know they were supposed to sign the envelopes or whose signatures did not match were effectively disenfranchised when election officials did not count their ballots.

Ugenti-Rita said that’s irrelevant, saying that Hobbs lacked the authority to agree to such a provision and instead should have sought legislative authority before settling.

But Hebert said her boss was not acting on her own. She said lawyers from the attorney general’s office were involved in the negotiations and advised Hobbs that inserting the provision about unsigned ballots was within the powers of her office.

“We weren’t doing this without having legal advice,” Hebert said. And she added that three different counties also are part of the settlement, “which means three county attorneys reviewed the agreement.”

“Definitely not pulled from thin air,” Hebert said.

Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs

Under current law, changes in the election manual must be approved by both the governor and the attorney general. The changes Hobbs has proposed − including the issue of unsigned ballot envelopes −  remains under review.

Ugenti-Rita said it makes more sense to move it the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council as SB 1014 would do, saying that panel already has purview over changes in rules sought by other state agencies.

“This is rulemaking,” she said. “So if you’re going to do rulemaking you need to make sure … that the rules don’t go outside their authority, that they’re in line with statute.”

Ugenti-Rita said banning the counting of unsigned ballots is hardly a radical concept − or something that should not be a surprise to anyone.

“Just look at the disclosure on the envelope itself,” Ugenti-Rita said, where it spells out that the failure to sign means the ballot won’t be counted.

“The common, longstanding practice is those are not counted,” she said.

But Bo Dul, the state elections director, said the fact that Ugenti-Rita intends to introduce legislation proves the point that Hobbs was within her authority to set out rules on how to handle unsigned ballot envelopes.

“he statutes are silent,” she said.

More to the point, Dul said that election officials in each of the 15 counties were using their own interpretation of the law to decide how to handle these situations. That, she said, resulted in inconsistent policies.

The proposal for the election manual, said Dul, will ensure all voters throughout the state have their ballots treated the same way.

Hebert said there’s a risk to the state if Ugenti-Rita pushes through legislation to ban the counting of unsigned ballots. She said that would mean the state is not complying with the deal to settle the Navajo Nation lawsuit, sending the case back to court.

That does not bother Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez. She told Capitol Media Services it was wrong of Hobbs in the first place to agree to that out-of-court settlement, including the provision on unsigned ballots.

“It’s my position either we argue these litigations in a court of law or we go back to the Legislature and seek legislative approval,” Rodriguez said.

She said that Hobbs, in agreeing to the change, did not take into account how it actually would affect the county recorders who are the ones actually tasked with running elections. And Rodriguez specifically said that requiring counties to keep taking votes after Election Day from those who didn’t sign the envelopes simply is not realistic.

Rodriguez did say, though, that it is a different story if her office were to get a ballot in an unsigned envelope long before Election Day. She said that would allow her staff to contact the voter and inform that person of their options to actually cast a ballot, in time, that would count.

Reagan vs Gaynor: Secretary of state’s GOP race heats up

Michele Reagan at her 2015 inauguration (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting)
Michele Reagan at her 2015 inauguration (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting)

Arizona’s secretary of state contest could be the sleeper race of 2018.

The Republican primary contest has gained little attention, but has developed into one of the state’s more contentious races as millionaire businessman Steve Gaynor challenges Secretary of State Michele Reagan.

The race comes chock full of finger-pointing – Gaynor points to his opponent’s mistakes in her first term and Reagan points to her opponent’s self-funding and relative obscurity.

Gaynor, the owner of a printing plant, has poured $1 million into his bid to be the state’s chief elections officer and first in the line of succession for governor.

Reagan, a former state senator who was first elected secretary of state in 2014, has spent much of the lead-up to the August 28 primary defending missteps from her first term.

State Sen. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, will face the winner.

Steve Gaynor
Steve Gaynor

Gaynor said he was recruited to run for secretary of state because Republicans were worried Reagan couldn’t beat a Democrat in the general election.

But he won’t say who recruited him.

Reagan said she doesn’t know where Gaynor got the idea that she couldn’t win in the general. She said her campaign has internal polling that shows her easily winning against a Democrat.

Before hitting the campaign trail, Gaynor was relatively unknown in state politics. He was more involved on the national level and has donated to numerous federal candidates — mostly Republicans, but also a few Democrats due to their support for Israel.

Gaynor has mostly self-funded his campaign, pouring $1 million of his own money into the race. Fundraising is often time consuming and Gaynor said he didn’t have the name recognition to bring in adequate contributions.

Reagan called it opportunistic and peculiar for Gaynor to spend $1 million of his own money to run for secretary of state.

“That is absolutely insane,” she said.

Gaynor said he expects donors to come out in force should he win the primary election.

Reagan pledged to support Gaynor if he wins the primary,

“I’m a Republican first,” she said.


Polling from Data Orbital last month showed Gaynor leading the race with a 44-22 percent lead over Reagan.

A previous July poll showed Reagan and Gaynor neck-and-neck.

Reagan said she isn’t surprised Gaynor is gaining traction in the polls, citing the hundreds of thousands of dollars his campaign has spent on negative TV ads.

Gaynor’s last campaign finance report, posted in mid-July, shows him paying $222,631 to a political consulting firm that specializes in TV advertising and media buying.

In the ads, Gaynor tries to tie Regan to a series of election-related mistakes. In campaign ads, Gaynor has also touted his support for President Donald Trump, his lifetime membership in the National Rifle Association and his pro-life views — issues that don’t pertain to the Secretary of State’s Office, but could win over Republican voters.

Reagan has struggled to combat Gaynor’s negative attacks. She has adopted an aggressive targeted digital strategy instead of buying TV airtime. Gaynor’s ability to self-fund means he has more campaign cash than his opponent.

“His negative messaging may work,” she said. “And there’s nothing I can do about that.”


On the campaign trail, Gaynor is calling out Reagan for previous elections mistakes.

In 2016, Reagan failed to comply with state law when she failed to mail out 200,000 ballot pamphlets explaining election issues before voters received their early ballots.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich looked into the matter, calling it a “complete fiasco.”

Reagan has owned up to the mistake that occurred ahead of the first statewide race run by her office.

“Am I excusing that? Absolutely not,” she said. “We were held accountable. We have new people and new systems. And we’ve had four elections since then where things went off without a hitch.”

But Gaynor has alleged that Reagan’s office tried to cover up the mistake by not publicizing it as soon as they knew there was an error with the pamphlets.

People make mistakes, but she was not transparent about what went wrong and did not rush to fix the problem, Gaynor said.

“The good news is, from a Republican standpoint, I don’t have the baggage of four years of problems, and frankly, that was one of the primary reasons I got in the race,” Gaynor said.

One of Gaynor’s ads also ties Reagan to the long lines Maricopa County voters had to wait in during the 2016 Presidential Preference Election.

The snafu happened when Maricopa County drastically reduced the number of polling places, which had people waiting in line for hours to vote.

Reagan has tried to distance herself from the incident, saying it is up to county recorders to pick the number of polling places and their locations, and then the recorders get approval from their local board of supervisors.

“There isn’t a whole heck of a lot we could have done,” she said.

But Gaynor has said, as the state’s chief elections officer, Reagan is owed some of the blame.

Consent decree

One of the wonkiest issues of the secretary of state’s race is turning into one of the biggest topics on the campaign trail.

Gaynor criticized Reagan’s decision to settle a lawsuit, clearing a series of hurdles for those seeking to register to vote. He said the consent decree published by Reagan this summer is unconstitutional and allows undocumented immigrants to vote.

Reagan, who stands by the settlement, argues that Gaynor is twisting the consent decree and scaring people in order to drum up support.

At issue in the lawsuit was the required documentation to vote in Arizona, which differs under state and federal law.

State law requires voters to show proof of citizenship to register to vote, but federal law stipulates people must be allowed to register to vote, even if they can’t show proof of citizenship.

Previously, if someone without proof of citizenship filled out the state form to register to vote, their form would be set aside and they wouldn’t be allowed to vote in any elections. They would have to fill out the federal voting form to be able to vote in federal elections.

Now, those who submit either the state or federal form will be registered to vote in federal elections, even without proof of citizenship.

That means, under the consent decree, if you’re an undocumented immigrant and you register to vote with the state form, you can vote in federal elections, which didn’t used to be the case, Gaynor said.

In theory, if the consent decree is allowed to stand, Arizona will have more federal-only voters than before, he said.

“Her actions in this case are outrageous,” Gaynor said.

Reagan, who dismissed claims that the settlement was unconstitutional, said she wouldn’t go back and change a thing because the settlement does the right thing by treating voters equally.

She also called Gaynor’s attacks insulting to others who signed onto the consent decree.

“Is he saying that Mark Brnovich and Bill Montgomery signed something to let illegals vote? It’s absolutely ludicrous,” she said.

See the money

Gaynor has also taken aim at Reagan’s campaign finance-tracking website SeeTheMoney.com, the full launch of which has been delayed.

The website, which was one of Reagan’s campaign promises from 2014, is up and running in beta as a way to track campaign donations and spending in Arizona elections.

Reagan hoped to complete the website in 2016, but now calls that naivety on her part because of the number of statewide elections that year kept her and her staff preoccupied.

Now, Reagan doesn’t have a date for when the final product will launch. Instead, she characterizes the site as something that will continually be updated and said it could take years to integrate campaign finance data from all of Arizona’s counties, cities and towns.

Nonetheless, Reagan heralds the website as the ultimate transparency tool.

Gaynor has criticized Reagan’s SeeTheMoney project as a sign of incompetence and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

“The See the Money website saga, in my opinion, is emblematic of the way the Secretary of State’s Office has been run since January of 2015,” Gaynor said. “Problems, more problems, more problems.”

He would not say whether he will finish the SeeTheMoney website should he be elected secretary of state. Gaynor said he would first evaluate the status of the product before moving forward.

Correction: This story has been corrected to say Steve Gaynor holds pro-life views. A previous version incorrectly stated he held pro-choice views.  

Rep. Finchem bill proposes electronic signatures for ballot measures

Rep. Mark Finchem
Rep. Mark Finchem

A proposal by a Southern Arizona lawmaker could make it easier for groups to propose their own state laws and constitutional amendments.

But Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, said that’s not his goal.

Finchem said the current process of having to verify hundreds of thousands of signatures on initiative petitions within days of their being turned in has effectively broken the system. The result, he said, is creating a nearly impossible hurdle for the county recorders who have to complete that task.

The last-minute crunch also means less time for initiative foes to examine the petitions and try to challenge their validity through litigation.

His solution: Allow initiative organizers to collect signatures online.

The idea is not unique. State lawmakers approved a similar system for candidate petitions years ago.

But prior suggestions to expand that to ballot measures have gone nowhere amid concern by some – largely Republicans – that it is too easy for special interests to bypass the Legislature and take proposals directly to voters.

Finchem does not dispute that allowing online petitions would remove some of the hurdles that initiative organizers now face. That includes the need to hire paid circulators.

But he said anything that eliminates having people in the streets gathering signatures for often-complex measures actually could help screen out some of the proposals. Finchem said would-be signers would have the time to actually read the full measure themselves as opposed to listening to a circulator’s 20-second description, a description he said is unlikely to shed light on all a measure would do.

The proposal, HB 2021, drew praise from Sandy Bahr, lobbyist for the Arizona chapter of the Sierra Club.

More significant, Bahr and her organization have been involved in putting multiple measures on the ballot when they said lawmakers did not act, ranging from a ban on leg-hold traps on public lands to an optional system of public financing for statewide and legislative candidates.

She said the measure would end the “double standard” where lawmakers decided it’s perfectly OK to gather nominating signatures for themselves electronically but have so far made it off-limits to initiative drives.

Bahr said the change also could result in fewer legal challenges to ballot measures like the kind that kept voters this from considering a ban on “dark money” anonymous campaign spending. It got knocked off the ballot in part because foes subpoenaed petition circulators; when they did not show up in court, all the signatures they gathered were disqualified.

No circulators means no such challenges to signatures.

The change, if approved, comes as the hurdle to get measures on the ballot, determined by the number of people who voted in the last gubernatorial election, just increased sharply. It now takes 237,645 valid signatures to propose a change in state law; a constitutional measure needs 356,467.

Finchem said he’s no fan of ballot measures.

He derided the recently approved Proposition 126 as creating “policy at the ballot box.”

Finchem said few people actually read the text of the measure to permanently ban taxes on services, relying instead on explanations offered by petition circulators who he said never explained that eliminating such a levy probably also eliminated any chance of ever getting rid of the state income tax. And Finchem said he saw it himself when he was approached to sign that initiative petition.

“They would give me this description that I knew was just patently incorrect,” he said.

All that, he said, could be minimized with an online signature-gathering process where both the legally required 100-word description and the full text are available for voters to peruse at their leisure.

This all relies on ServiceArizona, an online web site operated by the state Department of Transportation. While that is mostly known as a place to renew vehicle registrations, submit change of address and get replacement driver licenses, it also is linked to the Secretary of State’s Office. That means people can register to vote or change their party registration on the site.

It is that electronic link between the two agencies that now allows people to “sign” online candidate petitions at the Secretary of State’s web site, with their identity and voter registration automatically verified electronically. HB 2021 would simply extend that to ballot measures.

Finchem said this change also would lead to real-time reports of how many verified signatures have been submitted, important information for both initiative supporters and foes as they approach the early July deadline in even-numbered years.

Bahr pointed out that the legislation also would affect referendum drives, where voters seek to repeal something that lawmakers adopted. That’s precisely what happened this year with Proposition 305, which overrode the 2017 decision by the Legislature to expand who could get vouchers of tax dollars to attend private and parochial schools.

She said an online process would be particularly helpful in those situations, as the necessary signatures — 118,823 for future years — have to be gathered within 90 days of the end of the legislative session. And that, Bahr noted, often is in the summer when the Arizona heat makes personal signature-gathering more difficult.

Finchem is under no illusion that an online process would eliminate paper petitions or even paid circulators. And nothing in his measure mandates online signatures.

But Finchem said any signatures gathered – and verified – electronically means county recorders will have fewer signatures on paper to have to review and verify.

Senate passes new restrictions on initiative circulators

(Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)
(Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Republican senators voted Wednesday to impose new requirements on initiative circulators in a way one Democrat said is designed to make it easier for special interests to quash future ballot measures.

Existing laws require certain people who circulate petitions to register with the Secretary of State. That includes anyone who is not an Arizona resident and all paid circulators, regardless of where they are from.

SB 1451 would mandate that these people provide a telephone number and email address. It also says that when petitions are filed with the Secretary of State that they must be grouped by circulator.

But the real key is that failure to do any of this means that any petitions collected by a circulator are not counted, regardless of whether the signatures are valid. Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, said that amounts to “disenfranchisement.”

“In all the committee hearings, no one has attempted to argue that the signatures that would be tossed out as a result of this bill aren’t 100 percent valid,” he argued during floor debate.”

“Nobody testified that the voters who signed the initiative petitions did not intend for the valid signatures to help put that proposal on the ballot and give all Arizonans an opportunity to vote for it,” Quezada continued. “This is clearly and blatantly and expressly an effort to increase the ability of special interest groups to litigate these initiative measures on purely technical deficiencies.”

The measure is being pushed by Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, who did not defend it during Wednesday’s vote.

But this isn’t the first bid by Leach, backed by business interests that tend to oppose voter-crafted ballot measures, to impose new regulations.

Two years ago he pushed through a measure banning the practice of paying circulators based on the number of signatures they collect. And this year he is sponsoring a measure to require that circulators get signatures in all 30 legislative districts.

GOP lawmakers have added other requirements, including one that overruled a state Supreme Court decision that initiative petitions need be only in “substantial compliance” with the laws, a standard that allows for technical flaws. Now the law spells out that courts can void petition drives if there is not “strict compliance” with all laws.

Leach also was a plaintiff in a lawsuit financed by Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the parent of Arizona Public Service, that sought to keep a measure off the ballot last year that would have increased the amount of electricity that utilities have to produce from renewable sources. That lawsuit failed, though voters eventually rejected the initiative.

Quezada specifically mentioned that lawsuit Wednesday, saying that the court hearing the case had five days of arguments, admitted 5,500 exhibits and subpoenaed 1,180 witnesses – only to have the challenge fail.

What all that suggests, he said, is this new bill “is clearly a demonstration of a search for purely technical reasons to disqualify circulators.”

This measure has the backing of the state and several local chambers of commerce who have been unable to stop voters from approving measures they do not like. Most recently that included boosting the state minimum wage from $8.05 an hour in 2016 to $11 now, going to $12 next year.

Wednesday’s 17-13 party-line vote sends the measure to the House.


Senate votes to keep secretary of state from overseeing elections they’re in

elections, Ducey, Hobbs, Lake, Finchem, Mayes, Hamadeh, ballots, hand counts, election deniers
(Photo by Pexels)

The Republican-controlled Arizona Senate voted Tuesday to require that the state’s top election official not participate in overseeing elections in which he or she is on the ballot – leaving the proposal one vote away in the House from heading to Democratic governor and former secretary of state Katie Hobbs’ desk.

The proposal by Rep. Rachel Jones, R-Tucson, has its roots in unfounded complaints by some losing Republican candidates in the 2022 election that Hobbs put her thumb on the scale for Democratic candidates while serving as secretary of state. Those who accused Hobbs of having a conflict of interest include losing governor’s candidate Kari Lake and Mark Finchem, who lost his bid to replace Hobbs as Arizona’s top election official to Democrat Adrian Fontes.

All Democrats in the Senate voted against the measure on Tuesday, as did all House Democrats when House Bill 2308 passed out of that chamber in February, saying the proposal was prompted by baseless conspiracy theories.

Republican supporters, however, said it was needed to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest by the secretary of state.

But secretaries of state have had the same election duties for decades. And the issue only arose after a Democrat held the office.

Bennett, elections, residency
Ken Bennett (Bill Clark/Pool via AP)

An amendment tacked on before debate on Monday by Sen. Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, watered down the House-passed bill slightly.

It now would allow secretaries to continue performing their constitutional duty to certify election results. But it still would require that they not participate in certifying election machines and other responsibilities of the office.

“One of the most important things we do as elected officials is avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest,” Bennett said Tuesday. “And we have rules that require us to admit conflicts of interest when they do exist.”

Bennett is himself a former secretary of state who engaged in partisan politics while in office.

He never faced conflict concerns or complaints while performing his election oversight duties in a race where his own name was on the ballot. But he did draw some scrutiny in 2012 when, after agreeing not to endorse political candidates, he agreed to co-chair the presidential bid of Republican Mitt Romney.

Bennett noted that his amendment means any secretary can still preside over the required election results canvass, the formal counting of votes.

“It simply says that the other aspects of the election, which the Secretary of State’s office performs, should be performed by other people in the office, not personally by the secretary whose name is on the ballot,” Bennett said.

The Senate amendment means the House will have to vote on the bill again before it heads to Hobbs for a signature – or a veto.

Democrats said the measure was another example of GOP lawmakers embracing conspiracy theories rather than pushing back against unfounded allegations that undermine public trust in the state’s elections.
The secretary does write the rules that counties use to run elections, though that is something that requires the consent of the attorney general and governor. The secretary also certifies and runs accuracy tests on election equipment.

Mendez, Kaiser, zoning, bill, Senate
Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe

But it is each of the state’s 15 counties that do the bulk of the election administration in Arizona.

“If we were really concerned with faith in our elections, we would take up our responsibility to explain how elections really work, instead of entertaining conspiracy theories that this proposal is built on,” said Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe.

Sen. Priya Sundareshan, D-Tucson, said removing the secretary’s ability to do the job they are elected to do because his or her name is on the ballot that election “begs the question of what their job is.”

“But more fundamentally, this bill is stemming from conspiracy theories,” Sundareshan said. “These theories are unfounded, there (has) been no evidence to support the necessity for this bill. And more to the point, there are plenty of statewide elected officers who also have played roles in the elections that are not contained here.”

Finchem leveled multiple accusations against Hobbs in a lawsuit he filed after he lost to Fontes by more than 120,000 votes in November’s election.

Among his allegations was that Hobbs should have stepped away entirely from her duties as secretary of state.

He cited her actions in 2021 to have Twitter flag some of his tweets as misinformation. That, Finchem said, led to the suspension of his Twitter account and unfairly influenced the election.

He also alleged that Hobbs failed to ensure the proper federal official signed a certificate that qualified a laboratory that certifies election equipment.

The suit was dismissed in December. And Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Melissa Julian last month sanctioned Finchem for filing the suit, saying it “was groundless and not brought in good faith.”

Finchem has since filed an appeal.

On Tuesday, Mendez pointed out that the proposal from Jones and the arguments for HB 2308 were very similar to those raised in Finchem’s lawsuit – the ones that the judge said were not brought in good faith.

“By extension (that) would mean that this proposal is groundless and not brought in front of us with good faith,” Mendez said.

But Senate Majority Leader Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, said he agreed with Bennett about the appearance of a conflict.

“This removes the conflict of interest and the theory of a conspiracy,” Borrelli said.

Senators advance ballot question to adopt Arizona lieutenant governor

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

Arizona senators approved a bill to give the state’s voters a chance to shake up the line of succession for the governor’s office.

The ballot referral, which advanced on a bipartisan 23-7 vote, calls for gubernatorial candidates to choose a lieutenant governor to serve as their backup. If approved by the House of Representatives, the question would appear on 2020 ballot, allowing voters a final say on the proposed amendment to the Arizona Constitution.

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler secured the support of most Republicans and some colleagues across the aisle even though a Democrat, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, is the first in line to succeed if Gov. Doug Ducey, for any reason, leaves office in the next four years.

The amendment ensures the next-in-line to the governor is from the same political party as the governor that voters elected.

Mesnard’s proposed constitutional amendment wouldn’t take effect until 2027, ensuring that Hobbs will remain first in line for the governor’s office for at least her first term as secretary of state, and if re-elected in 2022, for her second term, too.

This means starting with the 2026 election, candidates for governor must pick a running mate no later than 60 days before the election starting.

Mesnard abandoned a companion bill that would have spelled out the duties of a lieutenant governor in state law. His proposal called for the second-in-command to also serve as the director of the Department of Administration, a role currently appointed by elected governors.

While supportive in concept of a lieutenant governor, not everyone backs Mesnard’s vision for the office.

“That seemed to be the hangup, for whatever reason,” he said. “I didn’t want it to be a partisan issue, and agreed to pull it.”

If voters approve the constitutional amendment in 2020, there’d still be plenty of time to sort out the role of the lieutenant governor before the 2026 election.

The amendment mimics the presidential election, in which the candidate advanced by each political party chooses a running mate to appear on the ballot. Mesnard said he hopes the proposal is simple enough to garner support from Arizona voters, who twice have rejected different ballot measures to create a lieutenant governor – first in 1994 by a 2-1 margin, then again in 2010 by roughly 59 percent of voters.

“If this fails, I think we are done with the lieutenant governor in this state for a long time,” Mesnard said. “This is as basic as it gets, and as easy to understand as it gets.”

Starbucks drinks now served at Capitol coffee shop

The Capitol coffee shop is now serving Starbucks drinks and may soon have televisions showing legislative hearings. (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)
The Capitol coffee shop is now serving Starbucks drinks and may soon have televisions showing legislative hearings. (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

Starbucks lovers, rejoice!

The coffee shop in Arizona’s Old Capitol is now serving Starbucks drinks and may soon have televisions showing legislative hearings.

The shop, located across from the Capitol Museum on the first floor of the Old Capitol building, is operated by Darrin Warrilow through the state’s Business Enterprise Program, which gives people who are legally blind contracts to run food service and concessions for the state.

The coffee shop opened its door – it literally has just one door – in early 2017. It was previously serving drinks from Kahala Coffee Traders.

Secretary of State Michele Reagan, whose office oversees the Old Capitol, said she wants to add two TVs to allow people visiting or working at the Capitol to watch House and Senate hearings.

She said she’s not sure when the TVs will be up and running.

“I want to get them up on the wall before anybody has an opinion on what I can or can’t do,” Reagan said. The process of opening the cafe took more time than expected and involved four different government agencies.

While the cafe now offers Starbucks drinks, Reagan said it’s not an official Starbucks corporate location. People can’t use Starbucks gift cards there, the Arizona Capitol Times confirmed this morning.

Since the shop opened last year, Reagan said it has helped increase traffic at the museum and the museum’s store, which recently turned a profit for the first time.

State claims Election Day deadline not illegal

Maricopa County elections official Deborah Atkins hangs "vote" signs outside a polling station prior to it's opening, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Maricopa County elections official Deborah Atkins hangs “vote” signs outside a polling station prior to it’s opening, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs is asking a federal judge to declare there’s nothing unconstitutional about requiring people to get their early ballots to county offices by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

In legal briefs filed Monday on her behalf by Assistant Attorney General Kara Karlson, Hobbs said the two groups that sued, Voto Latino and Priorities USA, have no legal standing to challenge the law. She said they haven’t provided any evidence that a member of their organizations – or, for that matter, anyone at all – has been harmed by the failure to count their vote because the mail wasn’t delivered until after the deadline.

Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs

And Hobbs, through her attorney, claimed that Arizona provides more opportunities for voting than many other states. That includes the ability to cast an early ballot without having to provide any excuse at all.

More to the point, she said that people have 27 days to get that early ballot back to county officials. And if they can’t get them in the mail on time, Hobbs said, they can always drop them off at polling places before or on Election Day.

Hobbs also dismissed the idea that somehow voters are confused.

“The fact that all ballot must be received by election officials by Election Day is no secret,” the filings said. “State law requires that every ballot issued include printed instruction notifying voters that ballots must be delivered to the officer in charge of elections by 7 p.m. on Election Day,” information Hobbs said is provided in multiple languages as required by federal law.

The lawsuit filed in November contends the state has “no legitimate interest” in enforcing the deadline, particularly when the state is promoting that people cast their ballot by mail. Attorney Sarah Gonski wants U.S. District Court Judge Dominic Lanza to require counting of ballots postmarked by the 7 p.m. deadline and received within five business days afterwards.

Gonski cited the 2016 presidential preference primary where more than 72,000 Republicans cast a ballot saying they wanted Marco Rubio to be the GOP nominee.

Sarah Gonski
Sarah Gonski

Only thing was, he quit the race days before. Gonski said it was that requirement to have ballots in by that 7 p.m. Election Day deadline that caused so many people to “waste their vote on a ghost candidate.”

Hobbs was unimpressed.

“If voters want to wait until Election Day to see what happens until the campaign ends, they can do so,” she said.

“But Arizona law gives them the option of voting earlier if they choose to do so,” Hobbs continued. “That choice, however, is not a burden on the voters.”

Nor was Hobbs swayed by the fact that mail delivery can be “unpredictable, particularly in rural areas where home delivery is not common and mail is often re-routed through central processing facilities in far-flung cities.”

“Again, voters have choices, and they can weigh factors such as the unpredictability of mail delivery when deciding how and when to cast their ballot,” Hobbs said. “For any mailed ballot, there needs to be a deadline for receipt, and somebody may miss it, just as someone may arrive to the polls too late on Election Day to cast a ballot.”

Hobbs, in her filing on Monday, does not respond to specific complaints by Gonski that the personal drop-off option can be “more time-consuming and burdensome” for rural voters who often live many miles from a drop-off location, and Hispanic and Latino voters who she said have difficulty obtaining transportation or leaving work during the hours when county recorders’ offices are open. That opens the door for Gonski to claim a violation of the Voting Rights Act which generally prohibits states from enacting laws that impair the rights of minorities to vote.

Gonski also told the judge the problem is complicated by a 2016 law that now makes it a crime for volunteers and others to help collect early ballots.

A federal appeals court last month voided that law with the majority concluding that the Republican-controlled Legislature enacted that restriction with the goal of suppressing minority votes.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich is seeking U.S. Supreme Court review — but without Hobbs who said that she agrees with the court’s ruling.

Steve Gaynor defeats incumbent Michele Reagan for Secretary of State nomination

Steve Gaynor
Steve Gaynor

Political newcomer and wealthy businessman Steve Gaynor defeated incumbent Michele Reagan in the secretary of state’s race Tuesday.

Gaynor’s win showed Reagan, Arizona’s sitting secretary of state, struggled to distance herself from a series of elections-related blunders that occurred during her first term.

A relative unknown on the state’s political scene, Gaynor poured $1.5 million of his own money into the race, using that to blanket the airwaves with negative commercials tying Reagan to a slew of elections mistakes that occurred in the past four years.

After his win Tuesday, Gaynor tweeted a thank you to his friends and supporters. “You have entrusted me with the task of fixing the #AZSOS office and I will not let you down,” he tweeted. “On to November 6th!”

Reagan called Gaynor to concede the race, said Reagan consultant Kyle Moyer.

“She wishes Gaynor well,” he said.

Despite the negativity that came out ahead of the primary election, Reagan has vowed to support Gaynor in the general election.

But the evening’s results didn’t weigh on Reagan as she was in good spirits even after the race was called for Gaynor, Moyer said.

“She’s really looking forward to going back into the private sector and to the next stage of her life,” he said.

Reagan was on defense in the lead up to the primary, but doing so with significantly less cash than her self-funded opponent.

Gaynor repeatedly criticized Reagan for her 2016 failure to send out 200,000 ballot pamphlets before voters received their early ballots. Reagan owned up to the error, but the snafu came up time and again as Reagan was locked in a heated primary challenge.

One of Gaynor’s ads also tied Reagan to the long lines Maricopa County voters had to wait in during the 2016 Presidential Preference Election. Reagan tried to distance herself from the incident because choices about polling places are up to county recorders, but Gaynor said Reagan deserved some of the blame as the state’s chief elections officer.

Gaynor, who owns a printing plant, said he was recruited to run by Republicans who felt Reagan was a weak candidate who would lose to a Democrat in the fall. Now that he seems to have secured the Party’s nomination, Gaynor thinks Republican donors will come out in force to support his campaign.

On the campaign trail, Gaynor fashioned himself as an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump and touted his National Rifle Association membership and his pro-life views — issues that don’t pertain to the Secretary of State’s office.

Gaynor will face state Sen. Katie Hobbs in the general election. The winner will become secretary of state and second-in-command to the governor.

Secretary of State

By The Numbers

Votes cast: 486,506


Michele Reagan: 33 percent

Steve Gaynor: 67 percent

Taking politics from SOS to protect the ‘sacred right’ to vote


First and foremost, to the people of Arizona, thank you. I’m grateful for the confidence you’ve placed in me to do this job which, I believe, is at the core of our democracy: protecting the right to vote and ensuring every eligible voter – whether Republican, Democrat, independent, Green or Libertarian – can cast a ballot with confidence that your vote counts and your voice matters.

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

Throughout my career, as a social worker and in the Legislature, my singular focus has been to make government work better for all of us. Whether it was collaborating with Governor Jan Brewer to pass Medicaid expansion, providing health care to thousands of Arizonans, or with Governor Ducey to clear the backlog of untested rape kits, I have placed problem-solving above politics. I will bring that same pragmatic, results-oriented approach to the office of Secretary of State.

When my campaign began 18-months ago, we started with a significant list of issues we knew needed to be addressed. We made this campaign about the elections themselves and listened as you, the voters, told us precisely what you expect.

You want to remove politics from the office and from the way we manage our elections. I pledge not to endorse candidates or ballot measures.

You want us to rebuild relationships with all 15 county recorders and fully support them so they, in turn, can effectively manage elections in their areas. A key step toward achieving this goal and among my highest priorities is working collaboratively with them to update the Elections Procedures Manual.

You want us to make it easier, not harder, for eligible voters to vote. To that end, I will work with members of the Legislature, identify the most promising ideas and work to pass the laws necessary to implement them. I will also oppose efforts by those attempting to place additional restrictions on your right and opportunity to vote.

You want to make sure that your personal information and our election machines are safe from hacking. Cybersecurity is a 24/7/365 challenge. I will create a cybersecurity task force to ensure we are taking every step to protect your information and keep our democracy safe.

Throughout the campaign, I spoke about making elections secure, fair and efficient. Indeed, that is my pledge to every Arizonan: to restore trust to the office and, for the sake of our state and our country, increase citizen participation at every level of government. In return for your trust, I expect you to hold me accountable at every step.

The next several weeks will see a whirlwind of activities as I assess the current operation, make critical hires and create a framework to support your expectations and mine. Nothing about this will be easy, but all of it is essential. Voting is a sacred right. I am proud to protect that right; proud to serve; and proud to have the opportunity to continue to make government work for the benefit of all Arizonans.

— Katie Hobbs is secretary of state-elect.


The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

The Breakdown: #48


police cop ticket traffic 620Arizona is on its way to joining 47 other states that have banned texting while driving.

It wasn’t easy, yet the Legislature also took the opportunity to go a step further.

And Arizona has a new statewide elections director. We’ll introduce you to Bo Dul and the incredible story of how she came to be a crucial part of our state’s democracy.

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


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

The Breakdown: Free at last?


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)

Election Month continues here in Arizona with ballots yet to be counted nearly two weeks since polls closed.

At least we have some answers. The U.S. Senate race was decided in Democrat Kyrsten Sinema’s favor last week, but not everyone was so lucky.

As the week came to a close, the secretary of state candidates were still anxiously hitting that refresh button as the race remained too close to call.

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


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

The Breakdown: Not backing down


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

Republicans still hold the majority at the Legislature and significant posts at the state level, and they’re not afraid to exercise that power.

Arizona has elected its first Democratic secretary of state in 20 years, but just because the voters have expressed faith in Katie Hobbs doesn’t mean the GOP will give her an easy time in office.

If you though their attacks against Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes were tough, just you wait.

And Republicans are flexing at the state Legislature. Though they now hold a slim two-member majority, three critical committees will be split by much more favorable margins.

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

The Breakdown: The end is near


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. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Last Tuesday was supposed to conclude this election season, but in true Arizona fashion, the counting continues.

Where do some of the tightest races stand, and when will we really know who was victorious.

It’s already shaping up to be another long week, as we wait to see if the Blue Wave really hit Arizona and what that would even mean in a state where the Republican Party still clearly reigns supreme.

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


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

Verdict weakens Hobbs – opens door for challengers?

Marco Lopez

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Marco Lopez is trying to seize an opportunity opened up by Katie Hobbs’ missteps in responding to a multimillion-dollar discrimination verdict.  

The November 10 verdict found that Talonya Adams, a Black Democratic Senate aide, suffered discrimination and then retaliation when she complained about unequal pay at the Senate, where Hobbs was then the Democratic leader. The case dragged out over years and now it’s raising fresh questions about the race for the Democratic nomination for governor. 

“It’s only taken (Katie Hobbs) six years, two jury verdicts and four weeks of chaos to get to a point where she makes a scripted video, so that’s not acceptable,” Lopez said December 9.  

Lopez is a former mayor of Nogales and was a policy adviser to then-Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano. 

Ian Danley, a Democratic consultant and the manager of David Garcia’s gubernatorial campaign in 2018, said the case has made the situation look more uncertain in the primary.  

“If you had asked me before all that, I thought she was going to probably skate to (the Democratic nomination). I think it’s a little more up in the air now.” 

Nine months ago, Lopez was the first candidate to jump into the Arizona governor’s race, making a splash with a slick YouTube video and interviews with local journalists. But despite being first to enter, Lopez quickly found himself at a disadvantage in the Democratic primary. As the spring and summer wore on, Hobbs’ star rose as she made appearances on national TV in her role as secretary of state, challenging various claims about Arizona’s 2020 election and the subsequent Senate audit of votes in Maricopa County. 

Her high profile as secretary of state, along with years in public office, made Hobbs the primary frontrunner. Lopez and fellow Democrat Aaron Lieberman, a former state repreentative, seemed destined to be distant runners-up: a poll conducted early last month by OH Predictive Insight placed both well behind Hobbs. 

But the jury verdict in Adams’ case, which found she was paid less than white male peers, became a flashpoint for the campaign. Hobbs, by her own admission, bungled the response and made matters worse. 

A group of influential Black leaders put out a letter urging people to withdraw support for the Hobbs campaign. On December 8, nearly a month after the verdict, she was still in damage control mode, “unequivocally” apologizing to Adams in a three-minute Twitter video. 

“There are moments… that change the trajectory of how people view you,” Lopez said. “This is one of those moments of how people are now starting to pay more attention, and that’s good, and I welcome that.” 

For Lopez, the question is whether voters second-guessing their support for Hobbs will turn to him, and whether there are enough of them. 

Paul Bentz, a pollster at the GOP firm Highground, cautioned that it’s no guarantee.  

“When something like this happens, you can certainly see a reduction in support for a given candidate, but you can’t assume that that support will go elsewhere.” 

The Lopez campaign sought to capitalize on the news after the verdict came out. “This raises serious questions that Secretary of State Hobbs must answer,” his campaign said in an emailed statement on November 11. “As governor, I will not tolerate this type or any kind of discriminatory behavior in my administration.”  

Then, last week, he released the first part of his platform: a document outlining his approach to diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Lopez, who’s the only Latino in the race said his message to Hobbs voters abandoning ship is he has “the proper leadership experience, the proper vision for how we’re going to grow Arizona in an inclusive way.” 

But if the Adams case was a turning point that will drive support to Lopez, it hasn’t all happened overnight. 

Bill Scheel, a Democratic consultant, said he thinks Hobbs is still operating with a sizable lead, both in terms of voter support and campaign cash. And, he said, “If Lieberman or Lopez is going to make a serious challenge at this point, they’ve got to start separating themselves and making it clear that they are the alternative to Hobbs. I don’t think either one of them has done that so far.” 

Adams herself called on Hobbs to drop out of the race in a news conference on December 9 and praised Lopez and Lieberman, but she also suggested that other candidates might join the race. She mentioned Kris Mayes, a Democrat who’s currently running for Attorney General. 

Danley, the Democratic consultant, said it’s not too late for a fourth candidate to get into the primary race. “I think that there’s definitely an opportunity for somebody to jump in and do very, very well,” he said.  

Rumors have swirled lately about Greg Stanton, a U.S. congressman and former mayor of Phoenix, or Tempe Mayor Corey Woods jumping into the race. 

An objective indication of support won’t come until next month, when candidates disclose fundraising numbers. Lopez said he’s confident the numbers that come out in January will look good – he said he expects to need $5 million for a primary election campaign and $20 million for the general.  

For Bentz, the Highground pollster, the fundraising haul will be an indicator of where things stand in terms of campaign viability and voter sentiment. “I certainly think they (the fundraising numbers) will be important to understand how much gas is in the tank – and fundraising is an indicator of support.” 

Voucher expansion referendum makes ballot

A Save Our Schools Arizona volunteer hands off a box of signatures to another helper. The anti-school voucher expansion group delivered 111,540 signatures to the Arizona Secretary of State's Office on Aug. 8. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
A Save Our Schools Arizona volunteer hands off a box of signatures to another helper. The anti-school voucher expansion group delivered 111,540 signatures to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office on Aug. 8. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

With validation results in from Maricopa County, “it’s a mathematical guarantee” that the referendum on school voucher expansion in Arizona will make it to the 2018 ballot, Secretary of State Michele Reagan said in a tweet Tuesday.

The Maricopa County Recorder’s Office has validated 86.6 percent of a sample of signatures collected by Save Our Schools Arizona, putting the school voucher referendum on track to reach the 2018 ballot.

The majority of the roughly 108,000 signatures deemed valid by the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office were gathered in Maricopa County, and now, SOS Arizona’s statewide validation average sits at about 87 percent overall.

That gives SOS Arizona a comfortable margin of error; with an 86 percent validation rate, the referendum would have nearly 93,000 valid signatures, about 18,000 more than it needs to make it to the ballot.

Elections Director Eric Spencer reiterated what Reagan announced via social media, adding that barring the pending legal challenges SOS Arizona still faces, the outlook for the referendum is “sunny.” He anticipated a notice of certification would be sent to the governor’s office on Sept. 11, the deadline for the remaining three counties to report results.

But if those counties were to report tomorrow, Spencer said, the Secretary of State’s Office is ready to certify what will be billed as Proposition 305 on the 2018 general election ballot.

Results from Cochise, Yavapai and Yuma counties are still pending.

Save Our Schools Arizona spokeswoman Dawn Penich-Thacker addresses a crowd of volunteers and reporters after submitting more than 110,000 signatures to refer school voucher legislation to the 2018 ballot. The signatures were enough to put the legislation temporarily on hold on Aug. 8. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Save Our Schools Arizona spokeswoman Dawn Penich-Thacker addresses a crowd of volunteers and reporters after submitting more than 110,000 signatures to refer school voucher legislation to the 2018 ballot. The signatures were enough to put the legislation temporarily on hold on Aug. 8. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

“We feel like this validates – pun intended – everything that we’ve been saying all along,” said SOS Arizona spokeswoman Dawn Penich-Thacker.

“You don’t get rates like that by cutting corners or trying to cheat the rules, and this speaks loudly to the fact that we played by the rules, we did it right, we took incredible care to ensure every voter who signed would be heard,” she said, referring to allegations made in a lawsuit against the referendum. “At this point, the voucher proponents are opposing the voters of Arizona.”

On Friday, the first of two suits filed against SOS Arizona was dropped. That complaint focused on issues regarding paid circulators, including allegations that they had not registered with the Secretary of State’s Office and whether felons, who are not permitted to circulate petitions, were among them.

Attorney Timothy La Sota, who filed the legal challenges along with Kory Langhofer, declined to comment on why that matter was dropped.

As for SOS Arizona’s rate of success so far in the validation process, he was not discouraged.

“[The counties] only look at 5 percent of the signatures, so even if we were to identify an issue that we think invalidates a petition sheet, there’s really only about a one in 20 chance the same one would be detected by the county,” he said.

In a second lawsuit filed on Aug. 24, La Sota and Langhofer claimed thousands of signatures should be disqualified for various hand-writing inconsistencies and deficiencies.

More importantly, La Sota and Langhofer have accused SOS Arizona of not being in strict compliance with the law by stating on its petitions that the legislation expanding school vouchers, Senate Bill 1431, was passed during the nonexistent “53rd session” of the Legislature.

Technically, SB1431 was approved during the first regular session of the 53rd Legislature. Mistakenly referring to the session constitutes a violation under strict compliance, according to the suit, and so, the error should render all petitions invalid.

La Sota also pointed out that four petition sheets have been targeted for disqualification because boxes marked “paid circulator” and “volunteer” were not appropriately marked before being submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office. On Tuesday, La Sota reiterated his belief that this indicates a pattern of fraud.

Wrap up with Katie Hobbs

Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs (D-Phoenix) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs (D-Phoenix) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

In her last year as a senator, Minority Leader Katie Hobbs experienced the usual highs and lows of session. The Phoenix Democrat now leaves office to run for secretary of state, but will remember 2018 as the year Gov. Doug Ducey worked with the minority party in what Hobbs described as a truly bipartisan way, but then failed to follow that blueprint on other major issues addressed by the Legislature.

Cap Times Q&AThe governor really threw a grenade in the budget at the last minute with that plan for teacher pay hikes. What was that like from your perspective?

I wanted to greet that announcement with cautious optimism. I think that the governor truly does care about this issue. But it’s not just about throwing more money at education without listening to what the experts in the classroom are saying that they need. And what was frustrating about the whole thing was, he was never willing to sit down and talk with them or negotiate with them. You know, usually in my experience, if somebody comes forward with demands, that’s an invitation to negotiate. And what he did was go for the easy thing, and easy re-election hashtag… and so it’s just frustrating because this is how he governs. He doesn’t listen to people. He just makes a decision and then he’s all in, no matter what you say. I don’t think that’s a good way to govern. It’s not compromising, it’s not negotiating.

You’re saying he didn’t listen to the right people?

He listened to the people he trusts and listens to. But when you meet with hand-selected teachers or hand-selected superintendents that are going to repeat the message you want them to, I don’t think that’s what needs to happen.

Unlike the House, some Senate Democrats voted for the governor’s K-12 budget plan. Can you describe that dynamic?

I think people voted the way they felt they needed to vote to represent their districts. And I don’t fault anyone for voting how they voted. And I think for the folks that were watching, for them, it wasn’t how people voted. It was what they saw and heard them do and say on the floor. And they could tell who was standing up for them and who wasn’t. And I think at the end of the day, there’s more money in K-12 and that’s not a bad thing. I think we have to be more thoughtful about how we’re going about doing that, and we need to include more voices at the table to really solve this education funding crisis.

It was clear on budget night that teachers with the #RedforEd movement had favorite lawmakers, and they weren’t Republicans. Why do you think that was?

I can tell you from my experience in Appropriations the day before, teacher after teacher after teacher got up to testify, and they said, this isn’t what we were asking for. This was never about teacher pay. It was about adequately funding the whole infrastructure of public education. And giving me a 20 percent raise is not going to change that I have a classroom with a leaky roof or that I have 35 students I have to teach. And so, how do we address those bigger problems? And I think it was about feeling listened to. They weren’t there with a partisan lens saying, Democrats versus Republicans, they were I think it was about what they heard people say.

If that was the point, why did Republicans miss that?

Governor Ducey has six or so paid communications-spin people who are really good at putting out a simple hashtag that says #20×2020. That’s a much easier message for the public to digest.

Generally, what was it like to have an audience on budget night? Most years the gallery is empty Ñ this year it was packed.

That is the openness and transparency that we are meant to govern with. I think it’s sad that more people aren’t engaged. Most of the time it’s pretty boring. Most of that night was pretty boring. But they were there, they wanted to learn, and that’s how government’s supposed to work. And that’s, I think, the best way of governing.

Will the momentum carry into the election, and maybe into the next legislative session?

We saw the groundwork laid with Save Our Schools, and the referendum and those folks gathering a grassroots movement that we’ve never seen before, that did something unprecedented in Arizona, that nobody thought they could do. And I think that really paved the way for this. That was a group of educators, parents, concerned people to repeal the vouchers. And I feel like the #RedforEd movement just sort’ve picked up where they left off.

Were there any bright spots for you this session?

The opioid bill. That feels like years ago already, but I think the session started off on a really collaborative high point. And this honestly was the first time I’ve really seen the governor, when he says he wants to do something that’s bipartisan, he actually went about in a bipartisan manner and didn’t just listen to us, but actually took things we said. We asked for $10 million for treatment. I thought we would get $3 million. We got $10 million for treatment And so that was a huge, I think, positive way to start the session. And I think the governor also genuinely wanted to be bipartisan about the school safety bill, but it needed to be a more comprehensive gun safety bill, and he wasn’t going to go there. That was a little more frustrating. I don’t want to always go into things being like, “It’s the governor, let’s not give him a win. Let’s fight this ‘cause it’s the governor’s idea.” That isn’t how to govern. That’s not responsible for any of us to do.

Any advice for your successor?

It’s going to be a whole different Senate, I think. And I’m not saying we’re going to tie or we’re going to take majority — that could happen — but just the members coming over it’s going to be really different. I think that one thing I’ve learned is never lock yourself into a corner on a vote, or lock your caucus into a corner on a  vote. Be open to changing. Otherwise you look dumb.

‘Dark money’ initiative comes up short in signatures


The question of whether voters get to outlaw “dark money” will depend on what judges think of the signatures collected.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Michele Reagan reported the Outlaw Dirty Money campaign came up 2,071 short of the 225,963 valid signatures to put the issue on the November ballot. That follows action by the 15 county recorders who each were given a 5 percent sample to verify the names.

But Kim Demarchi who represents the initiative organizers told Capitol Media Services the fight to put the issue to voters is far from over.

She claims the Secretary of State’s Office improperly removed 8,042 signatures from the total that were submitted. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Teresa Sanders is expected to rule on that claim no later than Thursday.

At the same time, though, Sanders also is weighing claims by attorney Kory Langhofer, representing those who want to quash the initiative, that Reagan’s office allowed some petitions to be counted — and the up to 15 signatures on each of them — even though he contends they were circulated by people who were not legally qualified. That includes convicted felons and people who did not provide a proper address.

Whoever loses in Sanders’ court is virtually certain to seek Arizona Supreme Court review.

But even that is not the end of the legal maneuvering.

Demarchi said she is filing suit against several county recorders — the people who checked the random samples — contending that they erred in concluding that some of the signatures were not from valid registered voters.

The outcome of those lawsuits could have a major impact.

That’s because the counties get a 5 percent sample. So for each signature that Demarchi can get a judge to rule as valid, that translates to 20 signatures in the total needed to qualify.

Those cases are likely to drag into next week.

Hanging in the balance is whether Arizona voters get to enact what amounts to a “right-to-know” provision in the state constitution.

Current law says those who contribute to candidates must disclose their identities. There also are similar requirements when groups spend money independently to help elect or defeat a candidate.

But the Republican-controlled Legislature has said that groups seeking to influence statewide races need not disclose donors if they are set up under the Internal Revenue Code as a “social welfare” organization.

Those groups qualify for the special charity status if no more than half their spending is on political races. But there is no absolute dollar figure on how much they can give.

And the record shows that they do put a lot of money into Arizona campaigns.

In 2014, for example, American Encore spent more than $1.4 million on Arizona races. And while it is known the group originated with an organization founded by the Koch Brothers, there is nothing on the record of who put up those dollars.

What is known is some of that American Encore money helped Republican Doug Ducey defeat Democrat Fred DuVal in the gubernatorial race.

Overall, outside groups spent more than $8 million on Ducey’s behalf in that campaign, outstripping the $7.9 Ducey spent himself that he got from donors whose identities he was required to disclose.

Earlier this year, lawmakers extended the same protection from disclosure to entities seeking to affect local races, effectively overriding a vote by Tempe residents, on a 91-9 margin, to require financial disclosure of all sources of funding on city races.

This initiative, backed by a bipartisan group including two former attorneys general, would put a provision in the Arizona Constitution to require that the public be given the actual identity of anyone who has contributed more than $2,500 to affect any political campaign. And as a constitutional amendment it could not be altered by lawmakers without taking the issue back to the ballot.