2020 is going to be a health care election

Dear Editor:

We’re in the middle of an unprecedented public health crisis, and that’s going to determine how people will choose their leaders. But Martha McSally and Donald Trump are risking undermining the entire federal response to coronavirus if they choose a Supreme Court Justice that will repeal the Affordable Care Act and eliminate protections for pre-existing conditions.

Shamefully only hours after the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Trump and McSally made clear that they intend to appoint a new justice. The nominee’s stance on the Affordable Care Act must be a litmus test in voting for the next Supreme Court justice

If that justice votes to uphold that lawsuit, not only will the 3 million Arizonans with pre-existing conditions lose their coverage or face astronomical premiums, but millions more will lose critical benefits we’ve come to expect over the past decade. Young people who are struggling to find work during this economic downturn won’t be able to stay on their parents insurance. Hundreds of thousands of low-income Arizonans will lose access to the state’s Medicaid coverage. Seniors will see their prescription drug costs increase by potentially thousands of dollars a year.

And that doesn’t even include the long-term consequences of COVID-19.

Over the past seven months, I’ve have watched cases surge, dissipate, surge again, dissipate and then increase steadily. Hopefully, prognosticators are wrong and there isn’t a major resurgence this fall as the cooler months approach and people spend more time indoors.

Over 6,000 Arizonans have died from COVID, out of the nearly 300,000 confirmed cases. We have no idea what the long-term consequences of the disease are for those who have survived it, but there are horror stories about people suffering from heart and lung problems months after contracting the disease.

That means that insurers will consider COVID a pre-existing condition. Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) bans insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions: those who suffer from pre-existing conditions can’t be denied coverage and they can’t be charged higher premiums.

Trump and McSally know that their joint health care record is their biggest vulnerability: Arizonans fundamentally think insurers shouldn’t be able to punish people for pre-existing health conditions beyond their control.

Word of advice to the President and especially to Arizona’s appointed Senator, if the next Supreme Court justice doesn’t unconditionally support protecting pre-existing conditions and upholding the health care law of the land, Arizonans will remember in November and mark their ballot for Joe Biden and Mark Kelly.
Gregory Jarrin, MD


A Voice for Giving Women a Voice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abortion debate brings out lawmakers’ personal experiences, emotions

Sen. Eva Burch, D-Mesa, and Sen. Janae Shamp, R-Surprise, speak after an emotional debate on the Senate floor Feb. 22, 2023, on a proposed law that would require medical professionals to try and save any “infant born alive.” SB1600 passed on a party-line vote of 16-13 and must pass the House and get the approval of the governor, who is expected to veto it. Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, sits in the foreground reading. (Photo by Camryn Sanchez/Arizona Capitol Times)

In a usually contentious forum, lawmakers on Wednesday wept, offered comfort, and spoke about their struggles with ambivalence on abortion as they discussed a proposed law that would require medical professionals to try and save any “infant born alive.” 

And from the debate on the bill two lawmakers, both nurses, found a moment of understanding despite ideological differences. 

Janae Shamp

Sen. Janae Shamp, R-Surprise, is the sponsor of Senate Bill 1600, and she argued on behalf of her bill against Sen. Eva Burch, D-Mesa. 

While they disagree strongly on abortion issues, Burch and Shamp share common ground. After an emotional discussion brought lawmakers to tears, they came together for an embrace after the bill passed the Senate third reading 16-13 on party lines. 

Burch is open about the fact that she’s had miscarriages before, including one since taking office in January. She made the difficult decision to have one pregnancy terminated, although she wanted the baby to be born, after a doctor explained that the pregnancy would end in a miscarriage.  

“If I had a baby that was 18 weeks, 19 weeks, 20 weeks, that I delivered in a hospital, and that baby was born alive, a medical team springing into action to do medical intervention instead of me being allowed to hold my baby when it died, and instead of allowing for comfort care and for all of the other options that are available and appropriate. That’s my concern,” Burch said. 

Eva Burch (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

The bill requires any “infant who is born alive” – including one that survives an abortion – to get “medically appropriate and reasonable care” from health professionals. A health care professional who violates the bill “intentionally or knowingly” is guilty of a felony and could have their license revoked. 

The bill also says that no treatment is required if it would only “prolong the act of dying when death is imminent.” 

With that language, Shamp said she believes that doctors wouldn’t be rushing to save non-viable fetuses. Abortions over 15 weeks’ gestation are already illegal in Arizona.  

“As a nurse, I will always stand to protect those who cannot protect themselves,” Shamp, registered nurse, said. 

Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills said he believes the bill would only apply to abortions, but Burch and other Democrats disagreed.  

Although the bill mentions abortion, it’s not specific to that. Burch, an ER nurse, said that miscarriages are common and that the bill would “really only apply” to patients miscarrying. She reminded the chamber that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists opposes the bill. 

Premature babies born under 23 weeks’ gestation are not generally considered viable. Burch called it “inhumane” to provide medical care in those cases.  

“Requiring the medical professional to provide lifesaving and sometimes painful interventions when a life cannot be fixed, it’s not medical, its torture, and its experimentation and my concern is that when a mother losing a pregnancy that this is a very difficult time for a woman,” she said. 

Catherine Miranda

Sen. Catherine Miranda, D-Phoenix, known as a rare pro-life Democrat, voted against Shamp’s bill.  

Miranda served four years in the House and four years in the Senate with that identifier – but she took the last four years off from the Legislature.  

“I got to reflect and revisit some things. … I realized through that reflection the hypocrisy that I was involved in,” Miranda said on the Senate floor. “What are we doing with that child after it’s born? I didn’t do much. The Senator [Burch] spoke in the Committee of the Whole of her experience, and that’s a real experience, and do you think that if there were tools to save that baby do you think that she wouldn’t have insisted? She’s a mother, we all would have.” 

Sen. Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, said he had concerns with the bill although he is pro-life. 

 He ultimately voted ‘yes,’ but said the language might not yet strike the “correct balance.” 

Bennet also spoke from personal experience. 

Bennett’s daughter has worked as a labor and delivery nurse for 15 years.  

Bennett, elections, residency
Former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett (Bill Clark/Pool via AP)

“Somehow she has in both places where she’s worked kind of become the nurse that deals with infant demises, and the stories I hear about break my heart,” Bennett said.  

He recalled stories of his daughter taking locks of hair or using a Q-tip to push the hand of a dead fetus into plaster of Paris to make a mold for the grieving family. 

“I know my child would never make a decision in a room with parents … that she didn’t feel was in the best interest of the child and of the family,” he said. 

The conservative Center for Arizona Policy is backing Shamp’s bill and issued a statement after its passage in the Senate, saying the votes tell “everything you need to know about which lawmakers refuse to draw the line before infanticide.” 

Shamp doesn’t depict the issue as one with any gray area either.  

“This isn’t about emotion. This isn’t about reproductive health. This is about life. Spiritual and comfort care is medically appropriate and reasonable care. Every baby that is born alive deserves a chance to live,” she told the chamber, siting the story of a couple whose child was born alive, but died about a week later. The couple believes the child was “slow coded” by doctors who didn’t expect her to live and didn’t do everything possible to save her. 

The bill still must pass the House before it lands on the desk of Gov. Katie Hobbs, an ardent pro-choice advocate who is expected to veto it.  

Burch said there’s still value in holding these floor discussions.  

“Maybe we could at least understand each other, even if we can’t agree a little bit, Burch said. “And I think that’s definitely the right direction, and I know there are plenty on my side of the issue who would say that those conversations are futile, and that we have to call those things out for exactly what they are and all that, but maybe it’s because I’m new, I’m still hopeful.” 

As for Shamp, Burch said as a fellow nurse she agrees with her colleague on as many things as she disagrees with her on.  

Shamp is Trump-endorsed, religious, and conservative. Burch is endorsed by Planned Parenthood, non-religious and liberal.  

She says she gets along with Shamp at the Legislature.  

“Hopefully, we can all try to listen to each other,” Burch said.  

After dramatic vote, McCain returns to Arizona for treatment

This June 3, 2016, file photo shows Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., delivering a speech in Singapore. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File)
This June 3, 2016, file photo shows Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., delivering a speech in Singapore. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File)

After casting the deciding vote that derailed Republicans’ seven-year quest to repeal the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Sen. John McCain is headed to Arizona to resume treatment following his diagnosis of an aggressive form of brain cancer.

McCain will be treated at Mayo Clinic, and on Monday will begin a post-surgical regimen of radiation and chemotherapy, his office said.

During that time, his office said, McCain will maintain a work schedule, and he plans to return to Washington after the August recess.

Following a surgery to remove a blood clot from above his left eye and the diagnosis of brain cancer, McCain left for Washington, D.C. to initially vote for advancing debate on a proposal to repeal Obamacare.

But he also admonished his colleagues and delivered a stinging rebuke of the hyper-partisanship that has engulfed Congress. He also made clear that he would not support any of the proposals to repeal Obamacare without substantial changes.

Last night (early morning in D.C.), McCain joined U.S. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska in voting against “Skinny Repeal,” which sought to undo the mandate to Americans to buy insurance and to business to provide medical coverage to their workers. With Democrats unified in their opposition, the three Republicans’ vote sank the legislation.

McCain said Obamacare should be repealed and replaced with a plan that increases competition, lowers costs and improves care, but the repeal legislation would not accomplish those goals.

Its failure, he said in a news release, provides Congress a “fresh start” and the opportunity to craft bipartisan health care legislation.

“It is now time to return to regular order with input from all of our members – Republicans and Democrats – and bring a bill to the floor of the Senate for amendment and debate,” he said.

After Trump statement, a new reality for Brnovich

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich speaks to reporters during a news conference at his office in Phoenix on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Jonathan J. Cooper)

Attorney General Mark Brnovich will have to soldier on in the race for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate without Donald Trump’s endorsement – and perhaps with the former president actively opposing his candidacy.

In a statement published April 18, Trump laid into Brnovich for failing to deliver the legal action he wants on Arizona’s 2020 election, saying the AG chose to “kick the can down the road” rather than “go after the people that committed these election crimes.”

That could leave Brnovich, who’s spent the past few months touting his alignment with the former president even as Trump openly pressured Brnovich to do the AG’s job as Trump saw fit, in a tough spot.

It looks like a loss for Brnovich, but Republican strategists said having Trump choose another candidate isn’t necessarily devastating at this point in the race – and it might end up being useful.

“In a Republican primary, we all assume it’s the most coveted endorsement,” said Stan Barnes, a longtime GOP consultant. Despite that, he said, it’s not totally clear what impact a Trump endorsement has on voters. “This may be a setback, (or) it may end up being the best thing to ever happen to him.”

Trump directed his wrath specifically at an interim report on the AG’s office’s investigation into election fraud allegations from the 2020 election that Brnovich published earlier this month. The report said the probe so far had “raised questions” about the 2020 election but didn’t say investigators had found any evidence of widespread fraud that could have impacted the election outcome.

Though the report was praised by a few Republicans, like Senate President Sen. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, and Arizona GOP Chair Kelli Ward, it left many in the party angry. Far-right Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, complained it didn’t go far enough, while moderate Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer criticized Brnovich for playing up potential weaknesses and barely mentioning the fact that there’s been no findings of widespread fraud.

“I think he tried to thread the needle and it seems like everybody had a different take away from the report,” said Daniel Scarpinato, a GOP consultant and former chief of staff to Gov. Doug Ducey, “You’re not going to be able to please everybody, especially on this issue where there’s a lot of division.”

Scarpinato said having Trump come out against him will be a “challenge” for Brnovich, though he added that, “I think we’ve seen in other places around the country, it is over-comeable.”

If it is a challenge, it’s coming as other indicators suggest Brnovich is in for a fight and won’t coast to victory on his AG credentials.

A poll earlier this month from Highground showed Brnovich neck and neck with solar power magnate Jim Lamon for the lead in the primary, though more than half of voters remained undecided: Brnovich had 10.6% support and Lamon 10.2%. Another survey this month from Data Orbital found Brnovich trailing Lamon, 26% to 20%.

And financial reports filed last week show that Brnovich hasn’t started pulling in big fundraising money. He reported $736,000 in donations in the first quarter of this year, bringing his total for the race to $2.55 million.

Lamon has indicated he’s ready to spend up to $50 million of his own cash on the race and Blake Masters will have multi-million outside backing from his former boss, Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel. Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly, who’s running for re-election and will face the Republican nominee in the general election, raked in $10.8 million in the first three months of 2022.

In the Trump statement, the former president again teased the possibility of an impending endorsement in the Senate race, saying it would come “in the not too distant future.” On April 20, Masters advertised an April 23 evening event that he tweeted might include a “telephone appearance from a Very Special Guest,” leading to speculation that Trump would call-in to endorse him.

If Brnovich is going to make lemons out of lemonade with Trump fighting against him, it might be time for the campaign to start repositioning itself to pick-up voters who aren’t looking for a candidate hand-picked by Trump, Barnes said.

“Maybe he needs Donald Trump to separate himself so Brnovich can win on his name ID, his record, his statewide incumbency, and the fact that he’s not Donald Trump’s choice. That might be enough to cobble together a plurality in a crowded field,” Barnes said.

For now, it looks like Brnovich is pursuing an appeasement strategy with the former president. On April 19, he released a statement that, in spite of the statement from a day earlier, praised Trump.

“President Trump secured our border, made our economy strong, and appointed good judges. I understand his frustration, but as I’ve said previously, I will continue to follow the facts and the evidence and do what the law requires,” Brnovich said.





AG election audit review points to vulnerabilities, no widespread fraud alleged

Arizona Senate Election Audit
A contractor working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, yawns as Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted on May 6, 2021, at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. PHOTO BY MATT YORK/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Attorney General Mark Brnovich says an ongoing review of the Arizona Senate’s audit report and related election investigations has “revealed serious vulnerabilities” and “raises questions about the 2020 election in Arizona.” 

But an April 6 letter to Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, which Brnovich described as an “interim report,” mainly served to emphasize that the AG’s office is still investigating election allegations, has some policy suggestions and thinks things likely won’t wrap up any time soon. 

“Investigations (civil and criminal) of this magnitude and complexity take many months if not years to complete,” the letter states. 

That timeframe goes far beyond a short-term concern for Brnovich: the August 2 primary election in which he’s facing a crowded field of GOP candidates vying for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.  

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich speaks to reporters during a news conference at his office in Phoenix on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Jonathan J. Cooper)

So far, audits of the 2020 election and reviews of election processes have failed to turn up evidence of fraud on the scale that would have impacted the outcome of the race. The April 6 letter did point to individual cases of election fraud, which have been previously reported. 

The move follows months of pressure from Arizona Republicans and former President Donald Trump, who’ve called on the AG to take legal action against what they say was widespread fraud in Arizona’s 2020 election that served to steal a win from Trump. And though the letter doesn’t offer any new evidence that fraud changed the results of the 2020 election, it did have a message for those questioning Brnovich’s commitment to the cause of election security and investigating the 2020 race. 

“By any objective measure the (Attorney General’s) Office) is fully engaged in successfully defending Arizona’s election integrity laws,” the letter states at one point, adding later that the AG “has left no stone unturned in the aftermath of the 2020 election.” 

Still, it was quickly clear that the interim update wouldn’t satisfy the most ardent supporters of the partisan Senate audit, like Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff. “I don’t like letters. I like arrests and prosecutions. Criminals don’t respect legal gobbly-gook that just fills pages when really we can use handcuffs, jail cells and jump suits,” she tweeted on Wednesday afternoon, shortly after the letter was published. 

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs criticized the report for failing to answer the questions dangled in the letter. “Instead of simply following the evidence, he speculates. Instead of clarity, he provides conjecture,” she said in a statement provided by a spokeswoman. 

Hobbs also accused Brnovich of being “more focused on his Senate campaign than on the job he was elected to do. 

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican who’s been critical of the Senate’s election review and defended former Recorder Adrian Fontes’ administration of the 2020 election, said the big takeaway from Brnovich’s letter is that there’s still no evidence of fraud. 

He responded to the letter in a thread on Twitter, saying he spent “many, many hours” working with investigators to answer questions regarding internet connectivity and data deletion, as well as the county’s duplication and adjudication processes. 

“I guess the answers to those don’t fit the narrative,” Richer wrote, calling that an “amazing omission.” He said documents the Attorney General’s Office received yesterday weren’t delayed but were in response to a March 9 request. However, he said while he felt the letter mischaracterized the county’s cooperation with the investigators, he was “fine with” the suggestions made in the report. 

“Most importantly, it rightfully doesn’t say anything about a stolen election or unlawful acts by election workers,” Richer tweeted. 

Fann, who referred the audit report to Brnovich for further action

Senate Majority Leader Karen Fann in January 2021. Photo by Kyra Haas/Arizona Capitol Times.

in September, said she’s happy with the letter, calling it “a great start.” “I’m pleased with what he’s been able to produce so far and I’m looking forward to all of his subsequent reports as he keeps digging further into all of these problems that were uncovered in the audit,” she said on Wednesday. Fann would not say whether she believes there was fraud in the 2020 Maricopa County election and she would not say whether the Senate will take further action.  

“The Senate can do whatever we want,” she said  

The letter provides some information about the shape of the investigation that the AG is carrying out, saying AG staff has spent “thousands of hours reviewing the Senate’s audit reports and other complaints, conducting interviews, and analyzing Maricopa County’s election system and processes.” 

(A spreadsheet kept by the AG’s Office cataloguing complaints received in the wake of the 2020 election and provided to the Arizona Capitol Times in response to a public records request shows around 1,000 separate complaints. One of the largest categories, with 268 unique complaints, was labelled “Sharpie,” presumably in reference to the debunked “Sharpiegate” conspiracy theory.) 

Among the issues Brnovich mentions in the April 6 letter are ballot chain-of-custody, mail-in ballot signature verification, ballot drop boxes and nonprofit donations to election administrators, though he stops short of alleging fraud and instead makes some policy suggestions. For example, he says the current way early ballot signatures are verified “may be insufficient to guard against abuse” and suggests requiring early voters to have some additional form of government ID and making other changes to the law. 

Camryn Sanchez contributed reporting. 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oliver said Sinema needs to speak up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Arizona abortion bill approved by Senate panel

Women who want an abortion would have to tell state health officials exactly why under the terms of legislation approved Wednesday by a Senate panel.

On a party-line vote, members of the Health and Human Services Committee approved adding a series of new requirements on abortion providers and those who already are required to inform women about the nature of the procedure. These include not only numbers of women served but also data on the specialty of the physician performing the procedure, the type of facility where the abortion was performed and whether anesthesia was administered to the mother or fetus.

Doctors also would be required to detail how many of their patients have asked to hear the fetus’ heartbeat, something they already have to offer to allow under current law.

But the heart of SB 1394 seeks to expand existing law which now requires only that the facility ask an open-ended question of why the woman wants an abortion whether it is elective or for reasons of maternal or fetal health.

Instead, health care providers would have to run through a checklist of possible reasons with the patient, ranging from economic reasons and relationship issues to the woman not wanting children at this time.

Cathi Herrod
Cathi Herrod

Cathi Herrod, president of the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy who helped craft the legislation, said the measure is designed to help women by having the health department gather more information.

“It’s data that then all sides in the abortion issue would know how to better serve the needs of women,” she told lawmakers.

Herrod said that in Minnesota, which has a similar law, the top reason reported was that the woman did not want children at this time, followed by economic reasons.

“So when you get that kind of data, for example, those who are trying to meet the needs of women would know that, if it’s economic reasons, is there a way of helping that woman economically so that she could carry a child to term,” she said. “If it’s because the woman does not want children at this time, then maybe there’s a way to provide more services about adoption.”

Herrod acknowledged that no reason cited by an individual woman could be used to specifically get her these services. That’s because the law requires that the information be reported to the state without identifying information on a patient.

But she argued that the data might enable the state or a private organization decide what new or expanded services to make available.

Foes of the legislation disputed the claim that the additional requirements were designed to help women.

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 don’t really buy the arguments that this is about furthering women’s health care and caring about women,” said Sen. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix. “It’s about shaming them and shaming the health care providers who care for them.

Hobbs said if proponents were interested in helping women — and avoiding abortion — they would do more to ensure that there are adequate family planning services to prevent unwanted pregnancy in the first place. Instead, she said, the reverse appears to be true.

“The very organizations that do that work are vilified by bills like this and other bills that work to restrict women’s access to health care,” Hobbs said, a reference to the perennial criticism of Planned Parenthood by abortion foes. She also said that no one testifying in support of the additional requirements was a health care professional.

Sen. David Bradley (D-Tucson)
Sen. David Bradley (D-Tucson)

Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, was more blunt.

“The reasoning behind this is evident to a fifth grader,” he said.

“It’s an attempt to shame people into changing their mind and to put such a burden on the (abortion) providers that the providers will be reluctant to provide the services,” Bradley explained after the hearing. He said it would be far preferable to make preventing unplanned pregnancies the goal of the state.

But Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, who worked with Herrod to draft the bill, said she does not understand why any doctor or abortion provider would oppose the additional requirements.

“I think caring professionals that deal with women in a crisis pregnancy would do all they could to want to get to the bottom of what is this woman going through and why is she here and how can I help,” Barto said.

The 5-2 vote sends the measure to the full Senate.

Arizona Capitol Times responds to injunction against reporter

Deposit Photo

We are strongly opposed to the Injunction Against Harassment that State Senator Wendy Rogers obtained against our reporter Camryn Sanchez. Senator Rogers obtained the injunction, ex parte (that is, without informing Ms. Sanchez and without the chance or opportunity for Ms. Sanchez to oppose the petition).

We intend to challenge this injunction on behalf of Ms. Sanchez because it is baseless and an unconstitutional prior restraint against a reporter investigating public allegations involving the Senator.

News reporters such as Ms. Sanchez have the right to investigate matters relating to elected officials, which is precisely what Ms. Sanchez has been doing.

Senator Rogers went far beyond trying to restrict Ms. Sanchez from approaching her multiple residences (which is also well within Ms. Sanchez’s rights)—Senator Rogers also requested that Ms. Sanchez “not be permitted access to the Arizona Senate.” This shows that the petition and injunction were not about the Senator’s personal safety but were about silencing the press in direct contravention of the First Amendment.

The Arizona Capitol Times and its parent company BridgeTower Media firmly stand behind Ms. Sanchez and her work covering the state Senate and intend to pursue all rights under state and federal law to protect Ms. Sanchez and allow her to perform her duties as a reporter.

— Michael Gorman, Publisher Arizona Capitol Times

Arizona charter school legislation appears dead

Rusty Bowers
Rusty Bowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arizona Senate race likely to be a tale of 2 pivots

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., talks to campaign volunteers at a Democratic campaign office on primary election day Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Phoenix. Sinema is seeking the current U.S. Senate seat occupied by outgoing Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, and will face the Republican primary winner of the race between Rep. Martha McSally, former state Sen. Kelli Ward, and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, if Sinema wins the Democratic primary. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., talks to campaign volunteers at a Democratic campaign office on primary election day Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Phoenix. Sinema is seeking the current U.S. Senate seat occupied by outgoing Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, and will face the Republican primary winner of the race between Rep. Martha McSally, former state Sen. Kelli Ward, and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, if Sinema wins the Democratic primary. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema was once a member of the liberal Green Party and a self-described “Prada socialist,” but now she’s one of the congressional Democrats most likely to vote with President Donald Trump and a champion of moderate compromise. Though she had token opposition from the left in the August 28 Arizona primary for the party’s nomination for U.S. Senate, Democrats are largely united behind her.

U.S. Rep. Martha McSally represents a moderate Arizona district and was a Trump critic in 2016, but she has since warmly embraced him and won her party’s Senate nomination. She defeated two challengers from her right in the Republican primary, but may emerge with less than half of GOP primary voters supporting her after being slammed as a flip-flopper by opponents.

The Senate race in Arizona is shaping up to be a tale of two pivots – Sinema’s transformation over the years against McSally’s more abrupt swing on Trump, the most divisive issue in politics today. The different ways the two congresswomen’s maneuverings have been received by their parties illustrate how Republicans and Democrats police their own politicians, especially in Arizona, where the GOP has won every statewide election since 2006.

“The Democrats who are unhappy with who she is are willing to put up with that just to win a Senate seat,” said Constantine Querard, a GOP strategist renowned for helping conservative Arizona Republicans win primaries. “Republicans are used to winning, so now we want a good one.”

McSally and Sinema will face off for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Jeff Flake, who’s stepping down after his criticisms of Trump made his re-election impossible. And their race begins in the shadow of the death of John McCain, the state’s senior senator whose refusal to follow GOP orthodoxy helped fuel the Republican base’s demands for purity.

Not only have potential voters responded differently to their shifts, Sinema and McSally describe them differently as well.

Sinema, who once served in the Arizona Legislature, acknowledges her shift, casting it as part of a decade-long learning process. “What I learned early on, my very first term in the Statehouse is when I was willing to listen to other people, to their ideas and work together, you can get a lot of stuff done,” she said at an appearance at a food bank in Phoenix last week.

U.S. senatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., celebrates her primary election victory, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. McSally will face U.S. Rep. Krysten Sinema, D-Ariz., in the November election as they seek the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
U.S. senatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., celebrates her primary election victory, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. McSally will face U.S. Rep. Krysten Sinema, D-Ariz., in the November election as they seek the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

McSally bristles at any suggestion that she’s changed, noting she only entered politics six years ago – before that she was an Air Force colonel who had served as the first female combat pilot. “It’s a false narrative,” McSally said of the idea that she has tacked rightward. During a campaign trip to the border last week, McSally noted that she met with Trump in March of 2017, before the Senate seat opened up. “I have been working very closely with him since he’s been in office.”

Trump on August 29 endorsed McSally, calling her “an extraordinary woman” in a tweet and saying she “is Strong on Crime, the Border and our under siege 2nd Amendment.”

Nonetheless, McSally was relentlessly characterized by the other Republicans in the primary – former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former state Sen Kelli Ward – as disloyal to Trump. They noted that McSally said Trump’s behavior was “not how leaders carry themselves” and called Trump “disgusting” after a tape of him bragging about groping women surfaced in October of 2016.

“She’s the biggest flip-flopper in history,” Arpaio said of McSally in a recent interview.

Eric Beach, a Ward adviser, said in an interview last week that even if McSally wins she’ll still be wounded – especially given conservatives’ anger at Flake and McCain for bucking Trump.

“The problem she has is can she turn out that Republican base that feels like they were duped before,” Beach said of McSally. “I don’t think she’s going to have a problem reaching the middle. She’s going to have a problem turning out her base.”

But McSally has a secret weapon – Trump himself. He held off on making an endorsement in the primary, though he enthusiastically congratulated McSally on Twitter after her win. McSally has spoken to the president about a post-primary campaign appearance in Arizona.

“He can uniquely motivate the base to get that enthusiasm up,” McSally said, noting that Democrats are already energized.

Trump, of course, comes with his own baggage. Though he won Arizona by 5 percentage points and isn’t unpopular here, he’s at best a wild card, Republican pollster Mike Noble said.

“You have to hug Trump because, if not, you lose your base and you’re screwed, but in the general you have to pivot and convince your moderates and independents who don’t like Trump,” Noble said.

So far, Sinema has had the advantage in the race. She’s been able to spend millions of dollars on ads introducing herself to voters with no pushback and faced no real competitive primary.

But the dynamic changed last week when McSally released her first attack ad against Sinema. It contrasted the likely Democratic nominee in a pink tutu at a September 11 anti-war protest with McSally’s combat service. McSally picked up that theme in her August 28 victory speech, spending much of it slamming Sinema as someone “to the left of Hollywood Democrats.”

“Everything in this Senate race is going to be different on August 29,” predicted Stan Barnes, a veteran GOP lobbyist, noting his party’s strong track record in statewide races. “Republicans have a tremendous head start on Democrats in every general election.”

All signs nationally point to Democratic enthusiasm in November, and Arizona is no different in that respect. And both presumptive nominees are top-tier campaigners and prodigious fundraisers.

“Dang, this is going to be a race,” Noble said.

Athlete who was victim of sex assault supports bill to aid victims

Bridie Farrell, a former world-class speed skater, explains how she was a victim of sexual abuse at 15 and why she supports a proposal by Sen. Paul Boyer to give victims more time to sue assailants and organizations that covered up incidents. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Bridie Farrell, a former world-class speed skater, explains how she was a victim of sexual abuse at 15 and why she supports a proposal by Sen. Paul Boyer to give victims more time to sue assailants and organizations that covered up incidents. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

A former national speed skating champion lent her voice Tuesday to those who want to give victims of child sexual assault and abuse more time to sue their assailants – and specifically those who permitted it to happen.

Bridie Farrell said that at age 15 she was an “up and coming speed skater” when she was molested repeatedly by a 33-year-old Olympic silver medalist.

“Whenever I went to training, he was there, whenever I competed, he was there,” she said.

What is of particular concern, Farrell said, is this man was investigated in 1990 – seven years before she was molested.

“And our paths should have never crossed,” she said. “He should have left the sport when I was entering the sport.”

Farrell, now 37, finally told her story 15 years later.

She said she is supporting the proposal by Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, to give victims more time to sue because it is important for survivors to be able to tell their stories “and then to hold the institutions accountable that are facilitating this abuse.” Otherwise, Farrell said, things will not change.

That idea of not just providing more time to sue those who committed the assault but also those who were in charge and may have hidden what they know is one of the sticking points that has so far led to the failure of the bill to advance.

Eddie Farnsworth
Eddie Farnsworth

Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, refused to give a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee to the version of the bill Boyer wants. And so far Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, who has the power to yank the bill from Farnsworth and bring it to the floor – where Boyer said there are the votes for approval – has refused to do so.

Existing law gives those who were victimized as children just two years after they turn 18 to file suit.

Boyer wants to extend that to seven years. More significant, he wants that clock to start running only when someone is aware they have been victimized, defined in his legislation as disclosing the assault to a licensed medical or mental health care provider.

And there’s something else. He proposes allowing these lawsuits, whenever they are filed, not just against the person who committed the abuse but any public or private corporation, association, firm, estate or “any other legal entity.”

Fann has told Capitol Media Services she is concerned that could result in a lawsuit against someone who employed another long-gone person years before, leaving the organization unable to defend itself.

Farrell, however, sees it from a different perspective, what with having been abused by someone who she contends the U.S. Olympic Committee knew was abusing children and should have been kept away from them.

“The issue is when you have an organization that knows there’s a problem with this individual, yet the organization keeps moving them from place to place,” she said. “If you have an organization that’s supposed to be helping keep kids safe and be productive members of our society, yet those organizations are harboring it, that’s what needs to be addressed.”

And that, she said, will force organizations to create safeguards to prevent future victims.

For the moment there is a stalemate.

Boyer and Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, have said they won’t vote for a budget plan until Fann allows a vote on the measure, leaving Fann without the votes needed among her 17-member GOP caucus.

Fann, however, shows no sign of backing down. And even if Boyer gets the bill out of the Senate he still needs to have it clear the House.

That still leaves the option of taking his case directly to voters, asking them to enact the statutory changes that he wants. That, however, means gathering at least 237,645 valid signatures by July 2, 2020.

Boyer acknowledged he could get a partial victory: Farnsworth said he would support a much narrower expansion of the time to sue, giving victims until they turn 25. But Boyer said that is unacceptable, as most victims don’t come forward until they are in their 40s.

“As you can imagine, the emotional, the psychological trauma of survivors, it just doesn’t give them enough time,” he said. “And I can’t look them in the face and say, ‘Sorry, I didn’t do anything that actually helps you but maybe we’ll get something next year.’ ”

Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, who disclosed on the Senate floor last week her own multiple incidents of rape by her grandfather, added her voice to urging that a vote on the issue be allowed.

“This is an opportunity for them to do something amazing,” she said. “They can either protect the abused children or protect the monsters that do this and those who enable them.”

Attorney: Audit contract looks ‘cut and paste’

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)

Those looking for a step-by-step plan for the Arizona Senate audit of Maricopa County 2020 ballots won’t find it in the cybersecurity firm contractor’s statement of work or master services agreement. 

The Senate’s contract with Cyber Ninjas, the leading firm for the audit that kicked off this week, displays a concerning lack of clarity and methodology and a general shoddiness indicative of rushed workmanship, according to contract lawyer Jay Calhoun of The Calhoun Law Firm, who reviewed the contract. 

One of the first concerns that jumped out at Calhoun when she looked over the master services agreement and statement of work was that it uses different fonts throughout, signifying a cut-and-paste approach to writing contracts.  

“It’s clearly a cut-and-paste job,” Calhoun said, adding that one of the documents still included unaccepted track changes. 

Officials wait to unload election equipment into the Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the state fairgrounds, Wednesday, April 21, 2021, in Phoenix. Maricopa County officials began delivering equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden on Wednesday and will move 2.1 million ballots to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden's victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Officials wait to unload election equipment into the Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the state fairgrounds, Wednesday, April 21, 2021, in Phoenix. Maricopa County officials began delivering equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden on Wednesday and will move 2.1 million ballots to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden’s victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Beyond the master services agreement and the statement of work, the Senate does not have any additional contracts or other written agreements with Cyber Ninjas, the Senate’s public records attorney Norm Moore wrote in response to a records request. The Senate did not have other records relating to the steps or procedures that would be followed in each phase of the audit, according to Moore’s response. 

First Amendment attorney Dan Barr said because the Senate approved having the audit, it would make sense for it to be paying close attention to what its contractors are doing, who is doing it and what private groups are paying money into it.  

“I would think they would want to show that this audit is legitimate and aboveboard,” Barr said. “You can’t do that unless you are closely auditing what the auditors are doing.” 

And when it comes to what the auditors are doing, that’s not spelled out in the statement of work. Calhoun was concerned about the lack of clarity in the firms’ statement of work methodology section, which encompasses a total of four lines, calling the brevity “ridiculous.” For example, the proposed scope of work section says there will be forensic images taken and reviewed, but it doesn’t say what analysis will be performed.  

“It’s going to be very difficult to replicate their audit if we don’t know how they went about doing it,” she said. 

The language used in the methodology section appeared crafted with a certain result in mind, she said, pointing to phrases like “issues where results may have been manipulated in the software.”  

“The word ‘manipulated’ is so intentional,” Calhoun said. “Instead of saying ‘issues where results may have mistakenly been changed,’ the agreement does not suggest that. They use the word manipulated, which is a loaded term.”  

Dan Barr
Dan Barr

Calhoun said many of the provisions are conclusory, making statements as fact without evidence to back them up. For example, it refers to providing “proper personnel” to conduct analysis without defining what constitutes proper personnel.  

“Cyber Ninjas has already assumed that there’s going to be a problem,” she said. 

The Senate also agrees in the contract to “defend, indemnify and hold harmless” Cyber Ninjas for a host of potential problems with the audit, including if a third party, such as Dominion Voting Systems whose voting machines are used in Maricopa County, sues. 

That protection extends to “allegations related to the analysis of any third party’s systems or processes or to the decryption, analysis of, collection or transfer of data to Contractor,” essentially putting any legal ramification to the audit on the Senate, rather than the company it hired.  

There’s also a provision that says Cyber Ninjas is not liable for claims arising from any action the contractor takes that was directed or approved by the Senate.  

“They’re saying no matter what they do, if someone brings an action against them, the state is going to defend them,” Calhoun said.  

Calhoun found it odd that Cyber Ninjas issued a master services agreement, not a simple service agreement. While Calhoun deals with federal contracts, not state contracts, she said she hadn’t seen a contractor issue a master services agreement to the government – usually it’s the other way around.  

Calhoun also said she’d like to get a copy of Cyber Ninja’s errors and omissions insurance policy. E&O insurance helps protect companies from lawsuits related to their negligence or mistakes. 

The Senate does not have a copy of the policy in its possession, Moore wrote in response to a records request. Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan did not respond to an email requesting information about the policy. 

Calhoun also doesn’t see how Cyber Ninjas or the other firms can make a profit off this project.  

“A recount is not inexpensive, so how [Cyber Ninjas] is going to do all of it with two additional companies for $150,000 just blows my mind,” she said.  

The audit will almost certainly cost more than $150,000, and Senate liaison and former Secretary of State Ken Bennett has said the Senate is looking to private sources for additional funding. One America News Network has already raised more than $150,000 for the audit. The far-right cable news network is also livestreaming the audit at azaudit.org. 

While there’s a process by which the Senate can accept funds through Legislative Council, if the funds are provided directly to Cyber Ninjas, it’s unlikely the public will be able to find out where that money is coming from.  

Bennett, on KJZZ’s The Show last week said he hopesti people will be able to find out who pays for the audit. But he offered no assurances.  

“I would hope all of those things will become public knowledge,” Bennett said, again noting that the project will likely run over budget and “there’s talk of grants and other sorts of things to make up that difference.”  

If the company is being subsidized directly by donations, rather than through donations to the Senate, the public may not be able to request that information from Cyber Ninjas. The Senate’s contract doesn’t require the company to disclose that. 

That being said, just because Cyber Ninjas or Senate Republicans say something is confidential in their agreement doesn’t mean that it is, in fact, confidential, Barr said. 

“Here there is a vital interest to the public to know how this money is being spent and what it is being used for, and to know the process and the validity of the product being done by out-of-state Cyber Ninja people, especially since the owner of the group has publicly declared that he thinks all election fraud occurred in the first place,” Barr said. 

Attorneys clash in court over Cyber Ninja records

FILE - In this May 6, 2021 file photo Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool,File)
In this May 6, 2021 file photo Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool,File)

The attorney for the firm conducting the audit of the 2020 election for the Senate told a judge on Monday he has no right to order the firm to cough up the records of the audit in its possession.

“Cyber Ninjas Inc. is not a public officer of a public body,” Jack Wilenchik argued to Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah. “That is the only person who is subject to a public records request under the law.”

In fact, he said, the fact that most of the money for the audit is coming from sources outside the Senate from private donations “is even more an indication that my client is not subject to the public records law.”

And Wilenchik warned Hannah that there would be far-reaching implications if he concludes his client’s contract with the Senate somehow makes its records public.

“It may sound a little hokey to say it, but it very much opens the floodgates,” he said. “Who’s next?”

For example, Wilenchik suggested, such a ruling could make the records of Dominion Voting Systems subject to public disclosure because that firms, under contract with Maricopa County, provides the equipment to perform a governmental function, specifically the counting of ballots. Ditto, he said, of Runbeck Election Services which prints the ballots.

But David Bodney, representing the Arizona Republic, told Hannah there is a risk in agreeing with Cyber Ninjas — and with the Senate which also contends that those records are not subject to disclosure.

“I can say that if their view of the law is correct, that a public body could launder public funds through a private entity for ill purposes and the public would have no way of knowing about it.”

John Hannah
John Hannah

This is actually the second lawsuit seeking access to the records held by Cyber Ninjas about its activities in conducting the audit.

The state Court of Appeals already has ordered the Senate to surrender all records related to the audit. And the appellate judges have said that includes records held by Cyber Ninjas which they said is the custodian of the Senate’s public records.

But Cyber Ninjas is not a party to that case. And that raises the question of whether the Supreme Court will — or can — order the Senate to take possession of those records and then release them publicly.

“We have not had a request from the Senate for these records,” Wilenchik acknowledged to Hannah on Monday.

In this case, however, Cyber Ninjas is a defendant. And that gives Hannah the option to directly order the firm to surrender those documents itself to the public rather than relying on Senate production.

Bodney said there are reasons for him to do that.

“First, to end the shell game, to stop the runaround, and to hold the Senate and its authorized agent Cyber Ninjas accountable to the public for how it spends public dollars,” he said, noting the $150,000 contract. “The public has a right to this basic information about the performance, the funding and the staffing of this audit.”

And, apparently, there’s a lot that may interest the public. Attorney Kory Langhofer told the court there are about 60,000 records that may fit within the definition of what is being sought.

That issue of what Cyber Ninjas has been up to, how it conducted the audit and even with whom the company and its subcontractors had contact could be crucial for the public to determine the weight to give the final report when it is finally released.

The process has been questioned even before a contract was issued, with Logan previously having made statements questioning the election returns. Then there were issues about exactly how the 2.1 million ballots were being reviewed and the election equipment from Maricopa County were being examined.

And it only became more complicated when it was revealed that Cyber Ninjas had taken $5.6 million from outside sources — above and beyond the $150,000 paid by the Senate — much of this linked to individuals or organizations that have publicly said the election results declaring Joe Biden the winner were fraudulent.

Bodney contends the records of Cyber Ninjas, including all internal and external communications, are as public as if they were sent or received by senators themselves. And that, he told Hannah, should end the discussion.

“The Senate defendants have admitted the legislature’s a public body under the public records law,” Bodney said.

“The Senate defendants have admitted that Cyber Ninjas, a Florida corporation, is its authorized agent,” he continued. “And they’ve also admitted that the Senate has paid, or committed to pay, $150,000 in public funds to Cyber Ninjas to oversee a full and complete election audit to ‘ensure the integrity of the vote.’ ”

Senate President Karen Fann said she got a “portion” of the draft report Monday from Cyber Ninjas. She said delivery of the balance has been delayed because CEO Doug Logan and two other members of the audit team have tested positive for COVID-19 “and are quite sick.” One of the unnamed members is in the hospital.

Fann also said that the Senate did not get images from Maricopa County of the envelopes used to send in early ballots until Aug. 19 and wants to analyze them.

The Senate president said she and her team, including staff and Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, will meet Wednesday to start reviewing the draft behind closed doors.

“When the remainder of the draft is submitted, the Senate team will hold another meeting to continue checking for accuracy, clarity, and proof of documentation of findings,” Fann said. Only then will it be presented to the full Senate Judiciary Committee and made public.


Audit attorney asks for secrecy of policies, procedures

Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan, left, a Florida-based consultancy, and former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, right, talk about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix. The equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden and the 2.1 million ballots were moved to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden's victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan, left, a Florida-based consultancy, and former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, right, talk about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix. The equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden and the 2.1 million ballots were moved to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden’s victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The attorney for the private firm hired by the Senate to audit the 2020 election is trying to deny public access to the policies and procedures they are using to audit the returns.

And Alexander Kolodin, who represents Cyber Ninjas, also contends the firm is not required to ensure that the 2.1 million ballots they have are being reviewed by bipartisan teams.

In new legal filings, Kolodin said he is providing the information demanded last week by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury after the Arizona Democratic Party filed suit. That ranges from how the company ensures the chain of custody for the 2.1 million ballots it now has as well as the election equipment turned over by Maricopa County to issues of signature verification.

But he contends it is not in the public interest to let Arizonans see them.

“It is no secret that this audit is an emotional issue,” Kolodin wrote. “There exists a subset of individuals that might utilize such documents as a roadmap to breach the audit’s security and thereby cause the very harms (the Democratic Party) ostensibly seek to prevent.”

Anyway, he argued, the documents about the firm’s practices contain “trade secrets.”

The move is drawing opposition from the First Amendment Coalition, which represents various media organizations.

In his own legal filing, attorney Dan Barr said there is a presumption that all records, including those produced in litigation, are public.

He acknowledged there are some exceptions. But Barr said the claim by Cyber Ninjas that all of its policies constitute trade secrets holds no water.

If there are valid concerns, he said, the company could file a redacted version, with all the secrets blacked out, with a full version filed with that court. That, Barr said, would let a judge determine if any of this really needs to be withheld from the public.

“It is difficult to conceive of a case that warrants transparency more than this one,” he wrote, noting that Cyber Ninjas is a private firm which has “unfettered access” to the ballots and to information about Maricopa County voters.

“The public, especially 2.1 million Maricopa County voters, has a personal stake in knowing how Cyber Ninjas handles their personal information, including names, addresses, and signatures and whether their fundamental right to have their vote remain secret shall be preserved,” Barr wrote. “The public also maintains an exceedingly important interest in knowing that the integrity of the election and their votes will not be compromised.”

And Barr said this is especially critical given that Cyber Ninjas has never conducted an election audit and that Doug Logan, its CEO, has “a history of overt partisanship in favor of the presidential candidate who lost the election.”

All this comes amid questions about how the audit is being conducted.

The Democratic Party lawsuit contends that the processes being used by Cyber Ninjas to review the ballots and the election equipment violates various election laws. It’s attorney, Roopali Desai, wants a judge to halt the process unless and until the company — and the Senate which hired it — can show there are safeguards in place to protect the security of the ballots and the equipment.

That question of how the audit is being conducted and whether it is fair also figure into Kolodin’s claim that Cyber Ninjas is not required to have bipartisan panels review the ballots they are counting.

Kolodin acknowledged that state law requires the election boards that review ballots to have “as equal as practicable representation of the members of the two largest parties” on these review panels.

But Kolodin said that, as far as his client is concerned, that doesn’t apply.

“Cyber Ninjas, however, is not an election board and has not been hired to conduct an election for the purpose of declaring candidates elected or not elected,” he wrote. Instead, Kolodin said, the firm was hired to develop a report for the Senate about the conduct of the 2020 election, information he said the Senate can use to decide whether to enact changes to the law.

And Kolodin said, his client can’t make such decisions.

“Unlike a board of elections, Cyber Ninjas, as a government contractor, and like a government in other contexts, does not believe it is required, or even permitted, to make hiring decisions on the basis of political affiliation,” he said.

Anyway, Kolodin said, finding Democrats has proven difficult after Raquel Teran, who chairs the party, announced that it would not participate in what it sees as “sham audits.”

“The Arizona Democratic Party certainly has a First Amendment right to instruct its members not to participate in the audit,” he said. Yet at the same time, Kolodin noted, the party filed suit seeking to halt the audit because it was not being conducted in a lawful manner.

“Seeking to have this court compel equal representation of Democrats on the counting floor while working to make that impossible is not good faith litigation conduct,” he said, and can’t be used to stop the audit until it meets certain standards.

A hearing had been scheduled on the issues for Monday. But that was before Maricopa County Christopher Coury, a 2010 appointee of Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, realized that one of the attorneys working with Kolodin had done some work with his office.

Coury disqualified himself, and the case was reassigned to Judge Daniel Martin, a 2007 appointee of Gov. Janet Napolitano, who has yet to set a new hearing.


Audit leaders stricken with Covid

Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan, a Florida-based consultancy, talks about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican-led Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference April 22, 2021.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan, a Florida-based consultancy, talks about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican-led Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference April 22, 2021.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Arizona Senate received only a portion of the report on its review of Maricopa County’s 2020 general election today because Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan and two others on his five-person team tested positive for Covid and are “quite sick,” according to Senate President Karen Fann. 

Fann, R-Prescott, said that one team member, not Logan, was in the hospital with pneumonia. 

She said the Senate legal team would meet Wednesday to review the partial report and that Logan would be present via Zoom at that meeting. When the rest of the draft report is submitted, the Senate team plans to hold another meeting to review it. Then the final report will be shared with the Senate Judiciary Committee and the findings will be released to the public. 

It’s possible some information from the report will be made public sooner than that, perhaps even after the meeting on Wednesday, Fann said. 

“We don’t want to just put out just arbitrarily information, but if there’s something that the team is comfortable with that is hard solid facts — we know that everybody’s anxious to see these reports and would like some information — so I would love to have the ability to share it as soon as we know that it’s confirmed,” Fann said. 

Besides Covid, Fann blamed the county for the delay, saying that the Senate received requested images of ballot envelopes on Aug. 19 and that they still need to be analyzed.  

But the county maintains that it already gave images of the ballot envelopes to the Senate on April 22, according to Megan Gilbertson, Maricopa County Elections Department spokeswoman. The county also said as much in an Aug. 2 letter in response to the Senate’s July 26 subpoena. 

“Maricopa County already provided digital images of ballot envelopes used in the November 3, 2020 General Election,” the Aug. 2 letter stated, directing Cyber Ninjas to where it said the files could be found. “…If Cyber Ninjas are unable to find them there, the County can produce them again.”  

Gilbertson said the county gave the images to the Senate a second time Aug. 19.  

Fann said that wasn’t true and that the auditors received the images for the first time on that day.  

“I had three separate IT experts look, and it was not there,” Fann said. “I think they thought that they had sent it to us, but I don’t know. I’m not the IT tech, but I can guarantee you it was not there.” 

Fann’s plans for the audit release have changed several times over the past few months. In June, the Legislature included language in its budget saying the Senate Government Committee, led by Secretary of State candidate and audit skeptic Michelle Ugenti-Rita, would receive and review the report. Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee later insisted they would have jurisdiction over it instead. And in recent weeks, Fann has instead referred to a “Senate team,” though she has yet to identify the people on that team. 

Auditors hide donors, look for secret watermarks on ballots

Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan, left, a Florida-based consultancy, talks about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican lead Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, as a Cyber Ninjas IT technician demonstrates a ballot scan during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix. The equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden and the 2.1 million ballots were moved to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden's victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan, left, a Florida-based consultancy, talks about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican lead Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, as a Cyber Ninjas IT technician demonstrates a ballot scan during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

What the Senate election audit lacks in transparency, it makes up for in QAnon conspiracy theories. 

From the Arizona Senate to the cybersecurity company overseeing the audit of nearly 2.1 million ballots from the November election, everyone involved has said one way or another that they want and hope to be transparent about the process, but to date, there is little evidence to support those claims.  

While media outlets across the state had to fight and threaten legal action to receive limited access to the Madhouse on McDowell – dubbed so decades ago for raucous Phoenix Suns games – unanswered, important questions still hang in the air.  


Former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, the Senate liaison for the audit, hasn’t disclosed any private contributors helping to fund the audit. The Senate and Cyber Ninjas, the firm overseeing the process, agreed on a $150,000 contract that will come from taxpayers, but it is known that there is a lot of money pouring in from outside sources, including One America News Network, which pushes the far-right agenda.  

Bennett has stated his intention for transparency on the private funding, but has yet to accomplish that.  

Bennett said April 27 he will try to have the money go through the state Senate so it can be tracked as a public record. Currently, the private money is going directly to Cyber Ninjas, whose CEO Doug Logan has repeatedly refused to disclose any information. 

“I am going to fight with every ounce of breath I have to make sure that all of that money goes through the Arizona Senate, and is publicly disclosed,” Bennett said. 

If any money does go to the Senate, it would go through the Legislative Council, not directly to senators. 

However, according to Legislative Council, the body that would actually accept any “gifts” the Senate receives, no one has asked about the possibility of setting up a mechanism to receive these donations.  

Mike Braun, Legislative Council executive director, said Arizona Capitol Times reporters were the only ones who have even broached the topic to him.  

He said that this isn’t one of those times where “the answer is no, but the check will be here by two o’clock.”  

“Nobody’s ever talked to us about setting it up or doing it, or what the requirements would be,” Braun said.  

Bennett declined to say whether former President Trump was sending money to back the audit, but he said MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell has not donated money.  

While simultaneously claiming the money would become public, Bennett plugged the Trump-friendly One America New Network-backed 501(c)(4) organizations fundraising for the audit, directing people to its website to donate during the brief press conference.  

He said the source of those nonprofits’ funding will “get disclosed … when all the 501(c)(4) contributors get disclosed.” That might be a while, considering 501(c)(4) organizations are “dark money” nonprofits that aren’t required to disclose donors. 

Bennett also urged people to visit a website if they wanted to give money to the audit. The site – also a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization – is hoping to raise $2.8 million. The nonprofit, The America Project, is run by former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, who has close ties to Trump, Lindell and others in that inner circle.  

Meanwhile, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled on April 28 that policies and procedures for the audit conducted by Cyber Ninjas and its subcontractors is considered a public record, but the ruling is likely pending appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court.  

To date, a coalition of media publications had to fight with the Senate, Bennett and Cyber Ninjas over allowing members of the press to be in the room as the audit is being conducted. It took until the fourth day of counting ballots before media got inside Veterans Memorial Coliseum to report. From day one of the auditing process, media outlets could only gain access to the venue if they volunteered to participate as an observer without being able to report, but attorneys for media organizations struck a deal to allow one pool reporter at a time in. 

Before that, only one reporter, Jen Fifield from The Arizona Republic, was granted access (a Capitol Times reporter was denied after signing up) and became a key part of the story when she noticed blue pens were about to be used and urged Logan to remedy it.  

Now, there’s a rotation of media outlets who can observe from the bleachers inside the coliseum during several shifts in a day. 


While Arizona media fights for access, journalists and election officials are also fighting to debunk persisting conspiracy theories Bennett and others involved with the audit are pushing.  

The 2020 election gave rise to many conspiracy theories of a stolen election, and some are still alive as auditors count the ballots.  

The most prevalent conspiracy theory is that the auditors are using ultraviolet light to scan ballots to look for secret watermarks the Trump administration placed on “official ballots.”  

That repeatedly-debunked theory began from the QAnon community. 

QAnon emerged after Trump’s election, claiming that Trump is fighting an elite cabal of business leaders, celebrities, media professionals and politicians engaged in Satanic worship and child sex trafficking. 

One of its rumored leaders, who might be “Q” himself, according to a recent HBO documentary series is Ron Watkins, who does not live in the United States. He has gotten heavily involved with the Maricopa County audit through the instant-messaging app Telegram. Watkins, on the social media channels he has not been banned from, goes by the moniker CodeMonkeyZ. He has posted more than a dozen times about the audit, claiming he has seen wrongdoing on the livestream cameras. 

Bennett would not answer questions about Watkins’ possible involvement.  

It’s unclear how involved Watkins is in the audit, but there is a host of connections between him and the auditors, including that Watkins and Cyber Ninja CEO Doug Logan retweeted each other after the election. 

Watkins claimed Trump actually received 200,000 more votes in Arizona than he did, which Logan shared on his now-deleted account.  

On the message board, Watkins commented that he has been talking with Bobby Piton, a mathematician and investment manager who has theorized that the election was stolen. Piton attended the unofficial legislative hearing in November at the Hyatt in Phoenix as an expert witness and posted on social media that he spent “12 hours working on AZ Data” over the weekend.  

The two agree that UV light will expose all the fake votes. 

“Called [Piton] earlier and had a chat about the potential use of the UV light station,” Watkins wrote. “Since UV is able to detect oil from fingerprints, if there are no fingerprints on the ballot then the likelihood of the ballot being marked through a non-human process is high.”  

Watkins also complained that volunteers weren’t doing the UV process properly. 

In an interview with Newsmax, another right-wing channel, Bennett confirmed they were looking for watermarks.   

Maricopa County Elections Department recently said their ballots do not have watermarks on them. 

Bennett said auditors “are looking for a lot of things” with the UV light. 

Barto declares victory

In this May 21, 2019, file photo, Arizona state Rep. Nancy Barto, middle, stands with other lawmakers in the State House. (Photo by Bob Christie/Associated Press)
In this May 21, 2019, file photo, Arizona state Rep. Nancy Barto, middle, stands with other lawmakers in the State House. (Photo by Bob Christie/Associated Press)

Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix declared victory over incumbent Sen. Heather Carter Thursday evening, in a win for ideological purity over the pragmatism practiced by the more moderate Carter.

The race between the two — who represent warring factions in the GOP — has been bitter and expensive since Barto first announced she would challenge Carter for the Senate seat of Legislative District 15 in September of 2019. It remained too close to call on election night, but Barto steadily increased her lead over Carter with each round of results. 

“The principles we believe in that have made our state and country great had been eroding for some time and I could not stand by to see them destroyed,” Barto said in a statement. “I believed that the voters of our district shared this concern and simply needed the opportunity to see our records and make an informed decision.” 

No Democrats are running in the general election, so Barto is assured of a seat in the state Senate next year. 

Carter, R-Cave Creek, has long rankled the more conservative members of her caucus for her willingness to buck party leadership, particularly on health care issues including voting to expand Medicaid in 2013. Working with Republican Sens. Kate Brophy McGee of Phoenix and Paul Boyer of Glendale, she has been able to force Senate Republicans to pass expanded protections for child survivors of sexual abuse, keep controversial anti-abortion legslation out of the state budget and end the regular legislative session during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In a letter to campaign supporters, Carter said she looks forward to finding new opportunities to serve her community.

“I want to extend my endless gratitude to those who never wavered in their support since the moment I decided to enter state politics,” Carter wrote. “Every one of you who placed your faith in me to make Arizona a better place for the future, I thank you.”

Barto’s running mate, Justin Wilmeth, also secured the second GOP nomination for the state House in Legislative District 15 on Thursday evening.

And former lawmaker Judy Burges appears on track to win the GOP nomination for the second House seat in Legislative District 1, where she now leads nurse Selina Bliss by 2,079 votes. 

Republican Sen. Frank Pratt of Casa Grande, running for a position in the state House, now leads challenger Neal Carter by 40 votes, after trailing by 22 votes Wednesday evening. Thousands of votes remain to be counted in Pinal and Gila counties.

Elsewhere in the state, trends held in too-close-to-call elections.

Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, gained 20 votes in his race against challenger Joseph Chaplik, but Chaplik still leads by 623 votes. Former lawmaker Steve Montenegro again narrowed the gap between himself and Rep. Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear, though he still trails by 381 votes in Legislative District 13. 

And 345 votes now separate Melody Hernandez and Debbie Nez-Manuel in Legislative District 26. Hernandez, considered the more progressive candidate in the district and running on a slate with current Sen. Juan Mendez and Rep. Debbie Nez-Manuel, has maintained a small lead since election night. 

Barto holds slim lead in LD15 showdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behind the Ballot: Riding the wave


Lynsey Robinson
Lynsey Robinson

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

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

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

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

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


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

Bet on it – sports wagering to become law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sally Ann Gonzales
Sally Ann Gonzales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big fights loom over few differences in GOP spending proposals

Male hand putting a coin into piggy bank

Cage fighting has begun at the state Capitol.

And while physical violence has been avoided, the stakes are high all the same. Somewhere in the ballpark of $12 billion in state revenues is up for grabs as lawmakers forge ahead on this session’s appropriation process, having bucked tradition by drafting separate legislative budget proposals in each chamber that need to be reconciled before negotiations can begin with the Governor’s Office.

Those proposals became public earlier in January, and Republican leadership and Appropriations Committee members from both the House and Senate have already held several meetings in the Joint Legislative Budget Committee offices, dubbed “the cage,” to hash out their differences on where the state should spend its money in the next fiscal year. Meetings with the governor, who released his budget proposal January 17, are on the horizon.

In broad strokes, the three Republican budgets are fairly similar. All call for increased funding for K-12 education, roads and public safety, and include some form of tax cut.

But there are key differences, mostly between the governor’s budget and the two legislative budgets.

Gov. Doug Ducey wants to close a prison, launch a new program to fund low-achieving schools and stash more money in the state’s rainy day fund. Republicans in both legislative chambers are agitating for more aggressive tax cuts than the governor proposed.

The Senate framework has detailed requests from individual members, including overhauling a special education funding formula that has gone unchanged since 1980, building a veterans’ home in Mohave County and providing state aid to cities covering the costs of firefighters’ cancer treatment. The House, meanwhile, has set aside around $51 million ongoing for member requests – an amount that would all but disappear if lawmakers acquiesced to some of Ducey’s spending requests.

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said discussions with House leaders are going well, but both chambers still have many questions for Ducey.

“Some of the things they have in their budget, we don’t understand what they’re doing or how they’re doing it or why they’re doing it,” she said of the governor’s budget plan.

Unknown Priorities

Chief among those questions is just how to handle the closure of Florence Prison, a move Ducey announced in his State of the State Address to the apparent surprise of Florence town officials. The governor’s budget staff estimated that moving prisoners to county jails or private prisons and reassigning correctional officers to the nearby Eyman Prison would save the state $270 million over three years.

But in the next budget year, closing the prison entails spending about $33 million to buy bed space for inmates in county jails and private prisons, according to the Governor’s Office, though neither the House nor Senate budget makes a similar appropriation. Legislative budget staff say questions over how much money is needed and where prisoners will go could remain unanswered until after the Legislature adjourns for the year.

“We’d like to have more details about that, as to how we’re going to go about transferring those prisoners and how those costs will be transferred to either the Eyman Prison or over to the county jails,” Fann said.

And legislative Republicans don’t know what to do with Ducey’s school-funding initiative, dubbed “Project Rocket,” which would spend $44 million to increase per-pupil funding at low-performing, low-income schools over three years. Neither legislative budget proposal carves out any funding for the new program, which Fann said most lawmakers didn’t know about prior to the governor’s State of the State Address.

While Project Rocket has support from Republicans, including House Education Chair Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, legislative leaders as a whole are skeptical of the program, which would eat up the bulk of the ongoing discretionary spending set aside for member requests if passed as written.

“Obviously we’re all for funding education, particularly schools that need the extra help to bring them up, but it’s a new program and so we have some questions,” Fann said. “How does it work? Who exactly is going to get the funds, and under what conditions?”

The program is modeled after a pilot that offered “results-based funding” in Avondale, Wickenburg and Deer Valley school districts, in effect increasing per-pupil spending. House Appropriations Chair Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, said she’s not sold on the initiative, and that she thinks it could be cheaper and just as effective if lawmakers narrow its scope.

“It includes D schools, F schools and it also includes C schools with 60% [free or reduced lunch] – that’s where that $44 million comes from,” Cobb said. “If you just did D and F schools, you could probably just drop it to $12 million.”

‘Bothersome’ Tax Cuts

And then there are differences on what to do with the state’s overflowing surplus. House Republicans want $350 million in tax cuts over the next three fiscal years, while the Senate calls for $275 million of cuts in the same time period, just about covering a wide-reaching plan introduced by Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, that would cut about $300 million over three years.

The governor, on the other hand, only calls for a reduction of $45 million, the result of a proposal to eliminate income taxes on veterans’ pensions. Ducey also wants to add $25 million to the rainy day fund, while appropriators have yet to propose an amount they’d like to see added to the fund.

Cobb called Ducey’s proposed tax cut a “carve-out of a carve-out,” not the kind of broad-based cuts sought by many conservatives.

She’d like to tinker with personal exemptions and charitable tax credits – perhaps in concert with the governor’s cut – to reach $100 million a year in ongoing cuts, plus a $50 million one-time cut in fiscal year 2021, which starts this coming July 1.

Regina Cobb
Regina Cobb

“I think that when you’ve got $1 billion in surplus, $100 million is not a lot of a tax cut to be given back to the taxpayers, especially since we’ve got …  an increase in income,” Cobb said. “We don’t want to live off of a nine or 10% growth rate. That’s unsustainable. So what we wanna’ do is live off of the lower growth rate.”

But the Legislature’s ambitious tax cut plans risk alienating moderates like Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, a north Phoenix Republican who faces stiff odds as she runs for re-election this year. Brophy McGee’s opposition to a tax cut plan Mesnard pitched last year that would have given more income tax breaks to wealthier Arizonans and increased taxes for the state’s poorest residents was one of the key reasons it didn’t pass.

Brophy McGee called the tax cut figures in the Senate and House budgets “bothersome,” but said she’s “somewhat interested” in Ducey’s narrowly targeted tax cut plan for veterans. The state still has $1.1 billion in K-12 rollovers and debt that has yet to be paid back, and should wait to go through another robust economic cycle before discussing cuts, she said.

“Let’s get back to where we were before the wheels fell off, and then we can talk about tax cuts,” she said.

The Dem Factor

Tax cuts also mean losing support from Democrats in either chamber who might otherwise be willing to support pieces of the budget, Senate Minority Leader David Bradley said. Sweeping tax cuts are a “poison pill” that will contaminate every budget bill, he said.

Democrats in the House and Senate plan to introduce their own spending proposals by next week, publicly laying out their starting point in negotiations as Republican leaders barrel toward a planned late-February budget passage.

The House and Senate budgets do more closely align with Democratic priorities in one sense – they both call for more funding to help homeless Arizonans.

Both legislative proposals would give $10 million to the state Housing Trust Fund, while Ducey’s budget allocates no money to the oft-neglected fund. State support for subsidized housing plummeted during the recession, but last year’s budget reversed course by providing a one-time influx of $15 million to the fund.

While the $10 million proposed in this year’s budget is a start, Fann said she and other Republican senators would like to spend more. Democrats in both chambers have made increased funding for housing a key part of their platform.

Bucking Tradition

Settling these differences and getting a budget passed will be something of a novel process. In the past, budget negotiations took place much later in the session, and the governor tended to set the terms of debate, whereas now the dual budgets from the Legislature give lawmakers a bit more bargaining power.

“It wasn’t necessarily contentious, but it was extremely slow,” said Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who for years served as House Appropriations chair. “We would make a proposal and it would take days to come back – then the change was minor.”

Now, Kavanagh, who still serves on the Appropriations Committee, senses a “spirit of greater collaboration,” partly because lawmakers want to finish the budget and hit the campaign trail as soon as possible.

And even once there’s a unified Republican spending plan, leaders have to fend off holdouts from rank-and-file lawmakers who have specific requests or who feel jilted by a lack of transparency in the negotiations process, a perennial complaint that has persisted this session. This is especially crucial in the House, where one Republican defection means that leaders have to seek Democratic votes to get a budget passed.

“Our votes are never secure,” said Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott. “We all want what we want for our districts and our constituents.”

As with any fight, cage or otherwise, everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

“The fun has yet to begin,” Kavanagh said.

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 changes how much lobbyists must report when they spend on legislators

A House committee approved a bill that would potentially lower how much lobbyists report compared to what they actually spend for events where lawmakers or state employees are invited.

The measure would change the reporting rules by requiring that only the fair market value of the food, beverage and other tangible benefits received by the state officer or employee is reported. Currently, reportable expenditures are based on the total expenditure incurred by the lobbyist for the benefit of the organization hosting the event.

It’s not uncommon, for example, for lobbyists or companies to sponsor tables at charitable events. Currently, if they invited legislators to sit at their table, they must report the total amount they spent, even though the market value of food and beverage may be considerably less.

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

SB1118, sponsored by Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, was approved on March 1 by the House Government Committee, 6-2, with Democrats Ken Clark, of Phoenix, and Athena Salman, of Tempe, voting against it.

Kavanagh said the bill, which was unanimously approved by the Senate, was brought to him by the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, which argued that current reporting requirements are unfair.

Mike Huckins, a lobbyist for the chamber, said because the value of the ticket can vary depending on where someone is sitting or how much a sponsor donated to the organization running the event, it’s not an accurate representation of what the lawmaker or public employee received. The cost of the event, he added, goes toward the organization and does not benefit the public official.

However, Clark argued that lawmakers get more than just a meal and a drink out of attending these events. He said lawmakers are invited to them “because they play a prominent role,” and groups want to influence them.

“When I first saw the bill, it seemed reasonable to me to report the fair market value,” Clark said. However, as he looked further into it, he became concerned that reporting the fair market value alone is not transparent, he said.

“If a lobbyist gets you into a $500-a-plate meal or gala, the public has a right to believe that there’s some kind of expectation there,” he said, adding, “If you’re going to report the fair market value, you should also report the total ticket value so the public knows.”

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

Salman said she has had the opportunity to meet lobbyists and industry representatives at these events, an opportunity she otherwise wouldn’t have had if she isn’t a legislator.

“To me, there’s a value in that,” she said, adding that the current reporting requirements capture that. “To argue the only benefit someone who votes on laws is getting by going to these events is a free meal and a free drink, I think, is misleading to the public.”

Huckins disagreed.

“Obviously, there are other incidental benefits from going to an event, but how do you put a price tag on that?” he said.

An amendment Clark proposed but later withdrew would have addressed this point by requiring that the fair market value and the total value of the ticket be reported. Kavanagh said he hadn’t seen the amendment but would be open to discussing the issue further with Clark.

Rep. Ray Martinez, D-Phoenix, who voted in favor of moving the bill out of committee, said he reserved the right to later change his vote if some of the concerns brought up by Clark and Salman aren’t addressed.

Bill to restrict marijuana advertising dies in Senate


State lawmakers refused Monday to place restrictions on advertising marijuana that don’t exist for liquor and, to a great extent, for tobacco products.

HB 2809 sought an absolute ban on billboards advertising the product, now legal for adult use since approval of Proposition 207, within 1,000 feet if in the line of sight of any child care center, church, public park or public or private school. And any billboard already up would have to come down within 30 days of the law taking effect.

But what upset several Democratic lawmakers was a proposed outright ban on marijuana retailers sponsoring any athletic, musical, artistic or “other social or cultural event.” Also forbidden would have been underwriting or sponsoring any entry fee or team in any event.

Put simply, it was designed to hide the visibility of one legal drug — in this case, marijuana — while allowing wholesale promotion of another, notably alcohol.

It did not escape foes that this came as people can attend rock concerts sponsored by Miller Light and Busch is the official beer of NASCAR.

The legislation cleared the House in February with only two dissenting votes. And on Monday, Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, said she agrees.

“The school teacher in me absolutely has to vote ‘yes,’ ” she told colleagues. “We need to protect our kids.”

Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, said the teacher in her agrees.

“However, the business woman in me also feels that it’s very unfair of this legislature to pick winner and losers,” she said.

Otondo said she has no problem with requirements for signage and labeling, such as warning that the drug should not be used by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and making it clear that anyone younger than 21 cannot purchase marijuana.

“We all want to protect our children,” she said. “But the minute we begin to say an industry cannot do sponsorships then we are picking winners and losers.”

Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, had her own problems with the verbiage.

She said the language against selling marijuana to anyone who is “obviously intoxicated” could end up discriminating against those with disabilities.

And there’s something else.

HB 2190 would have made it illegal to actually show a picture of a marijuana leaf or bud.

“That’s regulating commercial speech,” Engel said. “And I’m not sure I see the rational relationship between the purposes of this bill and that kind of restriction.”

The measure actually got 18 votes in support.

But the Arizona Constitution says that anything approved by voters, as was recreational use of marijuana last year, can be amended only if it furthers the purpose of the original law — and only with a three-fourths vote. So it would have needed 23 votes in the 30-member Senate.


Borrelli badgers woman over ballots, ridicules Republicans

File photo of Rep. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City (Cronkite News Service Photo by Jessica Boehm)
File photo of Rep. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City (Cronkite News Service Photo by Jessica Boehm)

The Arizona Senate’s Republican whip attempted to pressure a woman who went dumpster-diving for ballots into handing documents she found over to him instead of law enforcement and implied both of them could be killed for trying to expose fraud.

During the 30-minute conversation, a recording of which was shared with the Arizona Capitol Times, Borrelli called multiple other Republican politicians “corrupt cowards,” said he was the sole senator pushing to investigate the 2020 election and repeatedly told Staci Burk, a plaintiff in an losing lawsuit to overturn election results, that she could be arrested or killed. 

“I might get arrested or whatever,” Borrelli said. “I’m going to get ridiculed in the press. I don’t give a damn. I wanna save this fricking country.” 

Over the weekend, Burk posted photos of two men, one of whom has since been identified as Vietnam veteran Earl Shafer, climbing into a set of dumpsters outside the Maricopa County elections department, removing a yellow trash bag of shredded paper and piecing together documents that appeared to be completed 2020 ballots. 

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer said the county’s 2.1 million completed 2020 ballots were still locked in a vault, as required by state law, adding that the shredded papers could have been ballots cast by deceased voters. 

“I have no explanation for how a voted ballot could be there and we do not believe there were voted ballots in there,” he said. “We’re 100 percent confident that they’re not part of the 2.1 million voted ballots.”

Upon learning about the incident — which was first published in right-wing websites that did not give the county a chance to respond — the Attorney General’s Office tried contacting Burk and Shafer to obtain the shredded papers. So far, they have not handed over the documents, a spokesman said.  

Borrelli did not return multiple phone calls about the recording.

Burk, after speaking to Borrelli, created a GoFundMe account asking for $20,000 to cover her legal costs and saying senators warned her that she would be killed or arrested on false charges. So far, she has raised just $200.

Burk is also self-funding a lawsuit against Gov. Doug Ducey, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, all five Maricopa County supervisors and former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes. Her lawsuit, dubbed the “Arizona Kraken 2.0” made claims that ballots were delivered from South Korea.

A Pinal County judge threw out her lawsuit because Burk was not a registered voter. It’s pending appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court. 

During their call, Borrelli repeatedly warned Burk that she was in danger. Arizona is the “domino” that will expose corruption across the country and overturn the election, he insisted. 

“This is so high level that they want this to go away,” he said. “They can try to silence you – you’re a private citizen. They can’t do anything to me. They can bully me all they want but they know they can’t take me out except if they whack me or I have a suicide.”

“If anything fricking happened to me, if I got hurt, if I got killed, this whole thing would go away because there’s nobody in the Senate that would push,” he added.  

During the call, Borrelli called multiple fellow Republicans, including the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and new county recorder Stephen Richer “corrupt cowards,” said he was “really disappointed” in former lawmaker and new Maricopa County treasurer John Allen.

He also mentioned Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert,  and criticized Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale. 

“Warren? Heh. I don’t want to go on and on about Warren. He’s the chairman of the judiciary committee, he inherited this and he reluctantly got involved.” Borrelli said. 

It was Boyer’s  “no” vote on a contempt resolution that stopped the Senate from sending its sergeant at arms to arrest the county supervisors for not turning over ballots and election equipment they contended they could not legally provide.

“He stabbed us all in the back,” he said. 

And he let his feelings known about the Maricopa County supervisors, who fought the senate subpoenas.  

“They’re the corrupt bastards that I want to go — I want them in freaking jail,” Borrelli said. “I want them in jail, you have no idea how much.”

He also repeatedly claimed that Attorney General Mark Brnovich, also a Republican, would let the election materials “evaporate” if Burk shared them. 

“Do you turn it over to the attorney general that’s been turning his back and not lifting a finger?” Borrelli asked. “By the way, they probably have an incentive to make it all go away. I don’t.”

Later in the conversation, he said he couldn’t get other senators, including Senate President Karen Fann, to commit to investigating and protecting Burk as a whistleblower.

“I don’t trust any of those people,” he said. “The reason why we are where we are is because I’ve been a pain in the ass in the Senate and wasn’t going to let this go. Trust me, there are people who would fold like a lawn chair if I let this go.”

Borrelli said he has been in touch with Sidney Powell and Kurt Olsen, two attorneys who worked on multiple lawsuits filed by Trump allies trying to overturn election results. Olsen told him about new technology that would piece together shredded documents, which Borrelli compared to Iranian rugmakers reassembling shredded CIA documents after seizing the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979.

At other points in the conversation, Borrelli lost his temper with Burk, who insisted that the Senate wouldn’t do anything to help her and claimed to have heard two weeks before the Senate’s failed contempt vote — and therefore more than a week before the Senate drafted its contempt resolution — that lawmakers had a secret meeting in which they decided to stage a 15-15 vote. 

“You don’t think this is part of a cover-up?” Borrelli asked her at one point. 

“Oh, I think it’s a cover-up,” she responded. “But I think the whole legislature is involved.”

Borrelli has insisted that the election was fraudulent since early November. On Nov. 10, he caused callers from across the country to flood a fellow senator’s legislative office, campaign phone number and personal cell phone with irate messages interrogating whether his race was proof of fraud — all because incumbent Republican Sen. J.D. Mesnard won his East Valley swing district when Trump lost it. 

More recently, he has made multiple appearances on conservative podcasts and radio shows complaining that Boyer “betrayed the caucus,” contributing to a rash of threats against Boyer that got so bad he briefly moved his family out of their home.

Borrelli’s comments also run in opposition to what other Senate Republicans have tried hard to argue: that their attempts to audit the 2020 election have nothing to do with changing the results.

Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray said in a floor speech he and others were never trying to overturn the election. The Peoria Republican said he was “inundated with people’s input” and it was mostly about an audit.

“You didn’t see any of us trying to change electors,” Gray said on Feb. 4.

Fontes, the former Democratic Maricopa County recorder who lost his re-election bid, said Borrelli should apologize. 

“Mr. Borrelli’s suicide jokes during this incredibly stressful pandemic are irresponsible and lack the maturity, empathy and leadership we should expect from our public officials,”  he said. 

Boyer’s vote triggers threats of violence, retribution

In this April 16, 2016, photo, Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, attends a panel discussion hosted by the Center for Political Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/Flickr
In this April 16, 2016, photo, Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, attends a panel discussion hosted by the Center for Political Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/Flickr

The screen behind Senate President Karen Fann spelled defeat before she even started talking on February 8.

Fifteen names in red. Fourteen in green. And her own in yellow, waiting for her to cast a vote that wouldn’t make a difference unless she could convince the Republican senator sitting in front of her to change his vote.

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, had surprised Fann and the rest of the Republican caucus about an hour prior, when he announced his “no” vote on a resolution that would empower Fann to send the Senate’s sergeant at arms to arrest Maricopa County’s five supervisors for refusing to comply with a subpoena the supervisors said was unlawful. 

For the past hour, Senate Republicans had tried to cajole, coerce, threaten and persuade Boyer, through pointed on-mic speeches directed his way and fervent whispers from a rotating cast of lawmakers kneeled by his desk. Nothing had changed by the time Fann started speaking.

“Needless to say, I would not have put this on the board had I not been under the impression and was told that we had 16 solid votes,” Fann began in clipped tones, looking pointedly at Boyer. “Had I been told that there wasn’t, perhaps we would have talked about this before it went up on the board.”

For the next several minutes, Fann ran through her litany of reasons for taking the unprecedented step of holding Maricopa County’s elected supervisors in contempt, a vote that could lead to the Senate incarcerating the five men for the duration of this year’s legislative session.

Boyer stared at his cell phone, which was buzzing uncontrollably with texts and phone calls from unknown numbers. Within hours, he would be packing to move with his wife and toddler to an undisclosed safe location after some of the texters escalated to overt threats.

Arguments exhausted, Fann looked at Boyer.

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

“So I am hoping someone might change their vote and let this pass so that we can move forward,” she said. 

Silence lingered as everyone in the room watched Boyer, then scanning through text messages to save the most overt threats for police.

Boyer looked up and shook his head. The vote was over. His hellish week was just beginning.  

Time to think

The path that eventually led to half the Arizona Senate barreling ahead with a Wild West plan to lock up other officials started in November, when 1,672,143 Arizonans voted for Joe Biden and 1,661,686 voted for Donald Trump. 

It was the first time a Democrat won the state’s electoral votes since Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election. Prior to that, the last Democrat to win Arizona was Harry Truman in 1948. 

State Republicans, and their representatives in Congress and the Legislature, couldn’t believe it really happened. As ballots were still being counted, they began weaving complicated theories involving Sharpies, manipulated voting machines, undead voters, the deceased Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez and a vast conspiracy that somehow implicated Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, Democratic Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes and his Republican successor Stephen Richer, the four Republicans and one Democrat on the county Board of Supervisors, and hundreds of election officials of all political backgrounds.

Republican lawmakers, in particular, developed a new interest in constitutional law and a belief that they had plenary, or absolute, power to appoint electors – something previous Legislatures had delegated to voters with multiple laws requiring that presidential electors vote to reflect the state’s popular vote. 

Three days after the November 3 election, Fann asked legislative attorneys for a memo on the Legislature’s ability to change how electors are appointed. Even after attorneys told her it was impossible to retroactively change the state’s electors, the Arizona Republican Party convened its would-be electors and Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, first sent a letter to Congress asking that the Republican electors be appointed and then filed legislation to do the same.

Townsend used Boyer’s signature on her December letter to Congress, assuming he would support it because he had agreed to support a previous version of the message that simply asked to delay certifying electors until multiple lawsuits over election results were settled. 

 In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, supporters of President Donald Trump gather outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar)
In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, supporters of President Donald Trump gather outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar)

Distancing himself from Townsend’s letter resulted in Boyer being the first — and still one of a few — legislative Republicans to publicly acknowledge Biden’s victory. Doing so resulted in angry emailers from other states threatening his political career, he said, but his own Republican constituents didn’t seem to care.

In the House, Speaker Rusty Bowers shut down attempts to engage the Legislature in overturning election results. 

“Given the outcome of the presidential race in Arizona, an enormous amount of pressure is being directed at my office and my colleagues,” Bowers wrote in a November letter to House members. “I wish to respond by simply saying – I took an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution and laws of the State of Arizona.”

Kelly Townsend
Kelly Townsend

Bowers refused requests from Townsend, then in the House, to hold special hearings on election integrity. In the Senate, Fann set up a voter fraud hotline that was quickly flooded with jokes, crude photos and complaints about Republicans trying to undermine faith in the election system. She approved a hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and signed subpoenas demanding Maricopa County turn over access to ballots and election equipment for a still-unidentified Senate-hired auditor to analyze.

Maricopa County supervisors, who already planned to run another forensic audit, balked at the Senate’s demands. As far as they were concerned, handing over ballots would violate state law that requires ballots to be kept secret, so they went to court to block the legislative subpoenas.

As court arguments continued, and under mounting pressure from constituents and members of her caucus, Fann last week introduced a resolution to hold the county supervisors in contempt. All 16 Senate Republicans co-sponsored it and voted to waive their own rules, and it looked like a done deal. Then, lawmakers went home for the weekend and Boyer had time to think. 


Boyer told the Arizona Capitol Times he was comfortable with the initial information he received, but the longer he thought about it and the more he learned, the worse the measure seemed. He couldn’t imagine the thought of any of the county supervisors going to jail for striving to follow the law, he said. 

He called supervisors Bill Gates and Jack Sellers on February 7 and asked for a meeting with the two of them and Fann before the next day’s scheduled vote, with no attorneys or staff. During a February 10 board meeting, Gates said he promised Boyer he would try to bring the dispute to an end as quickly as possible. 

Bill Gates
Bill Gates

“He took the time to meet with us and he took the time to find it in his heart to trust us,” Gates said. “It’s something that is a rare commodity these days, but he trusted what we said to him.”

Boyer said he told Fann during that meeting that she needed to take contempt off the table, but she made it clear she would bring the resolution to the floor regardless.  

“I heard from the board directly, and it was meaningful because it was without filter or interpretation from anyone else,” Boyer said. “It became extremely clear to me that the severity of the resolution was actually halting progress toward obtaining what the Senate ultimately desires — an additional independent audit of election results.”

Even if Republicans succeeded in passing their contempt resolution, Fann’s caucus was torn on what to do about it. She has largely avoided questions about whether she would actually send the sergeant at arms to arrest supervisors. 

“Statute tells us we must pass the resolution to move forward,” she said. “We have a number of options once we do that.” 

Some, like Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, voted for the contempt resolution out of a conviction that legislative subpoenas must be respected, even though he doesn’t agree with the underlying reasons for these particular subpoenas. 

“I think we all know we’re not going to arrest anybody,” he said. “That’s over the top.”

But others are eager to see the county supervisors in cuffs. 

“The Maricopa Board of Supervisors need to be arrested for violating our subpoena. It is outrageous how they are behaving,” Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, tweeted. 


The threats that forced Boyer and his family from their home are new, but he’s familiar with political retribution. 

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, hands a copy of John F. Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage” to Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, during a May 28 ceremonial signing of a bill that expands the statute of limitations for sexual abuse survivors to sue their assailants. Looking on are Bridie Farrell, a former competitive speed skater and sexual abuse survivor, and Gov. Doug Ducey. The senators leveraged their votes on the state budget to pass the bill and add spending to the budget. PHOTO BY DILLON ROSENBLATT/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, hands a copy of John F. Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage” to Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, during a May 28 ceremonial signing of a bill that expands the statute of limitations for sexual abuse survivors to sue their assailants. Looking on are Bridie Farrell, a former competitive speed skater and sexual abuse survivor, and Gov. Doug Ducey. The senators leveraged their votes on the state budget to pass the bill and add spending to the budget. PHOTO BY DILLON ROSENBLATT/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Two years ago, Boyer and then-Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, stood together to block the passage of the state’s budget until the Legislature passed a law giving sexual abuse survivors more time to sue their abusers. In retribution, House Republicans blocked hearings on many of Boyer’s and Carter’s bills the following session, and Carter lost her seat to a primary challenge from the more conservative Nancy Barto.

Boyer avoided a primary last year, though he has had them in most prior election cycles and said he welcomes the challenge. After his vote on the contempt resolution, a former GOP spokesman predicted he would lose in 2022 to former Rep. Anthony Kern, who participated in the January 6 U.S. Capitol protest and breached at least one set of barriers.

And as Boyer and his wife packed their bags on the evening of February 8, precinct committeemen in his district voted on a resolution to censure him, claiming he “hides behind sanctimoniousness and the Democrat Party Media instead of representing ‘We the people’ who elected him in good faith.” Trump won the Glendale-based district by just 300 votes.

Some of the messages Boyer received, and comments one lawmaker made on the floor, blurred lines between politics and violence. Townsend later sought to clarify that she was speaking only about ongoing legal challenges and recall efforts, but several of her colleagues understood her speech on the Senate floor as an incitement of violence. 

“Right now the last place this needs to be is in a place where the public is so lathered up over all of this,” Townsend said. “We need to do this in a way that’s professional, legal and proper — not that the public’s not — but they shouldn’t have to do this on our behalf. So public, do what you gotta do.”

Kate Brophy McGee
Kate Brophy McGee

Former Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, a moderate Republican who spent most of her 10 years in office as a favorite target of both conservatives and Democrats, said she would urge Boyer and the county supervisors who are dealing with threats of their own to seek prosecution for the threats wherever possible. And lawmakers from both parties need to unequivocally reject the violent threats, she said. 

“We shouldn’t put it all on public safety to keep our elected officials safe,” she said. “We need to unite Democrats and Republicans and say this has all got to stop.” 

It may not be possible to avoid political consequences for unpopular stances, she said, but lawmakers can choose to set appropriate boundaries and hold onto their convictions. 

“Changing your mind or backing off doesn’t change the objectionable behavior of people who cannot appropriately express anger,” Brophy McGee said. “What I’m seeing across the political spectrum is people afraid to stand up for what you believe in. You need to set boundaries, you need to be consistent and you need to not feed into it.”

Boyer publicly addressed his vote on Twitter February 10, writing that he believed the Senate should have access to ballots and perform its own audit, and that he looks forward to the Senate making that argument in court.

He received 41 replies, from Democrats and Republicans, moderates and party loyalists. Every one was negative.

-Yellow Sheet editor Hank Stephenson contributed reporting



Bravo to move to Senate to replace Terán

Rep. Flavio Bravo, D-Phoenix, speaks with people at a press conference for Moms Demand Action at the Arizona Capitol building in Phoenix on Jan. 25, 2023. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors chose Bravo May 8 to replace former Sen. Raquel Terán in Legislative District 26. Terán resigned to run for Congress. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to select former Rep. Flavio Bravo, D-Phoenix, to replace former Sen. Raquel Terán in the state Senate, meaning the district will now have to select a replacement for Bravo in the House of Representatives. 

Terán stepped down from the Senate on April 13 to focus on her run for Congressional District 3 in 2024. Congressman Ruben Gallego currently represents that district but announced that he is running for Senate in 2024. 

The Legislative District 26 precinct committeemen met on April 17 and selected Representatives Aguilar, Bravo and committeeperson Quantá Crews as candidates to replace Terán. 

Crews got the most votes with 25, Rep. Cesar Aguilar, D-Phoenix, got 20, Bravo got 16 and Terrell got six. 

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors interviewed all the candidates and made their selection Monday morning after an executive session. 

Now, there is a vacant seat in the House of Representatives, and the district PCs will meet again and select three names of potential replacements for Bravo.  

“I’m deeply honored to have the opportunity to serve the residents of LD 26 across Central West Phoenix in the Arizona State Senate, as we engage in budget conversations this week-and beyond-I look forward to continuing the work I began in the House: expanding affordable housing for renters and first-time homebuyers, creating workforce development opportunities for immigrant communities; and investing in quality public schools for our youth,” Bravo said in a text after the vote. 

Supervisor Steve Gallardo said he talked to the candidates about issues important to Maricopa County including the Prop 400 transportation tax extension, the Rio Verde Foothills community’s difficulty in getting water delivered to them, and election security.  

Maricopa County has been under the microscope for three years over concerns about election security following former President Donald Trump’s loss.  

Gallardo sent Crews, Bravo and Aguilar a questionnaire before the board voted asking them about their views on county election security. All of them answered “yes” to every question, saying they believe elections are secure and legitimate. Gallardo said those are the responses he hoped to hear.  

“I know for a fact that any of the three would be strong advocates for Maricopa County,” Gallardo said of the candidates. He didn’t say what made him select Bravo over the other names. 

Gallardo said all three candidates were qualified and he hopes Crews puts her name in to replace Bravo in the House. He said there wasn’t just one thing that set Bravo apart, but that he was “a little more focused on specific issues in regards to some of the challenges there within the district.” 

As for the questionnaire, Gallardo said he wanted to send the same one to the candidates to replace former Rep. Liz Harris in Legislative District 13, but that wasn’t his decision, and he couldn’t vote for any of them in good conscience.  

Aguilar did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

“I am thankful for the PC’s who put their faith in me, and my ability to represent them. It was my hope that I would have received the appointment,” Crews said in a text. “I congratulate Flavio and I wish him the best in the Senate. Today’s results opened up an appointment in the State House, and I look forward to another chance to represent my community that I care so much about.”. 

Brophy McGee comes through with GOP win as vote count ends

Sen. Kate Brophy McGee (R-Phoenix)
Sen. Kate Brophy McGee (R-Phoenix)

Editor’s note: This story has been revised multiple times since the original publication because of the changing vote tally.

It took nearly two weeks, but it’s finally safe to declare victory for Sen. Kate Brophy McGee.

The Phoenix Republican was left waiting thanks to a slow vote-counting process by the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, which released its final batch of tabulated ballots late Monday afternoon. That final count left Brophy McGee’s lead at 267 votes over former Arizona Teacher of the Year Christine Marsh in Legislative District 28.

It’s been a rollercoaster ride for both candidates since Election Day. What started as an 808 vote lead for Brophy McGee that night nearly doubled to 1,458 votes the morning after. By November 9, that lead would be down to 616 votes.

From then on, Brophy McGee’s lead steadily shrunk as Maricopa County elections officials counted late-early ballots, mail-in ballots that were turned in the day of the midterm election, as well as provisional ballots.

Some days, Brophy McGee earned more votes than Marsh. But more often than not, the updates favored her Democratic challenger, who relied not only a surge of support for Democrats while President Trump occupies the White House, but also strong backing of the #RedforEd movement and public education supporters leary of Republican representation at the Capitol.

Brophy McGee gained some breathing room over the weekend, when a 280-vote advantage grew to 347 votes on Saturday evening. It was enough to help ensure she’d win with enough votes to avoid a recount, which would’ve been triggered by a lead of 50 votes or less.

LD28 candidates, particularly its state senators, routinely face tough elections in an area of Phoenix where Republicans hold a voter registration advantage, but independents often sway races and have a history of electing at least one Democrat to serve at the Capitol.

In Marsh, a high school English teacher riding a groundswell of support from fellow educators amid the #RedforEd movement, Brophy McGee faced arguably her toughest challenge yet.

Brophy McGee has gotten this far by walking a fine line on the campaign trail as a moderate Republican, and overcoming a rash of GOP infighting in the district.

Having finished her first term in the Senate, Brophy McGee isn’t always popular in GOP circles for her political positions, which skew toward bipartisan results. Even her own brother has contributed to her political rivals in the Republican Party, with Brophy McGee explaining her brother and sister-in-law favor more conservative candidates.

Her candidacy was at one point threatened by a fellow Republican, Rep. Maria Syms, whose husband sought to run against Brophy McGee as an independent. Throwing a third candidate, one aligned with a Republican like Syms, could have pulled votes away from Brophy McGee and swung the race in Marsh’s favor.

Following a lawsuit and the discovery that hundreds of the would-be candidate’s signatures were invalid, Brophy McGee was back to the campaign trail, where she told voters she has done all she can to boost funding for education.

Brophy McGee has boasted of her push to extend a sales tax for education, her support of Gov. Doug Ducey’s plan to give teachers a 20-percent pay raise over three years. She’s even threatened to sue a political committee that accused her of slashing education funding while in office.

Marsh, who has spent 26 years in the classroom, most recently at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, has criticized Republicans like Brophy McGee for not doing enough for teachers. And her pitch, like many other Democrats, focused in part on taking control of the Senate from Republicans, who she accused of leaving schools in a constant state of underfunding.

By surviving Marsh’s challenge, Brophy McGee is now the last remaining Republican legislator in the district. Syms and GOP newcomer Kathy Pappas Petsas were swept in the House race by Democrats Aaron Lieberman and Rep. Kelli Butler.

Budget talks stall, lawmakers consider scaled-down option

Deposit Photo

Legislative leadership is considering a “skinny budget” this year after struggling to get consensus on big projects. 

This would be a continuation of the baseline budget that the Legislature passed last year, meaning no funding would go into expensive new items that have been discussed like the border wall and an education package. 

“There are members that don’t want it. There are members that do want it. There are members that are hoping that we can get a regular budget done and they’re willing to continue a few conversations, but they’ve also expressed that if we can’t get it together, they don’t want to be here for another 171 days like last year,” Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said on Thursday. 

Karen Fann

The Senate GOP needs 16 votes to get a partisan budget through, but Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, is making that process difficult. He is not communicating with Fann and wants large investments into several projects. Rather than working with Boyer or the Democrats, Fann and Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, suggested that the chamber pass a condensed budget and go home early. 

Livingston addressed the Senate floor on Tuesday asking his colleagues to consider the idea in the name of mitigating inflation. Inflation isn’t the only driving factor behind this, however.  

For one thing, several lawmakers are in competitive races and want to get out to campaign for their upcoming primaries. 

Republicans seem to be doing very well in the early stages of campaigning, where Democrats couldn’t produce as many candidates as they did in 2020’s legislative races. This likely means a larger Republican majority next year. If the Senate passes a skinny budget now, a larger Republican body will have more money to play with next year. Fann said that’s another factor that has come up. 

Livingston said that because of the one person majorities in the House and Senate, each member thinks they can make demands, “Nobody is on the same page.”  Livingston wants members to respect the will of party leadership but says there’s no such consensus. “If you have consensus, you can do more things and more funding – that works too – but you have to have consensus.” 

Livingston commented on Boyer’s plan to create a new $900 million school funding project. 

“He doesn’t have 16 votes,” he said. “There’s no Senator that does, and that’s why you don’t do this by individuals.” 

Sean Bowie

Democrats including Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix, and Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, predicted that the session will last into July. Bowie said that a holdup Republicans might have about an early sine die is that it gives the governor the power to call legislators back into a special session against their will. Another is that they might not have the votes to do it. Bowie for his part, doesn’t want to throw in the towel and pass a skinny budget. He is one of the only Democrats Republicans are willing to negotiate with and is willing to compromise on a big budget.  

Let’s all hold hands and go out on a high note,” he said. 

Some of the bills that Republicans still need to move out of the Legislature are the Prop 400 transportation tax extension, homelessness mitigation bills and legislation authorizing the expansion of I-10. 

For the past two weeks the Senate has not been able to vote on any partisan bills because various members have been absent. Boyer left the Senate floor on Monday and hasn’t been seen since, blocking the legislature from getting through their bill agendas or passing a Republican budget anytime soon. 

Gov. Doug Ducey’s spokesman CJ Karamargin suggested that a skinny budget wouldn’t be the governor’s favorite option, asking, “Do you think it’s likely that a skinny budget is even going to happen?” In January, Ducey spoke about investing $1 billion for a new water authority agency and other smaller items. 

Senate President Karen Fann brought up the possibility of a special session two weeks ago, but since then only Livingston has advocated for it in the Senate. Republican Senators Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, Paul Boyer R-Glendale and T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge are some of the members who have said they don’t want to end early.  

Democrats are also wary of passing a skinny budget in a year with such narrow margins where they could potentially get some small projects approved. Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Tempe, said that it would be a failure of Fann’s leadership. 

Ugenti-Rita argued that the “skinny budget” under consideration is a misrepresentation of what is a bloated baseline budget from last year.  

“There’s no way I’m going to vote that budget out without dealing with the $5 billion carry forward balance we have,” she said on Wednesday. “It’s our job to provide significant tax relief. … It would be irresponsible to leave that money on the table.”  

Senators aren’t the only legislators who feel this way, Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, also said he opposes passing a “skinny budget.” 

“We don’t need to push our work off,” Cook said. “We don’t need to jump through hoops or try to out-maneuver during the budget cycle. What we need to do is sit down and get the work done and have what I call clean, open, honest conversations,” about the budget. 

David Cook

Cook said his budget priorities include paying down the state’s pension debt and a six-month suspension of the state’s 18-cents per gallon gas tax, which he said would give immediate relief to Arizonans struggling with rising prices. This idea has support in Arizona from both some federal and state lawmakers; U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly has introduced a bill to suspend the federal tax, and a few Arizona lawmakers, including Sens. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, and Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, have, like Cook, said they want to suspend the state’s. However, Ducey has said he opposes it. 

“There are a lot of things to address in the state’s budget this year that can be addressed and should be addressed, and I have faith in leadership at the Legislature and the governor to put together a comprehensive overall budget,” Cook said. “I am looking forward to reviewing whatever proposal they come up with. My personal priorities are in current legislative bills. My funding priorities are well known, and the continued reduction of state debt remains one of my top issues. And the idea of suspending the gas tax, under what I’ve suggested, would put $800 million into the people, small businesses and our economy over the next six months.” 

Some of the potential budget items that are too controversial for other Senators to get on board with include appropriating millions of dollars for a border wall, a flat tax cut, and a universal expansion of empowerment scholarship accounts, or ESAs. 

Bowie said he is willing to support a budget that includes ESA expansion, but not the border wall appropriation. Other than that, his demands have bipartisan support including a bill for earned income tax credits, which he is sponsoring, and the governor supports. 

The House Rules Committee voted on April 11 to allow for the introduction of budget bills whenever they are ready, but House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, and Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, didn’t say when they expect a budget to be introduced. It didn’t happen this week – the House adjourned for the week after its floor session Tuesday. House Republican spokesman Andrew Wilder said he doesn’t know what will happen when the House reconvenes on Monday; only a few mostly noncontroversial floor votes and a conference committee meeting have been scheduled so far. 

Toma didn’t return a call from the Capitol Times on Thursday, but he told the Arizona Republic earlier this week that there have been talks there of passing a baseline budget and addressing other issues such as tax cuts, empowerment scholarship accounts and water later. He also said any deal to increase public school funding would include ESA expansion for all students, with more for poorer students and the amounts students would get staggered based on family income. 

Fann said on Thursday that although Arizona has a relatively large pool of money to draw from, only a small amount of that is “ongoing funding” which many lawmakers want to use for their projects.  

“Our dilemma right now is we have a couple of our members that are asking for a lot of ongoing money that pretty well, between them and the governor, pretty well eats up all of the ongoing money, which leaves nothing left for anybody else,” she said. One time funding can be used for one-time fixes like highway infrastructure projects, but ongoing funding is needed to give raises to people like public safety officers, which some members want. Fann said there is about $1.3 billion in ongoing funding to parcel out and with everyone making demands, that’s relatively little. “We’ve got to be able to sit down and talk through this because everybody is going to want something,” she said. 

Capitol Times Reporters Nathan Brown and Nick Phillips contributed. 

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.

Candidate says no coordination with Worsley for LD25 senate seat

Mesa Republican Tyler Pace knew that Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, was considering retirement before he filed to run against the incumbent for the state Senate.

But the 29-year-old candidate in Legislative District 25 said he had nothing to do with Worsley’s decision to withdraw from the campaign, which Worsley timed perfectly to ensure that Pace would go unchallenged in the GOP primary election.

Pace said he met with Worsley before he began his campaign for the LD25 Senate seat, and that the senator told him he was thinking about calling it quits.

Tyler Pace
Tyler Pace

“Bob and I met before I filed my signatures, before I filed my candidacy,” Pace told the Arizona Capitol Times on June 21. “And at that point, I had become aware, and from Bob, he told me when we were meeting that he was considering retiring. And people, several other people we’ve met were like, ‘Oh we’ve heard him say that.’”

Worsley has openly acknowledged that he’s only retiring from the Legislature because he’s comfortable with Pace as his replacement.

By withdrawing from the race on June 18, after filing signatures to run on May 30 and past the June 13 deadline to challenge the petitions of those seeking access to the ballot, Worsley ensured that no Republican other than Pace will be on the ballot in August. Only a write-in candidate could challenge Pace in the Republican Primary.

Pace adamantly denied that he coordinated with Worsley or with Gov. Doug Ducey’s Chief of Staff Kirk Adams, his uncle by marriage, to secure the GOP nomination.

He described himself as a newcomer who stumbled into a perfect storm that created a clear path for his ascension to the Senate.

“Bob didn’t recruit me. He didn’t solicit me or hunt me out. I think it kind of was mostly circumstantial what was going on,” Pace said. “And as we now know, Bob was wanting a way out. And I think to sum it up, I was the only person who was available and there. No one else was running against him.”

The timing of Pace’s decision to enter the race has left some Mesa Republicans skeptical of his candidacy.

Pace registered his website’s domain name on May 25, the same day he created a campaign committee with the Secretary of State’s Office. He then collected 1,461 signatures in just five days, a staggering pace of roughly 292 signatures a day.

Pace credited a team of family volunteers and friends, and paid signature gatherers, for gathering his nominating petitions.

And he credited his grandfather, who served for decades in Utah’s Legislature, for the idea to run for the state Senate. Pace initially explored running for Congress against U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Mesa. But Pace said he settled on Worsley because, like Biggs, the senator faced no opposition from his own party.

“You can see with Andy Biggs. Nobody was running against Andy Biggs and I thought, we can have some discrepancies on what we agree, on little things,” he said. “Competition in politics gives people options, so I figured, it’s last second and everyone’s thinking I’m a bit crazy, so I jumped in.”

The circumstances around Worsley’s retirement have left LD25 Republicans suspicious, according to Kathleen Winn, first vice chair of the district’s Republican Party. Their party members are having a tough time separating Worsley’s maneuver from Pace’s candidacy, she said.

Pace had a chance to win over those Republicans at a meeting on June 21. The Capitol Times was barred from the meeting, but Winn said Pace spent the night answering questions about his political views, the circumstances surrounding his entry into the race and his connection to Worsley and the outgoing senator’s allies.

Winn said the crowd received him politely and didn’t go on the attack, but remained skeptical.

“He didn’t win over the crowd, but they didn’t try to attack him and shout him down, which I’ve seen happen,” she said. “I don’t think that they were 100 percent trusting of what he had to say, but I think that really goes way more to Bob Worsley than it does to Tyler Pace.”

Had Worsley been more open with the district’s political leaders about his desire to retire, some LD25 Republicans may have put another candidate forward. Winn said Dr. Ralph Heap, a Mesa Republican who challenged Worsley in the 2014 primary, likely would have made another run and probably would have gotten the support of many in the district.

Yet had a candidate like Heap run against Worsley, the senator had indicated he would have stayed in the race.

Worsley only ran for re-election against Heap in 2014 because wasn’t satisfied that Heap would represent the district appropriately, according to Tyler Montague, a consultant who helped recruit Worsley for office.

Now the district’s Republicans are left to decide whether to support Pace, or scramble to find a write-in candidate. Winn downplayed that possibility, calling discussions about a write-in a “knee jerk reaction” to Worsley’s announcement.

Nonetheless, Pace is at a disadvantage while introducing himself to the district.

“Tyler is very politically naive, but he’s very intelligent. And I think he represents a lot of our viewpoints, so we’ll see,” Winn said. “Unfortunately the way that Bob did this, he left Tyler in a  compromised position, which is unfortunate because now Tyler’s starting at a deficit… He’s getting any angst that people have against Sen. Worsley is now getting projected onto him, because people don’t trust Sen. Worsley.”

Capitol pivots to create agenda for special session(s)

State Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, left, R-Phoenix, stands with Sens. Martin Quezada, back middle, D-Phoenix, and Victoria Steele, second from right, D-Tucson, as they vote to adjourn the Arizona Senate legislative session as Majority Leader Rick Gray, front left, R-Sun City, and Sen. Sylvia Allen, front right, R-Snowflake, stay seated Tuesday, May 26, 2020, in Phoenix. The Arizona Senate's plan to pass a series of House bills and possibility consider two pieces of coronavirus-related legislation were upended Tuesday when a majority of members quickly voted to adjourn for the year in a 16-14 vote, with three Republicans joining the Democrats for the majority. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
State Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, left, R-Phoenix, stands with Sens. Martin Quezada, back middle, D-Phoenix, and Victoria Steele, second from right, D-Tucson, as they vote to adjourn the Arizona Senate legislative session as Majority Leader Rick Gray, front left, R-Sun City, and Sen. Sylvia Allen, front right, R-Snowflake, stay seated Tuesday, May 26, 2020, in Phoenix. The Arizona Senate’s plan to pass a series of House bills and possibility consider two pieces of coronavirus-related legislation were upended Tuesday when a majority of members quickly voted to adjourn for the year in a 16-14 vote, with three Republicans joining the Democrats for the majority. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Lawmakers and staff are preparing for multiple special legislative sessions to address COVID-19 and economic recovery now that the regular session has officially ended.

While the Capitol has been treating at least one special session as something of an inevitability for weeks, the Senate’s abrupt adjournment on May 26 has hastened that fact. The chamber finished its labors without debating a pair of COVID bills that originated in the House, effectively adding them to the agenda for a forthcoming special session.

Legislators are shifting their focus to those sessions, where they can “address economic stimulus and recovery initiatives, liability concerns, meet the health and human services needs of the state and other legislation related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said upon adjournment May 26.

Gov. Doug Ducey has committed to calling lawmakers back for two special sessions, one on economic issues and one to address the budget, Fann said. She said she expects at least one to be held in the next 30 days.

Last week, House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, said he expects to return for a special session in mid-June, by which time lawmakers will have access to much-anticipated state revenue data from budget forecasters. The data will provide the most complete picture yet of how the state’s economy has fared during two months marred by the pandemic and the associated lockdown


A special session provides lawmakers the opportunity to return to the Capitol to pass bills related to specific issues. The last time one was convened was in 2018, when legislators met to address the opioid crisis.

Such sessions are called in one of two ways. Typically, the governor brings legislators together for a special session under a provision of the Arizona Constitution. In that scenario, Gov. Doug Ducey would set the parameters of debate, though he can name as many subjects as he’d like.

This is the most likely path forward, said Rep. Regina Cobb, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

Regina Cobb
Regina Cobb

“We have been in talks with the Governor’s Office once a week for the last three or four weeks,” the Kingman Republican said. “They definitely know that they need to call a special session and they’re ready to do it.”

One of these sessions would likely examine the state’s revenues, and would also include additional funding for the state’s COVID-19 response. By then, legislators will have a better estimate of the state’s budgetary shortfall – which, as of the most recent estimate, could range from around $500 million to around $1.6 billion.

At least 831 Arizonans have died of COVID-19, according to the most recent data from the state Department of Health Services. Even as much of the state has begun to reopen, the department reported 479 new cases on May 27.

Cobb said all options for balancing the state’s books are on the table – at least all options that Republicans would vote for, meaning that a tax increase is highly unlikely. Fund sweeps, though unpopular, are on the table, she added, as is using the $1 billion rainy day fund and cutting agency budgets. Cobb expects the second special session to address economic stimulus.

“We need to make sure our economy gets a jump start,” she said.

If for whatever reason Ducey doesn’t call a special session, legislative leaders can convene their own under another provision of the state Constitution – but only with a two-thirds majority.

This would require Democratic and Republican leadership to broker a deal of some kind. Either they agree to begin a special session and fight over its content after the fact, or agree to a special session with limited parameters beforehand. “If we can’t even agree on that, then how would we ever, ever govern,” said House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma. “That would be a clear picture to Arizonans that there’s total dysfunction.”

Either way, if the last two weeks are any indicator, it could be ugly.


Even if Ducey calls a special session, a smooth, bipartisan process seems unlikely.

“I always have the hope that we can do that,” Cobb said. “But every time the efforts are futile. It’s always one issue that separates us, one policy. Everybody digs their heels in, and then it becomes a partisan thing.”

But Fernandez said the situation for Arizonans is too dire to ask for half-measures just for the sake of creating goodwill with the majority party. She wants a special session that’s “laser-focused” on COVID-19, and then a separate one to deal with the state’s finances and economic recovery.

One priority is fixing the state’s unemployment system, particularly ensuring that Arizonans get their benefits on time and in full. But Democrats also want to bolster unemployment payments even after the nationwide emergency declaration ends, which likely will be a non-starter for Republicans.

Charlene Fernandez
Charlene Fernandez

Fernandez said her caucus has split into working groups that are studying different aspects of the state’s response, from imagining how schools will open in the fall to fixing unemployment insurance.

“It’s definitely going to be hot-button, but it’s worth it right now,” she said.

Regardless, she said there’s no choice but to broker peace with the Republicans, as unlikely as that may seem.

“How that’s going to happen, I don’t know,” she said. “We never have before. Certainly we’re not going to show them a piece of legislation and they’re going to throw their names on it, but hopefully this is a starting point.”

A few of the 28 House bills on the Senate’s calendar on May 26 – bills that died when moderate Republicans joined Democrats in voting to terminate the session – could make a reappearance, Fann said.

Unfinished Business

“We have some really good economic development (legislation) which can be COVID-related bills, so yes, and hopefully we get as many as possible,” the Senate president said.

One House bill that wasn’t on any calendar but that will make an appearance – albeit likely in a much-revised form – is Rep. John Kavanagh’s HB2912, a measure to protect businesses and nonprofit entities from legal liability if a patron or employee gets COVID-19.

Republican Sens. Eddie Farnsworth of Gilbert and Vince Leach of Tucson have been working on their own versions in the Senate, while Ducey staffers are working with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry to draw up their own liability measure. Democrats, meanwhile, are pushing for a chance to participate in drafting discussions, using as leverage the fact that the proposal needs Democratic votes to secure an emergency clause that would allow the bill to be enacted as soon as the governor signs it.

The bill from Kavanagh, a Fountain Hills Republican, would require plaintiffs who sue a business after contracting the virus to prove the defendant acted in “gross negligence” based on “clear and convincing evidence,” increased legal standards. The House passed that bill on party lines last week, but it failed to get traction in the Senate. The House also passed HB2913, which would appropriate tens of millions of dollars in federal CARES Act monies to child care centers, though that too did not get a hearing in the Senate.

The upper chamber had substantial disagreements about both of those bills, said Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix.

“You look at that liability bill, and it bops the governor over the head,” she said, referencing provisions that decriminalize violations of Ducey’s COVID executive orders.

Kate Brophy-McGee
Kate Brophy-McGee

Brophy McGee, along with fellow moderate Sens. Heather Carter of Cave Creek and Paul Boyer of Glendale, have long pushed for the Legislature to focus its efforts on COVID-19. Their votes with the Democrats to end the session on May 26 fit within that framework.

A liability protections bill might win over Democrats if it includes provisions that compel businesses to follow federal health and safety guidelines if they reopen. And it might find broader support among the state’s cities and towns if it includes legal protections for public entities, said Nick Ponder, the legislative director for the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.

“If we are required to open and required to maintain the same line that the Governor’s Office has maintained … then I think that we should also consider not exposing local governments to further litigation,” Ponder said.


Child care and education are also likely to be on the agenda. In addition to a renewed effort to appropriate CARES Act monies for child care centers, Brophy McGee and Democratic Sen. Lela Alston of Phoenix want to pass legislation that would allow relatives caring for children who can’t stay with their parents to access child-only Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits, as well as a bill to increase the monthly stipend for those temporary guardians to $250 from $75 — non-related foster parents receive $600

And educators want to be a part of the negotiations to ensure that public education budgets aren’t slashed to help right the state’s fiscal ship, said Stacey Morley, the government affairs director for Stand for Children Arizona.

The reason is simple, she said. The majority of school budgets go toward payroll. Cutting those budgets means layoffs, which would contribute to the state’s already dire unemployment figures.

“You want as many people working as possible,” she said.

Committee of one: Lawmakers lack interest to meet on state income tax credits

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

Apparent indifference has halted a legislative committee required by law to analyze the effectiveness of state income tax credits.

The Joint Legislative Income Tax Credit Review Committee, which was created in 2002 and determines if tax credits are effective, need to be changed, or should be repealed, hasn’t met since 2015.  

In that time, lawmakers failed to hold hearings on 13 tax credits as required by statute, including three of the four income tax credits available for contributions to School Tuition Organizations, which provide scholarships for students to attend private or parochial schools rather than Arizona public schools.

Those three STO income tax credits alone totaled $149.7 million in credits claimed in 2016, according to state budget analysts.

The committee was created by law with a directive to determine the original purpose of existing income tax credits and then evaluate and determine if the tax credits are a success or failure. It is then supposed to issue a report, due each year by Dec. 15, to the Senate president, speaker of the House and governor to recommend  if a tax credit should be amended, repealed or retained.

The effectiveness of that process is questionable. Between 2002 and 2015, the committee recommended the repeal of 16 income tax credits. The Legislature only acted on one of those recommendations, though in that same period, eight income tax credits reviewed by the committee simply expired as scheduled.

Still, the committee is one of few annual mechanisms to analyze the effectiveness of income tax credits approved by the Legislature, and it’s required by law. But officials in the House and Senate said that the committee hasn’t met because no one wanted to.

“This wasn’t really anything that was on anyone’s radar. We haven’t had anyone from either party come forward to say they were interested in meeting,” said Senate GOP Spokeswoman Stephanie Holford.

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

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, who served on the committee when it last met in 2015, was initially surprised when told that was the last time the committee met. He later said it’s been nearly two years because of a lack of interest.

That may be because of its ineffective record of changing income tax credits, he said.

“Having served on it for every year there was a meeting, I think, I made lots of motions on the committee. It didn’t seem to matter what passed or failed, it didn’t seem to mean anything,” Mesnard said.

The committee only makes recommendations, and the legislature has rarely acted on them, Mesnard said.

If anything, the income tax credit review process points out how difficult analyzing a tax credit is, given the way they’re approved. For example, the original School Tuition Organization credit, which cost the state $66.9 million in revenues in fiscal year 2017, has no performance measures in statute.

State budget analysts have fulfilled their statutory obligation each of the last two years to provide a background report on the income tax credits. In those reports, they recommend ways the STO credits could measured for effectiveness.

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee recommended in their 2017 report that lawmakers should track the percent of STO revenues used for administrative costs, the percent of private school tuition paid with the scholarship funds, and how many unduplicated students receive STO scholarships — students are able to receive more than one STO scholarships, making it impossible to know the number of public school students leaving for private schools.

It’s that sort of analysis that makes Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, the only lawmaker listed as an active appointee to the review committee, question the motivation, or lack thereof, for not meeting in nearly two years.

“I’m hoping that isn’t because we don’t want a public hearing on those tax credits,” Farley said.

He said he would like to vet STOs because JLBC clearly suggests the tax credits can’t even be evaluated without some sort of statutory change.

Mesnard said that it’s difficult for committees to get a quorum and meet in between legislative sessions due to scheduling conflicts, which is why he resisted putting any new committees into statute during the 2017 legislative session.

Mesnard and Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, both failed to appoint new lawmakers to the committee when they took over the top post in their respective chamber.

Per statute, five representatives are to be appointed from the House Ways and Means Committee, and no more than three may be from the same political party. Those positions are all vacant. The makeup of senators serving on the committee is identical, though senators are chosen from the Senate Finance Committee. Like Mesnard, Yarbrough also served on the committee in 2015, but didn’t make new appointees earlier this year. Only Farley is left from the last term.

Yarbrough said through a spokeswoman he would appoint more senators to serve on the committee, with the expectation that the committee could soon meet.

Mesnard initially said he wasn’t sure if that’s necessary.

While the committee is statutorily required to review income tax credits each year, Mesnard said that there’s no real consequence for failing to fulfill that obligation. Besides, he said, the most important part of the committee is that JLBC produce it’s report. As long as that is completed and posted for all to see, that’s good enough for Mesnard.

However, after learning that the Senate intended to appoint members and try to meet, Mesnard said he would oblige and appoint five representatives to the committee.

Compromise made on egg freshness legislation

(Photo by Preston Keres/U.S. Dept. of Agriculture)
(Photo by Preston Keres/U.S. Dept. of Agriculture)

What’s the difference between a Grade A egg and one that’s labeled Grade AA?

Pretty soon it could be as much as three weeks.

The state Senate this week gave final approval to legislation that allows Grade A eggs to remain available for sale for up to 45 days after they were packed. That’s nearly twice as long as currently permitted.

In fact, the cartons for these eggs won’t use terms like “sell by” or “buy thru” — the language in the current law. Instead they will be marked “best by” or “use by.”

Consumers who want to be guaranteed something fresher will have to purchase Grade AA eggs. The compromise on what is HB 2464 leaves the current 24-day sell-by requirement in place for them.

But as it turns out, there’s a good chance if you’re buying jumbo eggs you won’t be able to find them in Grade AA cartons.

All of that goes to the question of what to buy.

“The main difference is the freshness of the egg,” explained Roland Mader, the dairy and egg specialist at the state Department of Agriculture.

There’s nothing wrong with a Grade A egg for many purposes, he said. And, kept properly refrigerated, there is no health reason why not to use one 45 days after packing.

But Mader said there are times when nothing but a Grade AA egg will do.

Some of it, he said, is strictly aesthetic.

You like your eggs sunny-side up?

“If you crack an egg and it is a Grade AA egg, the egg yolk stands much higher and the egg white is firmer than a Grade A egg,” Mader explained. For a Grade A, think of a less pronounced yolk and more watery white.

Ditto on using Grade AA eggs when you’re poaching them.

Still, he said, there are times when there are legitimate culinary reasons beyond appearance that someone might want a Grade AA egg.

“If you bake a cake and you want the dough to rise better, a fresher egg tends to be better to use,” Mader said.

All that will become more important if the legislation, awaiting final House approval and a gubernatorial signature, becomes law.

What’s behind all this is a desire by retailers to stop throwing away eggs. And that, in turn, goes to consumer attitudes.

Put simply, she said shoppers check out the expiration date printed on the edge of each carton. And if the date printed on the eggs in the front of the display is within several days, they’re more likely to reach further back and get something with a later expiration date.

But what that does, Ahlmer said, is leave grocers with dozens and dozens of eggs that can’t be sold after the expiration date and can’t even be given away to food banks.

“So we wind up throwing it out,” she said, estimating that retailers toss about $3 million worth of eggs a year.

Her original proposal would have allowed all eggs to remain on sale for 45 days after packaging.

That, however, drew protests from Glenn Hickman who runs the Arizona egg ranch that bears his family name. He said that after the 24th day the eggs just don’t meet that Grade AA standard of that firm yolk and egg white.

So that lead to the deal to allow retailers to sell eggs packed as Grade A and keep them on the shelves longer.

Mader said he doesn’t think that will make a difference for most eggs coming from large-scale operations, as they can get an egg from underneath a hen into a carton in less than 24 hours.

Where it’s more likely to occur, he said, is in “specialty” eggs, like those from small-scale free-range operations, where the time from hen to carton can take longer.

And about those jumbo eggs. Forget about getting them in a Grade AA carton.

Mader said that has nothing to do with freshness. Instead, it’s biology.

“As a hen ages, the eggs get bigger,” he said.

“Because of the size, the protein on the egg white tends to be a little bit more watery,” Mader continued. And he said that can easily be seen when an egg is “candled” and inspected for its internal contents.

Oh, and, for the record, it is possible to buy Grade B eggs in Arizona.

Mader said these can be eggs that have gone past their expiration date and are repackaged. That currently means older than 24 days but, with the change in law, could mean Grade A eggs older than 45 days.

He also said eggs with some flaws, including cracks, can be sold as Grade B.


Consultant says Dems need to be lucky and good to win CD8

In these early days of the 8th Congressional District special election, little attention – if any – has been paid to the two Democratic candidates running in the overwhelmingly red stronghold.

Dr. Hiral Tipirneni, an emergency room physician, and Brianna Westbrook, a transgender woman working in the automotive industry, according to her campaign bio, entered the race while Franks was still in office and was presumed to be running for re-election. And both are still in now that Franks is out and an expedited process to replace him is in full-swing.

Both claim strong grassroots support and hope to ride on their image as political outsiders making their first runs for office.

Unfortunately for them, even Democratic consultants don’t think that will be enough to make CD8 a real contest.

The special election already features an increasingly crowded Republican field, which as of publication includes state Sen. Steve Montenegro and former legislators Phil Lovas and Bob Stump. Others are expected to join the hunt in the coming days.

The special primary will be held on February 27, followed by the general election on April 24. Candidates have until January 10 to file paperwork to officially enter the race.

Chad Campbell
Chad Campbell

Former House Minority Leader Chad Campbell said chances are slim that a Democrat stands a chance in the special general election.

The numbers certainly don’t bode well. Republicans outnumber Democrats, 187,234 to 109,467, according to the most recent voter registration numbers from the Secretary of State’s Office.

And Campbell said there isn’t likely to be much Dem money funneled into that race, especially considering more competitive congressional districts may be up for grabs.

Instead, he said the focus will be on Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema’s seat and, presumably, Republican Rep. Martha McSally’s, who is expected to vacate for a Senate run.

Campbell said those seats are must-wins for Democrats if they want any shot at getting a majority in the House, so there won’t be much to spare for CD8 in terms of resources.

Even if there was, neither Tipirneni nor Westbrook is likely to be the right candidate when even a higher profile contender would have little chance at success.

“You need a rural Democrat for that district,” Campbell said. “But again, I’m not sure that candidate exists right now. And even if that candidate did exist, I don’t know that there would be money there.”

Consultant Andy Barr said Democrats’ ability to make a stand will depend heavily on who wins the Republican nomination, as demonstrated in Alabama, and he suspects donors will need to see reliable data showing a competitive general election before serious money comes into play.

“There is just such an appetite for wins right now on our side,” he said. “But we have a lot of objectives this cycle and very real objectives. These guys [running in CD8] are going to struggle.”

But Barr also said Republican candidates will likely find more of a challenge than they’re expecting.

“These guys coming over from the Legislature are in for a rude awakening because nobody knows who the hell they are,” he said. “They’ll think they’re starting with an advantage, but the truth is they’re not. The name ID on these guys is going to be nonexistent.”

Barr did predict one advantage for both candidates from his side of the aisle: They’re women. He said much of the recent energy in the party has been sparked by women activists.

Still, the special primary winner will have to prove she can inspire a movement and bring together the other pieces of a true contender.

“If we have a superior candidate in a superior campaign and get lucky, we can win this seat. But we need those things to align,” Barr said.

“They’re going to have to get good really quick, and that’s true of both the candidates and the campaigns. These guys are going to go from obscurity to having to perform at a very high level very quickly.”

Westbrook said she’s been “playing to win” since March when she filed to take on Franks.

She’s not especially concerned about Tipirneni, and she disagrees with the assumption that the district will swing Republican even if that’s what the numbers show.

“They’re looking for someone to believe in,” she said. “We just haven’t ran a candidate here in two election cycles, so the Democratic Party has nothing really to stand on in this district.”

But while Westbrook said she has focused more on reaching the people of CD8 and less on money – “I’m not buying my way through this election” – Tipirneni may have a funding advantage.

Consultant DJ Quinlan, who’s working for Tipirneni’s campaign, said she has fundraising powers and a story that will resonate with voters.

Tipirneni has more than $120,000 on-hand, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission data.

Quinlan pointed to Democrat Doug Jones’ upset victory over staunch Republican Roy Moore in Alabama’s special election for U.S. Senate as proof that even Republican bases cannot be written off as sure things for conservative candidates.

“A creepy congressman in a scandal is the context by which you have the special election,” he said, drawing a connection to the circumstances under which Jones was elected and Franks, who resigned last week after two women said he discussed surrogacy with them.

County election equipment deemed free of tampering

In this Nov. 4, 2020, file photo, Maricopa County elections officials count ballots in Phoenix.  (AP Photo/Matt York, File)
In this Nov. 4, 2020, file photo, Maricopa County elections officials count ballots in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

An audit of the Maricopa County voting equipment came up absolutely clean according to county officials.

But it’s not going to deter the demands by Republican senators to conduct their own review and get a court order to enforce their own subpoena. In fact, the lawmakers are going back to court Feb. 25 in their bid to get access to the equipment, the software — and the actual ballots.

The county report, released Tuesday, concluded that there was no evidence that:

– Votes were switched from one candidate to another;

– Equipment was using modified software;

– Voting machines were connected to the internet;

– Malicious software or hardware had been installed on tabulators or the system.

“These audits are an affirmation for everyone’s hard work and prove what my colleagues and I have been saying all along: Our elections were run with integrity and the results we canvassed were accurate,” said Supervisor Clint Hickman, one of four Republicans on the board.

Steve Gallardo, the lone Democrat supervisor, agreed.

“The audits clearly dispel the notion that somehow the November election was rigged,” he said.

The results of the audits — three of the four areas were reviewed separately by two different companies — come just days before the supervisors face off in court again with the Senate.

Attorneys for lawmakers contend they are entitled to have their own auditors have access not only to the equipment but also the 2.1 million ballots actually cast.

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

So far, though, their efforts have failed. And on Feb. 25, attorneys for the county will ask Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomasson to quash the legislative subpoenas and permanently bar Senate President Karen Fann and Sen. Warren Petersen, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, from taking any further action to enforce their subpoena.

All this is part of the leftovers from allegations that the returns reported from the Nov. 3 election were inaccurate and that Donald Trump actually won Arizona and should have received the state’s 11 electoral votes.

A series of lawsuit complaining of everything from improper procedures and the use of wrong marking pens to outright fraud all have so far been rejected by courts. And at this point the issue is legally moot as Joe Biden has been sworn in as president.

But Fann told Capitol Media Services more needs to be done.

“When there are this many questions that people are questioning our electoral system, I think we owe it to them to say ‘We’re going to get those answers for you, and we’re going to show that our system is good and secure,’ ” she said. “And if we find any irregularities, we are going to prove to you that we’re going to fix those irregularities.”

More to the point, Fann said, what the county performed doesn’t get to those questions.

Some of it, she said, is because the companies they hired are not certified forensic auditors.

Beyond that, Fann said there are other questions that the audit never addressed.

“I do know that they did not do an in-depth forensic audit enough to help us figure out how many mail-out ballots went out to people that do not live in Arizona any more,” she said. Then there are allegations about ballots that went to dead people or a large number of ballots showing up at a house where only two people live.

All that, Fann said, leads to questions about what happened to all those ballots.

But a key point in what Fann and her colleagues want is access to the actual ballots to determine if the count reported actually matches the votes counted.

A Dominion Voting ballot scanner is delivered to a polling location in Gwinnett County, Ga. outside of Atlanta on Monday,  Jan. 4, 2021, in advance of the Senate runoff election. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)
A Dominion Voting ballot scanner is delivered to a polling location in Gwinnett County, Ga. outside of Atlanta on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021, in advance of the Senate runoff election. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)

The audit done for the county does look at some of that — but only indirectly.

Auditors from Pro V & V looked at the question of whether the Dominion Voting Systems equipment or software was switching votes from one candidate to another, one of the charges leveled by Trump supporters, using what a “test deck” of ballots pre-marked with known results. All totaled, they said the tally of more than 1.5 million specific ballot positions came out 100% accurate.

Only thing is, these were not the actual ballots voted in November, in keeping with the county’s position that they have to be locked up.

The audit produced other results.

Pro V & V and SLI Compliance, the other firm hired by the county, also said they looked for evidence that the tabulation system was transmitting information outside what they said was an “air-gapped system” within the county. They said they found no issues.

Both also conducted what they called a “full forensic clone” of the hard drive on the equipment which allowed them to examine not just what was there but also look for evidence of deleted files or hidden data. Here, too, they said they found no issues.

All that, however, is not good enough as far as the Senate is concerned. And Fann said the only way the questions of constituents will be answered is if there is an actual examination of the equipment and the ballots by someone chosen by the Senate.

Whether lawmakers are entitled to that is exactly what Thomasson is being asked to decide.

The county’s refusal to turn over access is based on several arguments.

“The (Arizona) Constitution commands that ballots be kept secret,” attorney Steve Tully who represents the county told Thomasson in his legal filings. And he said Arizona law spells out that after the formal canvass of votes, the ballots are put into an envelope and kept unopened for up to 24 months, after which they must be destroyed.

None of this has stopped the Senate from issuing a subpoena for access to them.

But Tully said subpoenas are permissible only when there has been a vote of the full Senate to investigate the 2020 general election. That, he said, did not occur.

Instead, he said, the subpoenas all result from “months of conspiracy theories rejected by the courts and debunked by the press.”

There are provisions for a judge to decide whether to enforce a subpoena. But he said that first requires a vote of the Senate to hold the supervisors in contempt.

But that failed when Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, refused to go along with his GOP colleagues.


County supervisors choose Sine Kerr to fill vacant Senate seat in LD13

Sine Kerr
Sine Kerr

Republican Sine Kerr was appointed Jan. 4 by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to replace former state Sen. Steve Montenegro in Legislative District 13.

Montenegro resigned Dec. 15 to focus on his candidacy for Congressional District 8. The appointment was made during a special  meeting of the board of supervisors, ensuring that the seat is filled by the start of the legislative session on Jan. 8.

“I’m ready to push up my sleeves to work hard for the people of LD13,” she said following the appointment.

She will be sworn in at 11 a.m. on Jan. 8 in the office of Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler.

Kerr, of Buckeye, was one of three nominees chosen by the LD13 precinct committeemen during a Dec. 28 meeting to fill the seat. Royce Jenkins and Goodyear City Councilwoman Joanne Osborne, who had previously filed to run for the House in LD13, were also nominated.

A self-described conservative Republican, Kerr and her husband run a dairy business and she serves on the Arizona Farm Bureau’s Board of Directors, the Buckeye Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Maricopa County Air Quality Hearing Board.

She had filed to run for election in the House, and told the Arizona Capitol Times that she would decide “soon” whether to run for election in the Senate or continue with her House campaign.

County supervisors defy Senate subpoenas

Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates answers questions Monday about the board's decision not to respond to the latest Senate subpoena. With him is Chairman Jack Sellers (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates answers questions Monday about the board’s decision not to respond to the latest Senate subpoena. With him is Chairman Jack Sellers (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Maricopa County won’t surrender the latest batch of documents and equipment the Senate demands.

At least, not most of what was subpoenaed.

County officials did not show up at the Senate at 1 p.m. on Monday as commanded by President Karen Fann with the items in tow. In fact, they didn’t show up at all.

Instead, board Chairman Jack Sellers sent a letter to Fann and the other senators blasting the “audit” — the quotes are as he stated it — and telling them to get on with it.

“The board has real work to do and little time to entertain this adventure in never-never land,” he wrote, saying that the 2020 election was run as required by state and federal law.

“There was no fraud, there wasn’t an injection of ballots from Asia nor was there a satellite that beamed votes into our election equipment,” Sellers said. “It’s time for all elected officials to tell the truth and stop encouraging conspiracies.”

And Sellers told the senators to release whatever report they’re going to produce “and be prepared to defend any accusations of misdeeds in court.”

At a separate press conference explaining the board’s decision, Sellers took a slap at the Senate — and Cyber Ninjas, the firm that Fann hired.

“A lot of the questions that have been raised in the current subpoena are because the unqualified, inexperienced people they hired to do this audit don’t know what they’re looking at,” he said. “So they keep asking us to verify things or explain things that if they knew what they were doing they would already know the answers.”

Senate President Karen Fann (Photo by Kyra Haas/Arizona Capitol Times)
Senate President Karen Fann (Photo by Kyra Haas/Arizona Capitol Times)

The Senate had no better luck with a separate subpoena — and that 1 p.m. Monday deadline — for Dominion Voting Systems to produce various passwords, tokens and other ways to get into the programming of the equipment it leased to the county for the election.

Attorney Eric Spencer, in a written response to the Senate, said the demand violates his client’s constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure. And he said while the Senate has the power to conduct investigations, there is no “valid legislative purpose” to what Fann wants.

Both denials now shift the burden to the Senate which has to decide whether to pursue the matter.

“We are weighing our options,” said Fann in a prepared statement. But she said that it is the fault of both that the audit of the November election is not yet complete.

“It is unfortunate the noncompliance by the county and Dominion continues to delay the results and breeds distrust,” Fann said. And she accused the county of doing a “slow walk” of a separate public records request for documents about a possible breach of the voter registration database.

Supervisor Bill Gates, a Republican like Sellers, said that a vote by the Republican-controlled Senate to hold board members or officials from Dominion in contempt and potentially jail them is unlikely.

“We all know from public statements now that they have even fewer than 15 senators who are in support of this operation,” he said, noting the earlier objection from Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale and the more recent conclusion by Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, that “the audit has been botched.” Anyway, Gates said, the Senate would have to be in session to even consider a contempt resolution.

Doug Logan, CEO of Cyber Ninjas, answers questions Tuesday at a hearing of sorts to discuss the issues with the current Senate-ordered audit of Maricopa County election returns.
Doug Logan, CEO of Cyber Ninjas, answers questions May 18, 2021, at a hearing of sorts to discuss the issues with the current Senate-ordered audit of Maricopa County election returns.

But it does not preclude Fann from seeking a court order as she did after the supervisors balked at earlier subpoenas.

In that case, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomasson said the lawmakers have a “valid legislative purpose” in seeking the 2.1 million ballots and the election equipment.

He pointed out that the Arizona Constitution gives legislators the power to enact “laws to secure the purity of elections and guard against abuses of the elective franchise.” And Thomasson accepted the Senate’s explanation that it needed the ballots and equipment to determine if changes are needed in state election laws.

County officials ended up complying at that time. In fact, the ballots and equipment that were produced now have all been returned to the county.

But it now appears the supervisors are ready for a new fight over what more the Senate and Cyber Ninjas insist they need.

In a separate letter to Fann, County Attorney Allister Adel ticked off objections she has to what the Senate requested.

For example, she said there is no need for the actual envelopes in which early ballots were mailed since the county provided images. Anyway, Adel said, the Senate has provided no assurance it could actually protect those items.

But beyond that, the county attorney said the latest subpoena is “an abuse of process or designed merely to harass.”

Still, Adel said the county might provide some information — and on its own schedule.

For example, she said that the county might provide details about a breach of a voter registration web site last year operated by the County Recorder’s Office even though she said it was never connected to election tabulation equipment and is irrelevant to the audit. But Adel said that county officials are busy and they will respond to a parallel public records request for the same information when they have the time.

But the supervisors called the whole investigation little more than “political theater.”

“They’re not acting seriously,” said Gates, saying that the Senate is not doing anything to make voters confident about the electoral system.

“They’re focused on tearing it down, he continued. “They’re focused on raising all sorts of doubts that are going to do nothing but erode at our democracy.”

And then there’s the timing of this, the third subpoena issued by the Senate in its self-proclaimed inquiry into whether the results of the 2020 election — the one that saw Joe Biden outpoll Donald Trump in both the county and the state — were accurate.

All that goes to Gates’ conclusion that this is a political versus a legal issue.

Exhibit No. 1 is the demand in that third subpoena for the county’s routers, essentially equipment that directs computer traffic between the county’s own computers as well as the internet.

Auditors have claimed, without any proof, that election computers were somehow hacked and the results altered. And they have not been convinced by two separate investigations conducted for the county which found the election system is air-gapped and was never connected to the internet.

Yet he said the conspiracy theories remain.

More to the point, Gates said, is the timing of this new subpoena and the demand for those routers.

“They waited for former President Trump to come to town, talk about routers 10 times, and then issue a third subpoena,” he said. “This isn’t serious.”

And Gates said the people behind the audit are “more interested in scoring political points and driving the conspiracy theories held by many of the members of the state Senate.”

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include comment from Senate President Karen Fann. 

County supervisors to approve audits of election equipment

Maricopa County elections officials count ballots behind boxes of counted ballots, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, at the Maricopa County Recorders Office in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Maricopa County elections officials count ballots behind boxes of counted ballots, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, at the Maricopa County Recorders Office in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Maricopa County supervisors are set to approve two separate audits of election equipment Wednesday in a bid to satisfy questions about security and the 2020 results — and avoid further litigation with the state Senate.

Chairman Jack Sellers said Tuesday he still believes that the tally showing more votes for Joe Biden than Donald Trump correct. He said that was shown through a series of court rulings and a statutorily required hand count of a sample.

“However, a significant number of voters want the additional assurance that a full forensic audit of election tabulation equipment might bring, especially given all the misinformation that spread following the Nov. 3 general election,” Sellers said. So the board will vote on Wednesday to authorize two audits.

“It is my belief these audits will prove our machines were not vulnerable to hacking or vote switching,” he said.

But Senate President Karen Fann acknowledged that may not be enough to satisfy legislators who believe the November election was rigged.

Several senators told Capitol Media Services they’re not convinced that an audit supervised by the county will be adequate.

Kelly Townsend
Kelly Townsend

“The Senate is moving forward with our own audit,” said Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, one of the Arizona legislators who has expressed doubt about the reported election returns. And Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said the Senate still intends to do its own examination.

In both cases, they said that was being done with Fann’s approval.

Fann, however, said it’s yet to be determined whether the Senate will do its own review. She wants to see exactly what the supervisors approve and the extent of the proposed audit.

“I’m waiting for a copy of that so I can see if that scope is everything that we were looking for,” she told Capitol Media Services.

“And if it is, great,” she said. “And if it’s not, we’ll have to have a conversation about what do we need to do to make sure we can truly put this thing to bed and answer all of these questions that so many of our constituents have.”

Some Republicans have raised questions about the results of the presidential race where Democrat Joe Biden got Arizona’s 11 electoral votes by beating incumbent Republican Donald Trump by 10,457 votes statewide.

The focus has been primarily on Maricopa County where Biden beat Trump by 45,109 votes, with many of the attacks based on unproven allegations that the Dominion Voting Systems hardware and software used there was either programmed or hacked in a way to move Trump votes into Biden’s column.

Several lawsuits challenging the results were thrown out.

A Dominion Voting ballot scanner is delivered to a polling location in Gwinnett County, Ga. outside of Atlanta on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021, in advance of the Senate runoff election. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)
A Dominion Voting ballot scanner. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)

One challenge filed in federal court resulted in a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Diane Humetewa that “the allegations they put forth to support their claims of fraud fail in their particularity and plausibility.” And a different state court judge tossed out a separate claim of irregularities after a random review of early ballots found the error rate was so small that it would not have changed the outcome of the vote.

That did not satisfy some lawmakers, with the Senate issuing a pair of subpoenas demanding access to everything from the raw ballots to access to the voting equipment. That landed the parties in court as the Senate sought to enforce those subpoenas and attorneys for the county argued that it would violate the law to give legislators access to everything they want.

Both sides agreed last week to shelve the litigation and see what they can work out.

What the supervisors are supposed to vote on Wednesday is designed to address that, but without losing control of the documents and the machinery.
“We are going to send an invite to the Senate and ask them to participate and give us feedback,” said County Supervisor Steve Gallardo.

“We’re doing one audit,” he said. “But in terms of us turning over ballots and turning over machines, it ain’t happening.”

Fann said that, for the moment, she’s satisfied with what the county is proposing without the need for the Senate to do its own audit.

“The whole reason we’re doing this is to reinstill voter integrity and confidence,” she said. “And so we have to make sure we do it right, do it independently, so that voters — hopefully 95% of them — will say, ‘Yes, you have proven to us that it was done correctly and you have answered our questions.’ ”

A draft of the proposal before the supervisors shows a multi-pronged approach.

First, it would determine that the county’s tabulation equipment is state and federally certified. There also would be a check for malware on the system and a verification that the tabulation equipment was not connected to the internet during the general election.

Second is a “logic and accuracy” test to verify that the results being reported by the machinery match the votes on the submitted paper ballots. There were similar tests already performed before and after the November election.

Finally, auditors would verify that the Dominion software was leased according to state and county procurement regulations.

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

Fann said she has been doing extensive research on what it takes to verify accuracy of election equipment, even reaching out to her counterpart in Georgia, another state where the results for Biden were questioned, to determine how they verified the results there.

The Senate president acknowledged that goal of satisfying 95% of voters is probably the best that can be hoped for.

“You know, in this world not 100% of people agree on everything,” she said.

“If it comes back that there are no problems, I’m going to have 5% that said, ‘I don’t believe that,’ ” Fann explained. “And if it comes back and there are problems, I’m going to have at least 5% that come back and say, ‘I don’t believe that.’ ”

Gallardo said he and his colleagues are willing to contract with outsiders for the audit if it will reinforce voter confidence and blunt the criticism of GOP legislators who have made repeat allegations of fraud and misconduct.

“I think it’s upon us to really push back to show that, no, our system is secure, it’s accurate, it’s safe,” he said.

“We had a good system, we had a great election,” Gallardo continued. “I’m sorry they don’t like the results of it but, nonetheless, the results are what the results are.”

County wants Senate to pay $2.8M for voting machines

Some of the 2.1 million ballots cast during the 2020 election, are brought in for recounting at a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican lead Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix. The equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden and the 2.1 million ballots were moved to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden's victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Some of the 2.1 million ballots cast during the 2020 election, are brought in for recounting at a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican lead Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix. The equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden and the 2.1 million ballots were moved to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden’s victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Maricopa County officials are sending a bill for $2.8 million to the state Senate to cover the cost of having to acquire new voting machines. 

But don’t look for Senate President Karen Fann to pull out her checkbook any time soon. 

In his letter to Fann, Tom Liddy, chief of the civil division of the county, reminded her that she signed a formal “Covenant of Indemnification” to cover any expenses that the county incurred as a result of the subpoenaed election equipment being damaged. 

More to the point, Liddy said that agreement said the Senate would cover the costs of the equipment being “otherwise compromised.” And he said the pact makes the Senate liable for “without limitation expenses associated with procuring new equipment.” 

What makes that necessary, Liddy said, is a conclusion by Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who is the state’s chief election officer, that the county can no longer use the equipment it had been leasing from Dominion Voting Systems once it was turned over to Cyber Ninjas, the private firm Fann hired to conduct an audit of the 2020 election. 

Hobbs said security experts told her that once the county lost custody and control of the voting systems, “these devices should not be reused in future elections.” 

“Rather, decommissioning and replacing those devices is the safest option as no methods exist to adequately ensure those machines are safe to use in future elections,” Hobbs wrote to the Board of Supervisors. “Instead, the county should acquire new machines to ensure secure and accurate elections in Maricopa County going forward.” 

And that, Liddy told Fann, is what the county intends to do – with the Senate picking up the cost. 

“It would be inequitable to allow the Senate to escape the requirements of the Covenant of Indemnification – especially when the Senate should have reasonably foreseen that placing the county’s equipment in the hands of unqualified and unaccredited ‘auditors’ would threaten the equipment’s certification for use in elections,” Liddy wrote. 

Fann isn’t buying it. 

“This is yet another publicity stunt by Maricopa County,” she told Capitol Media Services. And Fann said there is no money owed to anyone. 

“Machines were not damaged or tampered with,” she said. “And they know that.” 

Anyway, Fann said this is just a continuation of what she sees as the county’s reticence to actually answer questions about the accuracy of the election results, the ones that saw Joe Biden outpoll Donald Trump for president, not only in Maricopa County but statewide. 

“This shows they prefer to shower taxpayer dollars on Dominion and lawyers, rather than having an honest conversation about the audit,” she said. 

Fann also rejected the county’s contention that the Senate also is liable for the costs incurred in sending the equipment and the 2.1 million ballots to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum where Cyber Ninjas conducted its review. Those range from renting delivery trucks and overtime pay for staff to training a firm to clone the hard drives of the tabulation equipment before turning them over. 

“We asked Maricopa County to do the audit with us and not move the ballots and equipment,” she said. But the county balked at having Cyber Ninjas employees and volunteers inside its election offices. 

In a prepared statement, supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers said the bill is justified. 

“Imagine leasing a car and then loaning it to someone who totals it,” he said. 

“You’re still on the hook to pay off the wrecked car,” Seller continued. “Plus, you need a new car.” 

He said the county is doing the equivalent of getting a car to get it through the next year and a half. 

“I’m just glad we had the Senate sign that indemnification contract,” he said. 

Strictly speaking, what the county sent Fann is a “notice of claim.” State law requires anyone who says they are owed money from the state to first file a notice of how much they would be willing to settle it for. 

If there is no response within 60 days, the claim is deemed denied and the person or entity making the claim is entitled to file suit. 

All this comes as the Senate continues to fight legal efforts to produce some of the documents related to the audit. 

On August 18, attorneys for the Senate asked the state Court of Appeals to delay the order of Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Kemp that it immediately produce all records related to the audit. That includes not just those in possession of the Senate but also those held by Cyber Ninjas. 

Kemp rejected arguments that the materials held by the private firm are not subject to the state’s public records law. And he said the fact that the Senate itself does not have possession of the documents that have been produced by Cyber Ninjas is irrelevant. 

“Nothing in the statute absolves the Senate defendants’ responsibilities to keep and maintain records for authorities supported by public monies by merely retaining a third-party contractor who in turn hires subvendors,” Kemp wrote. Allowing that to happen, the judge said, “would be an absurd result and undermine Arizona’s strong public policy in favor of permitting access to records reflecting governmental activity.” 

The appeals judges did not say when they will rule. 




Court gives Senate access to election equipment, appeal expected

State senators are entitled to access to voting equipment, related materials and all 2.1 million ballots used by Maricopa County in the November election to conduct their own audit and review, a judge concluded Friday.

In a 16-page ruling, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomasson swatted down a series of arguments by county officials who contend the lawmakers have no legal basis for the subpoena they issued. The judge was no more impressed by claims that the senators did not follow the proper procedures for issuing the subpoena.

Most significantly, Thomasson brushed aside claims by county officials that the real purpose of the subpoena is not to use the information gathered to review existing election laws but instead to try to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

“Granted, (Senate President Karen) Fann has made public comments about concerns of ‘many voters’ regarding the accuracy of the presidential election and the need to ‘audit’ the election,” he wrote.

“The court is not in a position to determine if the ‘real’ purpose of the subpoenas is to try to ‘overturn’ the result of the election,” Thomasson wrote. Anyway, he said, such a move “would clearly be futile” given that the Electoral College has voted, Congress has confirmed the results, and President Biden has been sworn in.

“There clearly will be no ‘overturning’ of the 2020 election,” Thomasson said.

But the bottom line, the judge said, is even if the election could somehow be challenged, “there is still a perfectly valid legislative purpose for the subpoenas,” meaning the oversight that the legislature has of elections.

In a prepared statement, supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers said the board met with its attorneys Friday afternoon and has decided not to appeal. He said Thomasson’s ruling “brings clarity” to the issue of the ability of lawmakers to subpoena documents like ballots that otherwise are considered confidential.

“We respect his legal opinion and will immediately start working to provide the Arizona Senate with the ballots and other materials,” he said.

Steve Gallardo, the sole Democrat on the board, had a different take on the ruling. He said the end game here is new “voter suppression” laws, saying the subpoena is being pursued by “the same group of senators pushing legislation right now to make it more difficult for our citizens, especially low-income individuals and people of color, to vote.”

Fann, who said audits done by the county itself were insufficient, praised the decision.

“Hopefully, with a proper, independent and detailed audit, we will start to restore voter confidence in election integrity,” she said, saying the decision means “we can begin that process.”

The fight began last year when the Senate Judiciary Committee served two subpoenas on the county. One sought documents necessary to perform a “full forensic audit” on the 2020 election returns; the second sought access to perform a hand count of the ballots cast.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Randall Warner refused to order the county to surrender the materials. Warner said he finds nothing in the Arizona Constitution which specifically allows him to enforce such a subpoena.

On Jan. 12, with a new legislative session came a new subpoena. All that sent the case to Thomasson to rule on the broader question of the power of lawmakers to issue these kinds of demands, and in what circumstances.

The judge said he is not addressing the wisdom of the subpoenas.

“The statutes of this state give the senators the right to issue subpoenas and to enforce those subpoenas,” Thomasson wrote. “This court must follow the law.”

It starts, he said with a state law that authorizing the presiding officer of either chamber or the chairman of any committee to issue a subpoena.

Attorneys for the county, however, argued that such subpoenas “must be tethered to a hearing” and cannot be simply a demand by a single legislator for information. Thomasson said there is no such requirement in statute.

The judge had no more patience for the county’s argument that the Senate can subpoena only things like books, papers or documents and not electronically stored information or tangible objects like voting machines.

“In modern parlance, ‘documents’ include electronically stored information,” Thomasson wrote. “It is absurd to think that information that happens to be electronically stored and not kept on a piece of paper is not a ‘document’ that can be subpoenaed.”

The bigger argument by the county, however, is the contention that the subpoenas were not issued for a “valid legislative purpose.”

That goes to the argument that the Republicans who control the Senate really have been looking for information all along that could be used in legal arguments by supporters of President Trump that the Arizona election returns were invalid and Biden should be denied the state’s 11 electoral votes. That argument was buttressed by a Twitter message from Kelli Ward, chair of the Arizona Republican Party, who said the materials were going to be given to Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s attorney.

Then there were the statements by Fann about wanting to address the concern of voters about the accuracy of the reported returns.

Thomasson said even if that is true — and even if there actually were a way now to overturn the results — it doesn’t matter because there was a legitimate legislative purpose.

He pointed out that the Arizona Constitution gives lawmakers the power to enact “laws to secure the purity of elections and guard against abuses of the elective franchise.”

In this case, he said, senators say they want to use the subpoenaed information to evaluate the accuracy and efficiency of existing vote tabulation systems and the competence of county officials in performing their election duties. That could include possible reforms to the process.

“This is a valid legislative purpose,” Thomasson wrote. And he said it’s irrelevant that there was no specific legislation pending or being examined by the Senate when the first subpoenas were issued.

The judge also rejected arguments by the county that the ballots and some of the materials are considered confidential under state laws. But he said that doesn’t preclude disclosure to other government officials.

“These statutes are intended to prevent disclosure of information to the public,” Thomasson said. He said that, absent some unusual circumstance, there would be no way to link a specific ballot to a specific voter.

And Thomasson also said that senators “certainly are obligated to maintain confidentiality of the subpoenaed materials here.”

The judge made it clear that this is a fight that could have been avoided had both sides worked to find a mutually agreeable solution.

“The citizens expect their governmental officials to work cooperatively for the common good,” he wrote.

“It is highly unfortunate that that has not happened here,” Thomasson continued. “When government officials resort to ‘name calling’ and threats, something has gone terribly wrong.”


Court: Senate must turn over public records

The Arizona Senate must turn over audit records requested by watchdog group American Oversight, including those in the possession of Cyber Ninjas, the Court of Appeals ruled Thursday. 

“We find no error with the superior court’s determination that the requested documents are public records that must be disclosed,” Court of Appeals Judge Maria Elena Cruz wrote.  

Judges Michael Brown and Jennifer Campbell joined Cruz in the decision. American Oversight sued in May over the state Senate refusing to release records related to Senate’s review of Maricopa County ballots from the 2020 election.  

Senate attorney Kory Langhofer said he expects the Senate will ask the Arizona Supreme Court to review the issues.  

The Court of Appeals decision comes after Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Kemp on Wednesday gave the Senate an Aug. 31 deadline to turn over public records already in its possession. He scheduled a hearing for September 1 to assess its compliance with the order. 

Kemp on August 2 ordered the Senate to turn over certain audit records “immediately.” The Court of Appeals put that order on hold while it considered third-party records, but lifted the stay Thursday. 

Cruz wrote that the Senate has a duty under state law “to maintain and produce public records related to their official duties.”  

“The requested records are no less public records simply because they are in the possession of a third party, Cyber Ninjas,” Cruz wrote.  

She added that only documents with “a substantial nexus” to government activities are public records, not all files of all government vendors. 

“There is no reason why vendors providing ordinary services rather than performing core governmental functions would be subject to the (Public Record Law),” she wrote. 

American Oversight in April and May requested a bevy of records about the audit, including agreements related to the audit’s execution; plans and procedures for handling voter information; information about proposed canvassing of voters; communications among members of the audit team; budget and cost information including funders, plans and procedures for each phase of the audit; and chain-of-custody procedures. 


Covid, unrest affect look, feel of legislative session

Supporters of President Donald Trump gather to protest at the Arizona Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Supporters of President Donald Trump gather to protest at the Arizona Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The 2021 legislative session will begin January 11 in an exceedingly unusual fashion, with sharp limits on public access and increased security left over from post-election unrest.

Double rows of chain-link fencing now surround the Capitol complex, following massive protests on January 6 that resulted in a cracked window at the old Capitol Building. New security measures have already been put in place for the Executive Tower, which houses the offices of the governor and secretary of state, to limit access into the building for everyone. An Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman said they monitored the “stop the steal” protest rally at the Capitol. 

The Department of Administration, however, has already been leading an effort to beef up security measures – mostly for the protection of Gov. Doug Ducey and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who’ve been dealing with their own threats and harassment stemming from the November election. 

Nobody will have access to the basement, seventh, eighth or ninth floors of the building without an escort. Media and members of the public used to be able to access all but the ninth floor without a security badge. Neither agency would provide specific information on the new security measures that took effect on December 14 and will remain in place indefinitely. 

“Security procedures at the state Capitol have been enhanced not for any one specific event but just to ensure the safety of the public. … Our policy is not to discuss specific security measures,” a DPS spokesman said.

The Senate told its employees to head home early January 6 afternoon and offered security escorts to their cars. Other state agencies soon followed suit.

The Arizona Supreme Court closed on January 7 at the urging of the Department of Public Safety and the Governor’s Office also alerted all other agencies to do the same. 

Supporters of President Donald Trump gather to protest at the Arizona Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Supporters of President Donald Trump gather to protest at the Arizona Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Along with lingering threats of political unrest connected to the 2020 election, the Covid pandemic will upend what is normally a boisterous day of festivities. Ducey will present his State of the State Address by video from his office, rather than on the House floor in front of 90 lawmakers and their guests. 

The speech will be broadcast on the big screen in the Senate, but most lawmakers expect to watch from their offices. Senators, who will be sworn in earlier in the day, are allowed to bring two guests but most have opted to take their oaths of office without friends or family watching.

In the House, new freshmen will each be allowed to bring two family members, but no returning lawmakers will get guests. House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, praised that plan as a way to balance the need for safety with allowing new lawmakers to mark a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

“You don’t get to recreate special moments like this in your life,” he said.

The field-tripping school children, advocacy groups and observers who normally fill the House and Senate galleries won’t be welcome this year, as the Senate has already adopted policies to limit attendance and the House appears likely to follow suit. 

Under a set of Covid rules produced by the Senate late last year, members of the public would only be allowed in the building to attend a committee hearing for a measure they intended to testify on. They must wear a mask and pass a temperature check to get in, and must leave immediately after the hearing concludes.

On January 6, Senate President Karen shared an even stricter set of guidelines to follow in the event that she, Majority Leader Rick Gray and Minority Leader Rebecca Rios determine that an in-person meeting would cause increased health risks. In those cases, only five lawmakers would be allowed in a committee hearing room with the rest participating by video call from their offices, and the lobbyists and citizens testifying on bills would also be given information to call in to the hearing. 

The updated rules also include incentives for lawmakers to keep their masks on: if anyone removes a mask or otherwise fails to comply with the Senate’s Covid rules on the floor or in committee hearings, the hearing or floor session will recess until the offending lawmaker complies with the rules. 

Fann and Rios also confirmed plans to bar reporters from designated press desks on the Senate floor. This will primarily affect the Arizona Capitol Times, the sole media outlet that stations a reporter on the floor during every floor session.

Instead of the press tables on either side of the Senate president’s dais, Fann intends to set up two big screens for lawmakers who are participating by Zoom. 

“We want to try and maintain that social distancing and it would be very, very difficult with the media right there in those press boxes,” she said. 

Reporters will instead be allowed to view action from a gallery overlooking the chamber, and members of the public who normally fill the gallery won’t be permitted in the building. Several lawmakers, including influential Senate Appropriations Committee Chair David Gowan and Vice Chair Vince Leach, only answer media questions in person. 

“It’s going to be easier for members who want to avoid reporters or their constituents,” Rios said.

A legislative chamber last tried to bar reporters from the floor in 2016, when then-Speaker Gowan demanded that the Capitol press corps pass background checks in an apparent act of retaliation for negative coverage in the Capitol Times. He quickly rescinded that policy under pressure from fellow lawmakers. 

The new rules would permit any member of the Senate to participate in a floor session from their offices, provided Fann approves their request 90 minutes before it begins. 

-Yellow Sheet Report Editor Hank Stephenson contributed to this story. 

Crowd’s treatment of Ugenti-Rita heightens Senate discord

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, angrily speaks during the vote of her bill to trim the Permanent Early Voting List while Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who voted against the measure, killing it, listens. SCREEN CAPTURE ARIZONA LEGISLATURE
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, angrily speaks April 22, 2021, during the vote of her bill to trim the Permanent Early Voting List while Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who voted against the measure, killing it, listens. SCREEN CAPTURE ARIZONA LEGISLATURE

The unfriendly crowd Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita encountered at a Trump rally July 24 may prove problematic for her secretary of state run, but what happened after may complicate the 2022 legislative session.  

After leaving the stage, Ugenti-Rita ran into a teenage provocateur working for a right-wing website whose approach of journalism consists of yelling at elected officials and bureaucrats he dislikes. She answered his first question – she blocked some of Sen. Kelly Townsend’s election bills because they were “bad” — and tried to walk away as the man yelled more questions after her. 

Ugenti-Rita eventually told event security the man was harassing her, at which point they asked him to leave. Townsend encouraged him to return. 

“This shows (Townsend’s) erratic emotional behavior & sick personal vendetta against me and others masked as caring about election integrity,” Ugenti-Rita tweeted. “If she isn’t stopped someone is going to get hurt.”  

Her message continued as a direct appeal to Senate President Karen Fann: “This is the 2nd Senate member (Townsend) has encouraged violence against and you continue to ignore the situation. You must deal with her behavior immediately for the safety of the public, staff and members.”  

Simmering tensions between Townsend and Ugenti-Rita have already killed multiple bills supported by the remainder of their caucuses. Townsend insists it won’t happen next year – but she also wants Ugenti-Rita to resign.  

“I don’t care how well she’s done with election issues, or for how long she’s done it or how well she’s done it,” Townsend said. “If she is abusive in her position of power, then she needs to resign. We’ll find somebody that respects the community enough to not do that to them.” 

Conflict within the caucus isn’t limited to the pair of senators. Senate Republicans can’t afford to lose a single vote on any legislation that Democrats won’t support, and leaders have continued to alienate Sen. Paul Boyer, the Glendale Republican most likely to balk on some issues – particularly the Senate’s ongoing audit of 2020 election results. 

This week alone, Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, went on a conservative talk show to complain that Boyer went “over to the dark side” and someone moved Boyer’s desk on the Senate floor to the Democratic side of the aisle. The desk-mover could be Senate Majority Whip Sonny Borrelli, who’s in charge of seating charts, but he didn’t return inquiries from Boyer or the Arizona Capitol Times. Fann and Ugenti-Rita also did not return phone calls.  

Longtime lobbyist Chuck Coughlin speculated that problems in the Senate Republican caucus may result in Fann’s ouster, or even a power-sharing agreement with Senate Democrats.  

“It’s the cannibalization of their own caucus,” he said. “I’m not clear that with these types of divisions going on and a one-seat majority that the leadership arrangement will persist.” 

The Senate stands in sharp contrast to the House, where Speaker Rusty Bowers has held a 31-member Republican caucus with a one-vote majority in check for the past three years. Bowers has had disputes in his own caucus, including threats to replace him as speaker and a failed recall attempt supported by some House Republicans, but the House’s conflicts have never boiled over in the same way. 

Coughlin attributes much of that success to Bowers’ even-keeled temperament. Like Coughlin’s former boss, Gov. Jan Brewer, and former President Ronald Reagan, the speaker seems to follow a rule of not publicly criticizing members of their own party.   

“Speaker Bowers has been around much longer, and his discipline with regard to internal disputes won’t allow those things to come out,” Coughlin said. “He’s a very grace-filled man. He’s a human punching bag, but he never reacts to that. And, (House Majority Leader Ben) Toma is same way.”  

Fann has been publicly critical of some of the senators in her caucus since shortly after she became president. During an end-of-session interview with the Arizona Capitol Times in 2019, Fann complained about a lack of “team spirit” from a group of new Republican senators who refused to vote for the budget plan she presented to them unless and until it included their priorities.  

“It’s very hurtful to think that you work very closely with people only to find out that their personal wishes are more important than that of the entire group,” she said.  

Prior to that, Ugenti-Rita said she asked Fann to let her preside over debate on some bills in committee of the whole, only to have Fann tell her that was a privilege reserved for “team players.”  

“I asked [Fann] specifically, and I was told that I’m not a team player and that I’m a smart girl and can figure it out,” Ugenti-Rita said in June 2019.  

Most of Fann’s comments have centered around Boyer, who began disappointing her before his first term in the Senate even began. He was one of several Republicans who voted for former House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, for Senate president, and in 2019 his crusade to secure expanded legal rights for survivors of childhood sex abuse delayed the state’s budget and led to a standdown where Boyer ultimately prevailed. 

In 2020, he joined two moderate Republicans who have since left the Senate in pushing for the Legislature to shut down during the height of the Covid pandemic. This year, he blocked Fann from arresting Maricopa County’s supervisors for contempt when they sought a court order affirming the Senate’s audit subpoenas and has become one of the most vocal Republican critics of the audit. 

Boyer said he won’t let conflicts within the Senate or pressure from outside change how he votes on legislation. If it’s a good policy, no matter who the sponsor is, he’ll vote for it, he said.  

“I’m not going to make my decision based on how I’m being treated,” he said. “I always looked at the argument. It doesn’t mean we’re going to go out for drinks after, but I don’t really do that anyways, so it’s not like I’m missing anything.” 

Cyber Ninjas fails to submit partial report

In this file photo, Doug Logan, CEO of Cyber Ninjas, answers questions at a previous hearing of sorts to discuss the issues with the current Senate-ordered audit of Maricopa County election returns.
In this file photo, Doug Logan, CEO of Cyber Ninjas, answers questions at a previous hearing of sorts to discuss the issues with the current Senate-ordered audit of Maricopa County election returns. Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services

The Arizona Senate’s legal team met August 25 to discuss the Cyber Ninjas’ partial report on its review of Maricopa County’s 2020 general election – but there was no report to discuss.  

“There’s no report,” Senate audit liaison Randy Pullen said. 

Pullen, former Republican Party of Arizona chairman, said the meeting instead focused on planning and “the process of getting the report completed and out the door.” Pullen did not have a timeline for when to expect a draft. 

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said on August 23 that the Senate legal team would receive a partial draft of the report and would review it August 25. She attributed the delay in getting a full report to Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan and two members of his five-person team testing positive for Covid. 

Fann said that one team member, not Logan, is in the hospital with pneumonia and that the three are “quite sick.” 

Fann did not return a phone call August 25 seeking further comment. Senate attorney Kory Langhofer and Senate liaison Ken Bennett said they also have not seen a draft of the Cyber Ninjas report.  

“To my knowledge, nobody has actually seen a draft,” Langhofer said via text. 

Pullen confirmed that Logan attended the August 25 meeting via Zoom and that he was the only representative from the Cyber Ninjas team in attendance. Pullen said he wasn’t sure who else comprised the five-person team.  

“I don’t believe that was disclosed or was going to be disclosed, and I don’t know exactly who that is anyway,” Pullen said. 

On August 23, Fann said the Senate team plans to hold another meeting to review the rest of the draft report once submitted. Then the final report will be shared with the Senate Judiciary Committee and the findings will be released to the public.  

It’s possible some information from the report will be made public sooner than that, Fann said. 

“We don’t want to just put out just arbitrarily information, but if there’s something that the team is comfortable with that is hard, solid facts – we know that everybody’s anxious to see these reports and would like some information – so I would love to have the ability to share it as soon as we know that it’s confirmed,” she said.  

Besides Covid, Fann blamed Maricopa County for the delay, saying the Senate received requested images of ballot envelopes on August 19 and that they still need to be analyzed.   

But the county maintains that it already gave images of the ballot envelopes to the Senate on April 22, according to Megan Gilbertson, Maricopa County Elections Department spokeswoman. The county also said as much in an August 2 letter in response to the Senate’s July 26 subpoena.  

“If Cyber Ninjas are unable to find them there, the County can produce them again,” the county’s August 2 letter stated, directing Cyber Ninjas to where it said the files could be found.  

Gilbertson said the county gave the images to the Senate a second time on August 19.   

Fann said that wasn’t true and that the auditors received the images for the first time on that day.   

“I had three separate IT experts look, and it was not there,” Fann said. “I think they thought that they had sent it to us, but I don’t know. I’m not the IT tech, but I can guarantee you it was not there.”  

Pullen said the review of those images “probably would be finished sometime next week” but said the location of the review “hasn’t been settled yet.” 

Fann’s plans for the audit release have changed several times over the past few months. In June, the Legislature included language in its budget saying the Senate Government Committee, led by secretary of state candidate and audit skeptic Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, would receive and review the report. Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee later insisted they would have jurisdiction over it instead. And in recent weeks, Fann has referred to a “Senate team,” though she has yet to identify the people on that team. 



Cyber Ninjas not paying attorney

In this file photo, Doug Logan, CEO of Cyber Ninjas, answers questions at a previous hearing of sorts to discuss the issues with the current Senate-ordered audit of Maricopa County election returns. (Screenshot courtesy of Capitol Media Services)

Cyber Ninjas’ attorney is seeking to drop out of two audit-related public records lawsuits, claiming his client stopped paying the bills. 

Republican attorney Jack Wilenchik filed motions in Maricopa County Superior Court last week in separate cases brought by liberal watchdog American Oversight and The Arizona Republic, asking the court to approve his firm’s withdrawal as Cyber Ninjas’ attorney of record. Though the Senate and Senate leadership were initially the only defendants in the American Oversight case, the court joined Cyber Ninjas as defendants earlier this month. 

The motion filed in the American Oversight case on December 21 only stated “professional considerations now require termination of the representation,” but a nearly-identical motion filed the next day in The Republic case included one key additional piece of information: “Professional considerations – specifically, lack of payment on file – now require termination of the representation.” 

Wilenchik did not respond to a request for comment. 

Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan told our reporter “I’m aware of their decision to leave,” but declined to comment further on the reason behind that decision.  

But the company – which was hired by Arizona Senate President Karen Fann in March to conduct an audit of Maricopa County’s 2020 presidential and U.S. Senate elections – despite having no experience auditing elections – has cried poverty in recent months, arguing the project has put it in a financial hole. 

Cyber Ninjas released a financial disclosure in October, claiming it had received $5.7 million to conduct the audit as of September 15, most of which came from outside groups. However, it claimed costs during the same period totaled $8.9 million, leaving it in a financial hole. 

And in November, the Arizona Capitol Times reported that the Senate was withholding $100,000 of the $150,000 it agreed to pay Cyber Ninjas. 

Last week, The Arizona Republic reported that Wilenchik sent a letter stating the Senate still had not paid Cyber Ninjas that $100,000 and that, without that money, Cyber Ninjas could not afford the $67,000 it estimated it would cost to produce responsive records in the cases.  

But Roopali Desai, American Oversight’s attorney, is skeptical of Cyber Ninjas’ claims of financial hardship.  

In a court filing this week opposing Wilenchik’s motion to withdrawal, she cited the financial disclosure released in October showing Cyber Ninjas received $5.7 million through mid-September.  

“After receiving millions of dollars to fund the audit and after paying its counsel for many months to resist its statutory and court-ordered obligations, any contention by Cyber Ninjas’ that a purported lack of funds prevents it from producing the public records is highly suspicious, to say the least,” Desai wrote. 

In her motion, Desai criticized Cyber Ninjas and Wilenchik for ignoring demands by the Senate and courts to turn over public records related to the audit in the company’s possession. “Wilenchik’s pugnacious approach continued even after rulings to the contrary were issued by Arizona courts,” she wrote.  

Desai said Wilenchik’s motion is simply another stall tactic.  

Desai said the court should reject Wilenchik’s request, because it is not in the public interest. She cited precedent dictating that a corporation cannot appear before the court without counsel, which she said could undermine the court’s ability to enforce orders requiring Cyber Ninjas to turn over audit-related records.  

“Permitting Wilenchik to withdraw and Cyber Ninjas to default before the public records at issue are provided to either the Senate, American Oversight or a special master would prejudice the administration of justice, this Court, and American Oversight as the party that has devoted time and resources to this litigation to obtain those records,” according to Desai’s filing.  

Desai argued that the harm done to the plaintiffs and court would outweigh any harm to Wilenchik’s firm caused by the non-payment because “there is little left to do at this juncture” of the case.  

“Even if they were to come forward and say, in our case, ‘it’s because we haven’t been paid,’ that’s not the end of the inquiry,” Desai said. “The court still has to do and should do an analysis about whether it’s in the best interest of all the other parties and in the interest of justice.”  

David Bodney, the attorney representing The Arizona Republic in its records case, did not respond to requests for comment.  

Senate attorney Kory Langhofer said his client would not weigh in on Wilenchik’s request. “We view that as something that’s between Cyber Ninjas and their lawyer,” he said.   

Decade of Dem gains sets stage for nail-biter legislative races

Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Ahwatukee, listens to a speaker during a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee on March 8, 2017. Bowie represents Legislative District 18, which has seen a nearly 10,000 person shift in favor of Democrats since 2016. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR
Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Ahwatukee, listens to a speaker during a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee on March 8, 2017. Bowie represents Legislative District 18, which has seen a nearly 10,000 person shift in favor of Democrats since 2016. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR

Eight years ago, newly drawn legislative maps cost Republicans their supermajorities in the House and Senate.

This year, the final election with the districts drawn in 2011, Republicans could lose their majorities, period.

In their fifth and final outing with the current districts, Republicans in the legislative majority face a daunting set of maps. Registered Republicans might outnumber Democrats by nearly 100,000 statewide, but Democrats made significant voter registration gains in Phoenix suburbs, where a handful of districts in which Republicans held double-digit leads in voter registration in 2012 are now well within reach for Democrats.

With just one true exception — and one technicality — House and Senate seats have only flipped when fewer than 10 percentage points separate voter registration numbers for the two major parties. This year, that holds true in nine districts: five represented entirely by Republicans, two represented solely by Democrats and two with split party representation.

Rural Republican districts have only gotten redder. But while dramatic increases in registered Republican voters in Prescott and Mohave County might aid Republicans seeking statewide office, that growth does little to help build margins in the state House and Senate.

Democrats, who only need to flip two seats to win the state House and three to win the Senate, have multiple options in the Valley, as well as a perpetually close district in northern Arizona. Republicans are on the defensive, with their best — though still slim — chances for picking up seats in suburban districts they recently lost and a southern Arizona district where Democrats hold a double-digit lead in registered voters. 

The best shot: LD 28

ld-28In north Phoenix, former lawmaker Eric Meyer sees a clearer path forward for Democratic Senate candidate Christine Marsh in her race against incumbent Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee than Meyer had when he and Brophy McGee squared off for the then-open Senate seat four years ago. 

Legislative District 28, which encompasses the Biltmore area, Arcadia, Sunnyslope and the upscale town of Paradise Valley, has always been a little unusual. Meyer, Brophy McGee and then-incumbent Republican Rep. Amanda Reeve all ended up in LD28 through redistricting in 2012, when cutting off more liberal parts of central Phoenix created a district with a Republican voter registration edge of 12.4 percentage points.

Eric Meyer
Eric Meyer

Meyer won, building up votes on the geographic edges of the district where Hispanic and Democratic voters are concentrated and persuading enough of the moderate white Republicans who made up the bulk of the district to vote for him. LD28 continued having at least one Democratic representative, then gained a second House seat in 2018. 

A gradual shift in voter registration numbers began accelerating rapidly after the 2018 election, when Rep. Aaron Lieberman won his House seat and Marsh came within 300 votes of beating Brophy McGee. In the two years since, Democrats have registered nearly 5,000 more new voters in the district than Republicans, and the Republican voter registration edge shrank to 1.9 percentage points. 

Meyer, who is still active in district politics, attributes that increase in large part to a more robust and well-organized district Democratic Party. Now, LD28 Democratic volunteers work year round to keep their newly registered voters engaged, with volunteer political opportunities and social events, including book clubs and trivia nights scheduled every month. 

Donald Trump helped LD28 Democrats too, after initially providing a boost to Republicans in 2016 in his successful run for president. Suburban, white, college-educated voters who historically voted for Republicans for economic reasons dislike what they see as the bombastic rhetoric and divisive politics of the Trump administration, helping Democrats win legislative and congressional seats in 2018. 

“Right now, if the election were held today, enthusiasm in District 28 is pretty high,” Meyer said. “There’s a lot more Democrats that have been registered, so that’s in Christine’s favor. The district is more organized with volunteers, the voters are excited and the polling looks good for Christine. Everything’s looking good right now, but it depends on what happens on Election Day.”

The Southeast Valley – LD17 and LD18

In the Southeast Valley, a post-Trump suburban shift has been bolstered by an influx of new residents from other states, fueled by a booming tech industry in Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert and Mesa.

ld18In Legislative District 18, which includes Ahwatukeee and parts of Tempe, Chandler and Mesa, Republicans started the decade with a voter registration edge of 8.6 percentage points. By 2018, the district had elected a slate of three Democrats. Now, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans. 

“When I was first elected in 2016, there were about 6,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats,” said Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Ahwatukee. “Today, there are about 4,000 more registered Democrats. You see a 10,000 person shift in the last four years, so I think it’s a couple of things causing it.”

Longtime Republican voters turned off by Trump were more willing to give moderate Democrats a try, voting in 2018 for Democratic U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and three legislative Democrats. And an increase of new young voters, many drawn to the mostly single-family zoning in LD18 to start their families, brought Democratic voting patterns with them. 

Bowie noted: “My district, and District 28 and District 17 which is just to the east of me, if you look at the performance from 2016, 2018 and even primary turnout from this year, you just see a really marked shift away from Republicans in those areas.” Bowie said.

LD18 Republicans struggled to find viable challengers to Democratic incumbents this year, ending up with a QAnon conspiracy theorist to challenge Bowie and former lawmaker Bob Robson and write-in candidate Don Hawker running in the House after an initial House candidate dropped out over fears about contracting COVID-19. 

ld17In LD17, changing demographics have Sen. J.D. Mesnard running scared. Democratic Rep. Jennifer Pawlik of Chandler didn’t just flip a House seat in 2018 – she came in first place, beating out Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, by about 400 votes after he secured roughly 7,000 votes more than she did just two years before.

This year, Weninger is most likely safe. Democrats opted to stick with the “single-shot” strategy of running only one candidate in the House and asking Pawlik supporters to leave their second choice for the state House blank. 

J.D. Mesnard
J.D. Mesnard

But Mesnard is one of the top targets of state and national Democratic groups, second only to Brophy McGee when it comes to endangered GOP senators. 

LD17 had a nearly 15 percentage point Republican lead in voter registration in 2012. Now, it’s 6.4 percentage points. And independent voters who broke for Mesnard and Weninger in 2016 jumped to Pawlik in 2018, raising hopes for Democrats that Senate candidate Ajlan Kurdoglu will win the seat.

Chandler has a combination of the suburban voters who dislike the president and a growing workforce led by transplants from blue areas like California, Chicago and the Northeast. 

“I wouldn’t call it the perfect storm, but it’s quite the storm here,” Mesnard said.

The West Valley – LD20 and LD21

Across town, rapid population growth in the West Valley has moved Legislative District 20 and Legislative District 21 into reachable territory for Democrats. 

Sinema won LD20 in 2018, and the 10 percentage point voter registration lead Republicans held in the Glendale-based district in 2012 has narrowed to only 4 percentage  points. Liberal groups are spending heavily in the district to help Democratic candidate Judy Schwiebert unseat either Rep. Anthony Kern or Rep. Shawnna Bolick.

ld20They’re less bullish about opportunities to remove Republican Sen. Paul Boyer, who enjoys significant support from unions because of his dogged pursuit of health protections for firefighters. 

LD21 is a tougher district to flip, as the Republican voter registration advantage only fell from 10.1 to 9  percentage points since 2012. It includes portions of rapidly growing Peoria, but also contains the wealthy conservative retirement community of Sun City. 

Democratic hopes in LD21 are pinned primarily on the perceived strength of their House candidate, former independent Kathy Knecht. As an independent running for the Senate in the district in 2018, Knecht came within 3,500 votes of winning a seat. 

Republicans previously won the district with margins of 20 points, putting Knecht’s 4.4-point loss to Sen. Rick Gray well above expectations. This year, she has the benefit of running for an open seat and with the backing of a major party. 

The constant: LD6

Like in LD21, party registration splits in Legislative District 6 have remained relatively constant throughout the past eight years. Republicans now hold an 8.8percentage point voter registration lead, down from 10.6 percentage points in 2012.

General elections have always been close — Republican Sen. Sylvia Allen of Snowflake eked out wins over Democratic opponents by fewer than 2,000 votes in nail-biter races in 2016 and 2018, and Democratic candidate Felicia French came within 600 votes of winning a seat in the state House in 2018.

Walt Blackman
Walt Blackman

This year, Democrats see an opportunity to win seats in the House, Senate or both because of the strength of their candidates. French is now running for the Senate, and she has spent most of the intervening two years still on the campaign trail, going door-to-door to meet with voters in even the most remote areas of the sprawling northern Arizona district.

She won’t face Allen, a White Mountain fixture who managed to maintain relationships with conservative Democrats as well as Republicans and independents to win re-election. After a decade of failed runs for Congress in Tempe and northern Arizona, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Wendy Rogers turned her sights on LD6, trouncing Allen in the August Republican primary. 

To prevent a French win, a political action committee connected with Ducey is spending tens of thousands of dollars on ads to convince voters that French is too radical for LD6. And GOP consultants are trying the same strategy in the House, where Democratic Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans and independent Coconino County Supervisor Art Babbott are challenging sitting Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, and former Rep. Brenda Barton. 

Southern Arizona 

In 2012, two Tucson-area legislative districts appeared to be the most competitive in the state. Democrats led in voter registration by 3.9 percentage points in Legislative District 9, which elected one Republican to the House, and by 3.4 percentage points in Legislative District 10.

LD 9 flipped permanently blue in 2014, when Rep. Randy Friese defeated incumbent Ethan Orr. Now, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 14 percentage points, and the last Republican to challenge Friese and Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley lost by about 12,000 votes. 

LD10 remains closer, and had a single Republican representative, Todd Clodfelter, between 2016 and 2018. Democrats appear unworried about their chances of keeping the district this year.

As Tucson itself grew more blue, the surrounding areas also began to shift. Democrats narrowed registration margins by nearly 4 percentage points in neighboring Legislative District 11, from a 13.2 percentage point Republican edge in 2012 to 9.4 percentage points this year. 

Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, speaks before the Senate Finance Committee on March 8, 2017. Democrats have targeted Finchem even though he serves in a relatively safe district in which the Republican voter registration advantage has shrunk to less than 10 percentage points over Democrats, an historical threshold for districts to flip. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR
Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, speaks before the Senate Finance Committee on March 8, 2017. Democrats have targeted Finchem even though he serves in a relatively safe district in which the Republican voter registration advantage has shrunk to less than 10 percentage points over Democrats, an historical threshold for districts to flip. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR

Winning a seat in LD11 from entrenched GOP incumbents Sen. Vince Leach of Saddlebrooke and Rep. Mark Finchem of Oro Valley is a long shot. But Democratic political action committees have begun spending there as part of an aggressive strategy. 

Republicans with few opportunities to pick up seats this cycle are eyeing Legislative District 4, a vast southern Arizona district that contains large areas of Maricopa, Pima and Yuma counties and a single precinct in Pinal County.

Democrats still hold a formidable voter registration edge of exactly 16 percentage points, a figure that fluctuated over the past eight years from a high of 17 percentage points to a low of 15.4 percentage points. 

A Republican strategy for picking up a House seat in LD4 relies on picking off Rep. Gerae Peten, D-Goodyear, who hails from the growing Maricopa County portion of the district where Republicans have proliferated in recent years. A Senate strategy is less clear.

From purple to red: LD8

The only permanent pickup opportunity Republicans had over the past few years came from Legislative District 8 in Pinal County, a one-time Democratic stronghold that has shifted steadily to the right over the past two decades. 

ld8After the 2012 elections, Democratic Sen. Barbara McGuire was the only Democrat representing LD8, though registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 6.5 points. By 2016, McGuire was out, and Republicans now lead in voter registration by 3.6 percentage points.

Pinal County Supervisor and former Senate President Pete Rios began predicting that shift nearly two decades ago, when the unincorporated community of San Tan Valley began to develop. About 80,000 people now live in what was an undeveloped desert and agricultural land 20 years ago. 

Pete Rios
Pete Rios

Rios noticed at the time that most of the people buying homes in San Tan Valley weren’t moving from out of state. Rather, they were conservative Republicans from the East Valley, who jumped at the chance to own a large home for tens of thousands of dollars less than they would pay in Mesa, Gilbert or Chandler.

Simultaneously, the southeast corner of Pinal County saw the development of the Saddlebrooke Ranch retirement community, which drew a large population of Republican retirees from around the country. 

And the old mining towns that had long been Democratic strongholds experienced population loss. As recent high school graduates fled their small towns to go to the Phoenix area or Tucson, and old miners died, the number of Democrats in Pinal County began shrinking.

“We were seeing Republicans grow by leaps and bounds in the valley of Pinal County and Democrats dwindling in the mountain area of Pinal County,” Rios said. “So, it was only a matter of time before Pinal County was going to swing and swing strongly to the Republican side.”

Republicans still play defense in LD8, with Ducey’s PAC and the Republican Legislative Victory Fund spending to help Rep. T.J. Shope of Coolidge and Sen. Frank Pratt of Casa Grande, but Democrats don’t include the district in their list of priorities. 

Pinal County is all but a lost cause for Democrats, said Rios, now running for his final term on the Board of Supervisors. 

 “The bottom line is, it’s only going to get worse for Democrats,” he said. “Republicans are going to keep growing in Pinal County.”

Dem AZ Rep. Sinema ‘seriously considering’ Senate challenge

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema

Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema said Friday she is “seriously considering” a run for the Arizona Senate seat held by Republican Jeff Flake.

The three-term congresswoman says she’s heard from many in her state encouraging her to run. Flake narrowly won his first term in 2012 and is among the very few GOP incumbents who might be vulnerable in next year’s midterm elections in a Senate map that favors Republicans.

“I’ve heard from many Arizonans encouraging me to run for the United States Senate. It is something I am seriously considering,” Sinema said. “When I make any decisions, Arizonans will be the first to know.”

Sinema, 41, earned a reputation as a liberal while serving in the Arizona legislature. But she’s sought to cultivate a more moderate profile in the House, joining the Blue Dog Coalition of centrist Democrats. After a relatively narrow win in her first House race in 2012, Sinema has comfortably won re-election and has more than $3 million in campaign cash on hand.

She is the first openly bisexual member of Congress.

Flake has been a high-profile critic of President Donald Trump and has written a book, “Conscience of a Conservative,” that details his unease about Trump and the Republican Party. A major trump donor, Robert Mercer, has donated $300,000 to a super PAC backing Flake’s GOP primary opponent, Kelli Ward.

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Dem election plan puts candidate in nearly every race

Lynsey Robinson
Lynsey Robinson

Queen Creek resident Lynsey Robinson has hit many roadblocks on her way to becoming a Democratic candidate for the House in Legislative District 12.

Robinson, 41, came to the United States from Haiti in 1985 on a visitor visa with her grandfather. However, the pair, who were visiting Robinson’s aunt in New York for the summer, overstayed their three-month visas after her grandfather became sick.

When the grandfather died, Robinson, who was 8 at the time, said her parents and her aunt debated sending her back to Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, but instead her aunt took her in.

The decision opened up doors for Robinson that she said she may have never had back home. But without permanent legal status in the United States for nearly two decades, Robinson said she became stuck in a pattern of starting something but never finishing, not because of her abilities but because of her immigration status.

That all changed when she became a legal permanent resident in 2004 and a U.S. citizen in 2010.

Even though her background may not resemble that of the constituents in LD12, Robinson attributes her success to perseverance and a good education, and she said that’s something that will strike a chord with voters in the historically conservative district.

Robinson is one of the 114 Democratic candidates vying for a seat in the Arizona Legislature.

This year, the Democratic Party is by design fielding a candidate in nearly every federal, statewide and legislative race, with the exception of one, a strategy that has paid off in other states.

It’s the first time since at least 1998 that so many Democrats have jumped into the race, and it’s a 41-percent increase from 2016 when 81 Democrats qualified for the ballot. The second highest number of Democrats who have run for the Legislature in the past 20 years was in 2002 when 101 filed for office, according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office historical election results database.

Charles Fisher, executive director of the Arizona Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said the group’s goal is to saturate the ballot in hopes of getting as many Democrats elected as possible.

Fisher calls it the “reverse coattail effect.” Rather than having a big-name candidate at the top of the ticket drawing in voters, which can have a down-ballot impact, he said he hopes that by having a candidate in almost every legislative race, even in overwhelmingly red districts, it will drive up voter turnout on an off-year election and possibly lead to success at the statewide level and in the U.S. Senate race.

The strategy worked in Virginia where the large pool of Democratic candidates in 2017 led to the election of a Democratic attorney general and governor, he said.

Fisher said the party is also banking on strong showings in federal and state legislative races nationwide, and candidates are inspired by what they saw this year with the “Red for Ed” movement.

But the candidates don’t see themselves as being just sacrificial lambs in the party’s grand scheme.

They are providing a voice to those who may not have had anyone to support in prior elections and to those who are tired of what they’ve seen happening at the Legislature, Robinson said.

While Robinson and Democratic LD12 Senate candidate Elizabeth Brown acknowledge that they’re the underdogs in their respective elections, they seem unfazed by the fact that there are almost 40,250 more active registered Republicans in the district than there are Democrats.

Brown, a two-time candidate who ran for the Senate in 2016, said she thinks she has a better chance of being elected this year than she did two years ago, and she added that the teacher strike and the “Red for Ed” movement boosted her confidence.

Brown said she has spoken with constituents on both sides of the aisle and independents who are less interested in partisan politics and are looking for candidates who will be effective and get work done.

Michelle Harris (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)
Michelle Harris (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)

That’s something first-time candidate Michelle Harris, of Buckeye, has also heard for years. She’s running as a Democrat for the Senate in Legislative District 13, which spans parts of Yuma and Maricopa County.

Harris said she first became interested in running for office after she and her neighbors’ wastewater rates skyrocketed. She said she reached out to her state legislators and asked them to send a letter to the Arizona Corporation Commission asking that the commissioners meet with residents and reconsider the rate increase, but she never heard back from them.

“I just kind of got the stiff arm from them and that really spurred me to look into the Legislature and was really one of the reasons I decided to run,” she said. “I just thought we deserved better representation, someone who will be out in the community helping people in the district.”

Harris said while meeting with constituents she has learned that many care less about whether there’s a “D” behind her name and are just excited that she’s taking the time to meet with them.

Chandler resident Jennifer Pawlik, who is running as a Democrat for the House in Legislative District 17, said when she ran for the House in 2016 people told her she wasn’t a viable candidate. But that sentiment has changed among constituents she has spoken with this time around, she said.

And Pawlik said that while candidates in very red districts may not win, their candidacy is helping move those districts a bit to the left.

But several long-time Capitol insiders disagree on whether the surge in Democratic candidates and the party’s momentum can translate to real success in 2018.

Democratic lobbyist Barry Dill said while having good quality candidates is more important than having a large number of candidates, in a state like Arizona that has historically had a large drop off in the number of Democrats who vote in off-year elections, fielding a candidate in almost every race can lead to wins if it draws people who normally don’t vote.

“If that trend can be either reversed or mitigated to some degree, then Democrats have a great opportunity of having some success and gaining seats in the Legislature,” he said.

Republican lobbyist and former lawmaker Stan Barnes said in the 30 sessions since he was first elected in 1988, Democratic confidence has never been as high as it is today, even in the 1990s when Democrats were in the majority in the state Senate or in the early 2000s when Janet Napolitano was governor.

Barnes said the key to Democrats’ success is that they believe they can win.

“Democrats believe this is their year and that confidence translates into better candidates coming forward and more candidates coming forward translates into more resources coming into the campaigns of better Democratic candidates. And so it becomes sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy because it starts with genuine confidence by Democrats that they have something significant to gain and that it’s possible,” he said.

He said Republicans are on the defense, a bit demoralized, and there is a so-called “Jeff Flake constituency” of moderate Republicans that are unhappy with what they’re seeing at the federal level.

If you combine that with the number of Democratic candidates running this year and the possibility of national funding flowing into the state because of the U.S. Senate race, Barnes said Democrats could very well win additional seats in both chambers of the Legislature, and either tie the Senate at 15-15 or regain a majority.

And that’s a thought that keeps Republicans awake at night, he said.

Republican political consultant Chuck Coughlin is less convinced that Democrats will see greater success this year. He said one of Democrats’ key issues is education funding, but it was the governor and Republican lawmakers who delivered on the issue this session.

“We’re seeing in data that we’re collecting now that people are giving credit to the governor for delivering on the education package and Democrats walked away from that at the end, which I thought was a mistake because it was the pressure of the teachers that delivered it and that’s a sign of partisan disfunction,” he said. “The credit was theirs to take and they chose to walk away.”

That will make it harder for Democratic candidates in more conservative districts to make their case to voters, he said.

Longtime Capitol lobbyist Barry Aarons said Democrats have to make sure they don’t spread themselves too thin, focusing on a handful of seats they can actually seize instead of on all 90.

Fisher, of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said while past efforts to gain seats in the Legislature have failed because Democrats tried to bite off too much, this year the caucus is much more organized. The Senate, he said, is the top priority.

Aarons said the momentum could also backfire, waking up a dormant Republican majority that has for decades coasted through the election without a primary or general foe.

He said he has spoken with incumbents in what have typically been considered safe districts and they aren’t taking anything for granted this year, ramping up campaign efforts to ensure they are re-elected.

“Democrats have to be careful that they don’t wake up the beast and wake up after the election and find that they’ve lost some seats,” he said.

Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, who is seeking election to the House, said he’s running a strong campaign this year in response to what he sees as a Democratic base that is fired up and energized.

“There’s a saying in politics that you always run scared no matter what and that is especially true this year,” he said, adding that while he doesn’t think his seat is vulnerable, there are others that are.

Democratic blitz, GOP votes doomed redistricting measure

The threat of a massive infusion of political spending by a liberal advocacy group during campaign season helped thwart a legislative effort to overhaul Arizona’s redistricting process.

Sen. Bob Worsley (R-Mesa) (Photo by Rachel Leingang/ Arizona Capitol Times)
Sen. Bob Worsley (R-Mesa) (Photo by Rachel Leingang/ Arizona Capitol Times)

Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, was one of two Republicans who cast decisive votes against Senate President Steve Yarbrough’s resolution to overhaul the makeup of the Independent Redistricting Commission. Now a five-member commission, Yarbrough’s resolution would have increased the size of the commission to nine, and changed certain rules for how legislative and congressional maps are redrawn every 10 years.

The measure would’ve gone to the ballot in November. Any change to the IRC must be approved by Arizona voters, a vote that could have sparked a contentious campaign.

Local progressive organizations like Arizona Wins and Arizona Advocacy Network opposed that effort, and they had help from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

That fact wasn’t lost on Worsley, who voted against one of the signature legislative efforts of the Senate’s top Republican, Yarbrough of Chandler.

“The attorney general under Obama was going to target Arizona if we, in fact, passed that,” Worsley said. “That was just one more thing we didn’t need for November. The [House] speaker wasn’t happy, and the Senate president wasn’t happy, but folks that probably would’ve had to put up the money to fight that didn’t want to fight the millions [of dollars] that were on their way.”

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee had already invested $75,000 in Arizona, which they provided to help fund Arizona Wins’ efforts to raise awareness about the proposal to overhaul the redistricting commission, according to Kelly Ward, the committee’s executive director.

And in late April, Holder took a three-day trip to Arizona to meet with voting rights communities, progressive groups, and liberal candidates, and to speak at the Arizona Democratic Party’s Heritage Dinner on April 27, and tout the IRC.

“Arizona has the gold standard for commissions,” Ward said. “And I think what we’ve seen out of the commissions are really fair maps that reflect the will of the voters, and our overall mission is to achieve fair maps in the next round of redistricting, and we think that the current makeup of the commission is the best way to achieve those maps. So we would go all in to protect that very fair process, so any threat to change what is in my mind the gold standard in the country for commissions was a major priority for us to defeat.”

Sen. Kate Brophy McGee (R-Phoenix)
Sen. Kate Brophy McGee (R-Phoenix)

Those efforts were ultimately successful. Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, also voted against the resolution, and credited feedback from her constituents for her opposition.

Both Brophy McGee and Worsley voted for SCR1034 when it first cleared the Senate, but voted against an amended version of the resolution that was approved by the House. The no votes of two GOP senators left the measure to amend the IRC one vote shy of approval and a referral to the ballot.

Brophy McGee said she heard “so much” about the bill when she voted to get it out of the Senate – “none of it good, from my constituents.”

Her prayer, she said, was the House would fix it.

“Not only did it not get fixed, it got worse,” Brophy McGee said, adding that such a measure must be approved with an overwhelming majority, but that Yarbrough failed to garner Democratic buy-in. “When you put something like this forward, in my opinion, you need bipartisan support. You need it to be something that most everybody thinks is a good idea. And instead, it just got more and more split.”

Worsley, too, said the issue grew too partisan, and could have threatened Republicans at the ballot in a year when they’re already expecting a blue wave.

“We just didn’t need that extra heavy lift in November,” he said.

On May 5, Holder touted SCR1034’s defeat.

“When we fight – justice wins,” he tweeted, adding that the “citizen-led commission creates fair, competitive districts and is a model for the country.”

Democratic lawmaker Kirsten Engel announces run for Congress

Democratic Sen. Kirsten Engel of Tucson announced Friday she’s running for Congress, becoming the first candidate to jump into the race to replace retiring Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick.

Engel is an environmental law professor at University of Arizona. She was elected last year to her first term in the Arizona Senate following two terms in the House.

“I want to bring my experience as an attorney, legislator, woman, and mom to Washington to help southern AZ families and small businesses — to not only recover from the global pandemic, but to take that next step to building a sustainable economy with opportunities for all,” Engel wrote on Twitter.

Engel is likely to face a crowded field of candidates vying for the Democratic nomination. Her potential rivals include state Rep. Randy Friese, who wrote on Twitter this week that he and his wife are “carefully and thoughtfully” planning for their future, and Pima County Supervisor Matt Heinz.
The 2nd Congressional District currently includes parts of Tucson and Southeastern Arizona, and is one of the most hotly contested in the state with races often decided by razor-thin margins. However, the boundaries will change due to redistricting ahead of the 2022 election.

Democrats almost had a voice in budget process, but Republicans didn’t hear them

Democrats and Republicans can agree on one thing this year – the minority party in Arizona had a rare opportunity to have some say in the budget process, thanks to the initial resistance of some GOP lawmakers to a borrowing plan for public universities.

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

In the end, Gov. Doug Ducey got his $1 billion bonding capacity for higher education, and Democrats got what they routinely get: Left behind.

Republicans say Democrats overplayed their hand. Ducey and GOP leaders were willing to talk, but Democrats asked for too much and were too firmly entrenched in their request to make negotiating a reality.

Democrats charged that Republicans, like always in recent years, have no interest in ever working across the aisle, no matter the offer, even on issues that are obvious candidates for bipartisan support.

In this case, a plan to let Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University borrow up to $1 billion over the next 25 years was initially rebuffed by almost all Republican senators and representatives. They were wary of allowing the state to borrow that much money, and of a mechanism to divert sales taxes from state coffers to finance the borrowing plan.

Knowing the bonding plan, Ducey’s signature proposal, lacked enough Republican support in both the House and Senate to pass without Democratic votes, minority leadership in each chamber united their members. Democrats would unilaterally oppose the bonding plan, preventing Ducey from proclaiming a bipartisan victory when, as in past years, a single Democrat or two broke ranks and voted for a bill or budget.

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

“What you saw happen was the Democrats stuck together with a unified request,” said Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix. “If you asked every individual Democrat, they would’ve told you the same answer: Teacher raises and TANF.” TANF is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which provides short-term cash assistance to families.

The Democrats’ demands, in exchange for their vote on bonding, was in line with their policy priorities for the session. The minority party had blasted the governor for his initial proposal of a teacher pay raise – 2 percent phased in over five years – as wholly inadequate. And they had spent the better part of two years criticizing Ducey for signing into law cuts to TANF in 2015.

Hobbs acknowledged that their initial request was more than Republicans were willing to pay for. A 4 percent teacher raise, whether it was in one year or phased in over two, would have added more than $100 million in spending.

“So for them it was less expensive to buy off Republicans individually,” Hobbs said.

Barry Aarons
Barry Aarons

Longtime Capitol lobbyist Barry Aarons said the request was a part of what undercut Democrats’ efforts to be taken seriously in a negotiation.

“I don’t think the Democrats gave themselves enough opportunity to find some wins for themselves, and that’s because they limited their offer to some things that were non-starters to begin with,” Aarons said.

Experience might have something to do with it, Aarons said. Not since Rose Mofford occupied the Governor’s Office have Democrats been given a chance to take part in the budget, he said, with the exception of the passage of Medicaid expansion in 2013.

Republicans began the trend of passing Republican-only budget under former Gov. Fife Symington, who served from 1991 to 1997, according to Aarons.

“I think that is a result of years and years in the desert,” Aarons said. “Basically when it came to negotiating, I think they had not had the experience of going through a legitimate negotiation. Now whether it would’ve come to pass regardless, I don’t know.”

Several Democratic lawmakers said the teachers’ raise and TANF was just an offer, not a demand.

House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios
House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

“If you’re going to meet someone to negotiate, you need a starting point. And it was simply a starting point,” said House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix. “That was my opening offer to the governor.“

Rios said it was “naive” for critics to say the minority party overplayed their hand when the governor never seriously considered working with Democrats. A meeting between Rios and Ducey was cordial, though brief, she said. Negotiating was never on the table, so there was never an opportunity to give Ducey room to counter, she added.

Rather than work across the aisle, Ducey ultimately mustered enough support from Republicans to get the bill through. To some Republicans, that was, as it often is, always the goal.

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

“I wanted desperately to deliver 16 Republican votes on the university bonding,” said Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler. Delivering 16 Republican votes on the university bonding was a very high priority for him personally, he said.

“And I obviously was extremely pleased when we were able to accomplish that,” Yarbrough said.

Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, said it’s understandable for Republicans to desire to work within their own party. What bothers Contreras is the lack of any consideration of ever working with Democrats.

“It comes down to the unwillingness of the governor to even think about wanting to work with us as Democrats as a whole,” Contreras said. “He chose to go around and make his deals like everyone knows with numerous Republicans before even talking with us about what we were asking.”

Aarons said “there is probably a better than even chance that . . .  Republicans would have said screw it, we’re not going to do this with you,” no matter what Democrats had offered.

Daniel Scarpinato, a Ducey spokesman, did not dispute that the meeting wasn’t a negotiation of any sort, but he did dispute the reason why.

“I wouldn’t even characterize it as negotiations because they were not willing to negotiate. They provided some demands of what they would need, and were unwilling to move at all,” Scarpinato said. “And the problem with that is, what they wanted on TANF, there were not 16 and 31 for that under any circumstance. It was just really something that wasn’t even possible to achieve.”

As for the Democrats’ proposal to increase the teacher pay hike, “we certainly were open to ways to improve that, but certainly you need to be able to pay for these things,” Scarpinato said.

Yarbrough said a larger raise in the budget also would’ve made it more difficult to secure enough Republicans, along with 13 Democrats in the Senate, to approve a spending plan.

“It’s hard to see how that would’ve worked,” Yarbrough added. “The higher teacher raise, the challenge there is, show me the money… That’s a big number. What would we have done? How would we have paid for that. They never came to me, because that would have been my question.”

Scarpinato said Democrats overplayed their hand, and as the final votes made clear, weren’t negotiating in good faith because Democrats were negotiating against issues that they inherently supported. For example, when it became clear that the university bonding plan would pass with or without the help of Senate Democrats, eight of the 13 Democrats in the chamber voted for it.

Had Democrats simply signaled their support for a bill they liked all along, the university bonding could have been sent to the governor’s desk much sooner, and Ducey wouldn’t have had to make deals with individual Republicans – deals that Democrats aren’t happy about, Scarpinato noted.

“We could have passed bonding sooner, and there’s probably some stuff that ended up in the budget that Democrats don’t like that may not have ended up in there had they just supported bonding from the onset,” he said.

Perhaps if Democrats had offered more in exchange for their votes on bonding, Aarons said, the session would’ve played out differently. Decades ago, Republicans frequently approached Democrats to get their help to pass budgets. In the Senate, it was then-Minority Leader Alfredo Gutierrez’s role to barter with the GOP for votes.

Gutierrez would give Republicans a long list of demands, enough to “choke a horse,” Aarons said, but it gave Republicans ample room to trade with Democrats and approve a coalition budget.

This session, Democrats “didn’t put enough stuff on the table, so they didn’t have enough negotiating room,” Aarons said.

“When you’re negotiating for something you don’t come with one thing. You come with a whole pot full of stuff . . . You give the other side an opportunity to go along with you, and then you’re able to declare victory.”

Democrats condemn proposed fee hikes at national parks

The Colorado River flows through the Grand Canyon. A federal study found that fish in the Grand Canyon and 20 other national parks in the West have trace amounts of mercury. (U.S. Geological Survey Photo)
The Colorado River flows through the Grand Canyon. (U.S. Geological Survey Photo)

Democratic senators on October 26 criticized a National Park Service plan to impose steep increases in entrance fees at 17 of its most popular parks, including the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone and Zion, calling the proposed rates “arbitrary and unjustifiable.”

Under a plan announced this week, visitors to many national parks would be charged $70 per vehicle during the peak summer season, up from $25 or $30 per vehicle now. Officials say the higher fees are needed to address an $11 billion backlog of maintenance and infrastructure projects that have been put off for years.

Senators said the plan would exclude many Americans from enjoying national parks. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state and other Democrats said the proposal is especially egregious because the Trump administration is recommending severe budget cuts for the park service.

Claims that the increased fees are needed to reduce the maintenance backlog are “undercut by the administration’s budget proposal to cut” park service operations by $200 million, including a $93 million cut to facility operations and maintenance, the senators wrote.

“If implemented, your proposals to increase fees while cutting agency funding would serve to shift major costs to park visitors and undermine public access to national parks — actions that would be a disservice to the American people,” they said.

Cantwell, the senior Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, organized the letter. It also is signed by Democratic Sens. Patty Murray of Washington state, Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein of California, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Tim Kaine of Virginia, as well as independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association, an advocacy group that works to protect parks, said the proposed increase could make the Grand Canyon and other popular parks unaffordable for many families.

“The solution to our parks’ repair needs cannot and should not be largely shouldered by its visitors,” she said. “If the (Trump) administration wants to support national parks, it needs to walk the walk and work with Congress to address the maintenance backlog” through the budget process.

A 30-day public comment period opened October 24. The park service said it expects to raise $70 million a year with the proposal at a time when national parks repeatedly have been breaking visitation records and putting a strain on park resources. Nearly 6 million people visited the Grand Canyon last year.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the plan was part of his “vision to look at the future of our parks and take action in order to ensure that our grandkids’ grandkids will have the same if not better experience than we have today.”

Annual $80 passes for federal lands would not change, though fees would go up for pedestrians and motorcyclists. The higher fees would apply only during the five busiest contiguous months for parks. For most that’s May through September when many families are on vacation.

The proposal would not affect several free weekends and holidays.

Democrats irked at barefaced Republicans, don’t file complaints

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julia Shumway contributed to this report

Dems pour money into ousting incumbents in red-hued LD11

Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, and Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, speak with former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, at the Arizona Capitol on March 8, 2017. Democrats are spending heavily to oust Finchem and Leach in Legislative District 11, an area with a nearly 10-percentage point GOP voter advantage. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR
Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, and Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, speak with former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, at the Arizona Capitol on March 8, 2017. Democrats are spending heavily to oust Finchem and Leach in Legislative District 11, an area with a nearly 10-percentage point GOP voter advantage. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR

The path to a Democratic majority in the Arizona Legislature goes through a few key swing districts that by now have received no shortage of newspaper ink. But an emboldened party, kept afloat by gargantuan amounts of money, is setting its sights beyond the usual suspects, toward districts like the conservative southern Arizona bastion of Legislative District 11.

Democrats are running a single-shot campaign in that district’s House race in the form of Dr. Felipe Perez, a family physician. In the Senate, they’re championing JoAnna Mendoza, a military veteran. Both face long odds – but, as Mendoza has said, in 2020, anything can happen.

“2020 is causing people to pay attention,” Mendoza said. “In another election period, we might not have gotten that same attention.”

Few paid attention to the district before the primaries. But since, national and state Democrats have made LD11 a top target, at least on paper.

Outside spenders have taken note, especially after both Democrats outperformed expectations in the primaries – Perez, for example, received more votes than Rep. Brett Roberts, R-Maricopa. Several PACs, including the Arizona affiliate of Forward Majority, a leading national group in the Democratic quest to flip statehouses, have heavily invested in the district, mostly in the form of attacks against two of the LD11’s three incumbent Republicans – Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, and Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, both among the most conservative members of the GOP caucus.

Ben Wexler-Waite, Forward Majority’s communications director, said previously that pursuing LD11 is part of an “aggressive portfolio strategy” – investing in deep-red districts where single-shot candidates are working to unseat incumbents. In this case, Republicans have a roughly 14,000-voter registration advantage in the southern Arizona district, a roughly 8-percentage point advantage.

JoAnna Mendoza
JoAnna Mendoza

Outside groups spent in September around $38,000 and $37,000 against Finchem and Leach, respectively. Roberts remains mostly unscathed. Perez and Mendoza, meanwhile, have benefited from around $33,000 and $52,000 spent in their favor during that period, respectively.

The theory for Democrats is that Finchem, Roberts and Leach haven’t faced serious challengers from the left, and that voters might be more amenable to a Democratic candidate if they get a fuller picture of their current representation – particularly in the case of Finchem’s ties to organizations like the Oath Keepers, a right-wing group of current and former military and police officers founded by a one-time staffer of then-Rep. Ron Paul in 2009.

“We have a high number of independents in this district who just want to vote for a candidate who shows up for them,” Mendoza said.

Showing up is important. Democrats say that the district’s current Republicans, who all fall into the party’s most conservative wing – Finchem is even making a bid for House speaker to elevate the platform of that cadre – have lost sight of the need to govern.

Those conservatives have lost sight of the desires of voters in the district who may have once supported southern-Arizona moderates like former Congressman Jim Kolbe, a centrist Republican who represented the area during his tenure, said Joshua Polacheck, the newly anointed executive director of the Pima County Democratic Party.

“We believe that a lot of the people that would have been considered Republican-leaning independents are becoming truly independent,”  Polacheck said. “The Tea Party movement a decade ago, the current administration in Washington, the Q-Anon movement, the takeover of the (state GOP by Chairwoman Kelli Ward), we believe has alienated people.”

Felipe Perez
Felipe Perez

Finchem isn’t worried about increased spending by progressives in his district, saying voters in the heavily Republican LD11 share his pro-business and conservative leanings.

“At the end of the day, we’re engaged in action, action, action,” he said.

He’s also not concerned, he said, about criticism over his affiliation with a hard-right organization.

“They will make the fatal mistake that they always make,” Finchem said. “When they go negative, it turns voters in my district off. They don’t have any solutions. All they have is complaints.”

He said that anyone who’s taken an oath to support and defend the U,S, Constitution is “by definition” an Oath Keeper, and that he certainly wouldn’t be denouncing his organization if the Democrats don’t denounce Antifa and Black Lives Matter, which Finchem claims has deep ties with the Chinese Communist Party, a theory that has since been debunked. “If they want to play the socialist games of gaslighting people, fine. My constituents are smarter than that,” Finchem said.

Republican groups have marshaled around the district’s incumbents, especially Leach. Arizonans for Strong Leadership, a PAC affiliated with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, has spent $37,261 to support Leach, while the Arizona Association of REALTORS has spent heavily to support both Finchem and Leach.

Last election, Democrats saw LD11 as unwinnable, but strong returns for Dems in the primaries drew eyeballs and changed the calculus, Perez said. He hopes that a strong year for Democrats and his medical credentials might propel him to victory. What might help is between 2018 and 2020, the Democratic Party added nearly 10,000 voters in LD11, more than the roughly 7,000 new voters that the GOP registered

Perez said he’s surprised to see the volume of outside money materializing in the conservative district.

“A lot of folks are energized by electing new leadership,” Perez said. “There’s a realization that people know how directly their state government can impact them.”

Democrats have “the momentum and the resources” to play in more districts, said national Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee President Jessica Post in a statement. The organization has elevated the race to one of its top priorities in the state, adding it to a list of top races in swing districts like Legislative District 6 and Legislative District 20, which each present clearer paths to victory for Democrats – this means more campaign resources and staff for Perez and Mendoza.

Of course, the party has other priorities. Democrats only need to win two House seats to flip that chamber, and LD11 is hardly the most likely place for that to happen. But with all the money that’s flooding into the state, Charlie Fisher, the director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee’s Arizona chapter, said he’s not worried about misplaced priorities.

“On my side of the wall, that’s not a concern,” he said. In regards to outside groups, Fisher said he hopes “that they would make these expansion investments after these widely known core districts are fully funded.”

Dems squander record turnout, sky-high enthusiasm

Arizona Democrats had lofty ambitions heading into Election Day.

Their wish list included picking up a U.S. Senate seat, ousting Gov. Doug Ducey, picking up other statewide seats and flipping the state Senate.

Despite record turnout, even among groups that don’t typically vote, and unrivaled levels of progressive enthusiasm that was predicted to be a “blue wave” ended up being closer to a pale blue ripple.

Democrats fielded a candidate in nearly every federal, statewide and legislative race — a strategy to boost turnout and propel more Democrats to victory. But the strategy has yet to net Democrats any major victories. As of press time, several key races were undecided because approximately 600,000 votes were still being processed.

Here’s a look at the Democratic wins and losses this election cycle.

Arizona Senate (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)
Arizona Senate (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)

Flipping the state Senate

Democrats aimed to take control of the state Senate — a feat that would have required them to flip three seats in the chamber.

For all the talk that 2018 would finally be the year Democrats could move the needle in the Senate, the chamber will remain under GOP control, likely with a 17-13 split.

But Democrats made gains in the House, where the split between the parties was far more lopsided. And their four-seat pickup is just enough to put the squeeze on GOP members of the chamber.

The House went from a 35-25 split that could end up 31-29 depending on the outcome of one race that was too close to call as of late November 8. That’s significant because the House requires 31 votes to pass legislation, meaning Republican leadership will have to whip the caucus into shape in order to ensure all its members vote in lockstep.

(Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
A crowd of red-clad teachers, students and Red for Ed supporters could be seen from the top of a parking garage near Chase Field as they gathered there on April 26 before marching to the Arizona Capitol. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Red for Ed

Possibly the biggest political movement in Arizona this year – Red for Ed – didn’t have much luck in making gains at the ballot box.

Teachers can count defeating Proposition 305, a measure that would have dramatically expanded school vouchers, as their biggest success this election cycle.

But some of their other election priorities didn’t pan out.

Red for Ed supporters’ attempt to oust Ducey and elect Democrat David Garcia, who they viewed as their education champion, failed. Ducey easily defeated Garcia.

And after the Arizona Supreme Court struck down the Invest in Ed ballot initiative that would have raised taxes on the rich to boost K-12 education spending, Red for Ed supporters targeted the two Supreme Court judges up for retention this year who voted against the initiative.

But voters overwhelmingly decided to retain Justices Clint Bolick and John Pelander, with each of them earning more than 70 percent of the vote.

Red for Ed supporters have likely made a difference in the close race for superintendent of public instruction, where Democrat Kathy Hoffman has gotten closer to winning than Democrats in any other statewide race.

When it comes to the Legislature, some Red for Ed candidates flipped seats, but many either lost or appear poised to lose.

Former teacher of the year Christine Marsh, a Democrat who became the face of the teacher-turned-candidate movement in Arizona, appears likely to lose to Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee. Numerous other first-time candidates spurred by the Red for Ed movement also lost their legislative bids.

Chandler Democrat Jennifer Jermaine, likely flipped a Legislative District 18 House seat, based on election results. She and Jennifer Pawlik, a Democrat who leads by 500 votes in Legislative District 17, both signed the Invest in Ed candidate pledge.

In this photo taken Wednesday, June 27, 2018, environmental activist & billionaire Tom Steyer poses at his offices in San Francisco. Arizona’s largest utility is fiercely opposing a push to mandate increased use of renewable energy in the sun-drenched state, setting up a political fight over the measure funded by Steyer. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
In this photo taken Wednesday, June 27, 2018, environmental activist & billionaire Tom Steyer poses at his offices in San Francisco. Arizona’s largest utility is fiercely opposing a push to mandate increased use of renewable energy in the sun-drenched state, setting up a political fight over the measure funded by Steyer. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Tom Steyer

The progressive billionaire poured more than $24 million into Arizona elections this year, with most of it directed to promoting Proposition 127, which would have required utilities to generate half their power from renewable energy sources by 2030.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected the ballot initiative funded by Steyer’s group NextGen.

The California billionaire also poured millions into furthering Democratic statewide campaigns for governor, attorney general and the Arizona Corporation Commission.

He spent $545,000 on efforts to get Garcia elected and poured $250,000 into electing Democrats to the Corporation Commission, a race that is still too close to call. Democrat Sandra Kennedy trails both Republican candidates by 1 percentage point.

For the most part, Steyer’s spending elicited no tangible results. And in some cases, Steyer’s involvement in Arizona elections further angered Arizona Republicans who constantly stump on keeping California politics out of Arizona.

That anger was probably best demonstrated by Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who in his victory speech on election night, issued a request for the California billionaire.

“Kiss my ass, Tom Steyer” he said. Steyer’s group, NextGen, spent upwards of $3.6 million on attack ads against Brnovich.

But pro-Prop. 127 group Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona says the benefits of running the initiative campaign are there, but intangible.

The group claims the clean energy campaign attained a higher goal: Damaging the reputation of Arizona Public Service Co. and reducing the company’s influence on state politics.

“I feel like we’ve changed the dynamics against them to the point that being seen as cozy with APS is now a liability,” said Eric Hyers, campaign manager for the clean energy initiative.

Yenni Sanchez, 18, has registered people to vote for three years. She said that she registers as many people as she can because she isn’t eligible to vote. Daniel Flores, 16, is also a volunteer. (Courtney Columbus/News21)
Yenni Sanchez, 18, has registered people to vote for three years. She said that she registers as many people as she can because she isn’t eligible to vote. Daniel Flores, 16, is also a volunteer. (Courtney Columbus/News21)

Youth vote

Another Steyer initiative, NextGen sunk $3.4 million into registering new, young people to vote and getting them to the polls on Election Day.

And on its face, it appeared the efforts worked as many Arizona State University students waited in line for more than two hours to vote at a polling place on campus.

Youth-dense precincts at Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona all showed significantly higher voter turnout than in 2014 — the last midterm election, according to data from NextGen.

But NextGen Arizona’s goal, outside of boosting engagement among voters ages 18 to 35, was to flip Republican-held statewide seats, catapult Democrat Kyrsten Sinema to victory in the U.S. Senate race and spur Democratic victories in three congressional districts.

The Senate race and some other statewide races are too close to call, but it appears that Steyer’s hope of inciting a blue sweep across Arizona may have been overly optimistic.

Granted, Democrats won in the three congressional districts (CD1, CD2 and CD9) NextGen was targeting due the large amount of college-aged voters in the districts that correspond to Arizona’s major colleges and universities. But Democrats were heavily favored to win those three races regardless.

2018 was the first year NextGen conducted its youth voter initiative in Arizona after seeing a mixed bag of results in other states. But those fired-up young voters seemed unable to seriously penetrate Arizona’s red firewall.

U.S. Reps. Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally
U.S. Reps. Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally

Woman power

Democrats ran a diverse slate of candidates, predominantly women and minorities, this election cycle.

So far, none of them won any statewide seats, but several races were still too close to call.

Women will shatter Arizona’s glass ceiling in the U.S. Senate this year regardless of who wins. Either Republican Martha McSally or Sinema will become the first female senator from Arizona.

Arizona Democrats still have a chance to boost female representation in statewide offices as the Corporation Commission and superintendent of public instruction races are still close.

Democrat Hoffman is locked in a close race for superintendent with Frank Riggs, who leads by less than 8,000 votes.

Political newcomer Steve Gaynor was declared the winner of the secretary of state’s race, but Democrat Katie Hobbs has not conceded because she trails by 2.6 percentage points with about 600,000 ballots uncounted.

On the Republican side, in winning her bid for state treasurer, Kimberly Yee became the first Chinese-American Republican woman in the country to be elected to a major statewide office.

Dental therapy bill regains life in Senate


A state Senate committee gave new hope March 21 to a proposal to license dental therapists in Arizona.

The Senate Government Committee approved on a 5-2 vote a bill that died a week before in the House and was resurrected in the Senate in the form of a “striker” – an amendment that strikes the entire content of a bill and replaces it with the language of another bill.

The bill’s approval marks the next step in an ongoing turf war between dentists and groups pushing for the legalization of dental therapy.

The bill would allow a person to be trained and licensed by the Arizona Board of Dental Examiners and put into use in both public and private dental care settings in the state.

Their practice is defined as an assistant who is allowed to perform simple dental procedures, such as tooth extractions and regular evaluations. They would operate under the supervision of a licensed dentist, who will have the authority to choose which procedures the dental therapist can perform and intervene whenever needed.

If it were to pass, Arizona would join Minnesota, Maine and Vermont as the only states to allow the training and licensing of dental therapists.

The bill will now need to pass through the Senate Rules Committee before being sent to a vote on the floor.

Despite cancer diagnosis, McCain says, ‘I’ll be back soon’

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Battling brain cancer, John McCain on Thursday vowed to return to the Senate, leveling fresh criticism at the Trump administration and aiming a good-natured dig at Republican and Democratic colleagues shaken by news of his diagnosis.

“I greatly appreciate the outpouring of support ai??i?? unfortunately for my sparring partners in Congress, I’ll be back soon, so stand-by!” McCain said in a tweet. Showing no signs of stepping back from political and national security battles, he issued a statement slamming the Trump administration over its Syria policy.

The 80-year-old McCain, the GOP’s presidential nominee in 2008 and six-term Arizona lawmaker, was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer, according to doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, who had removed a blood clot above his left eye July 14. They also managed to remove all of the tumor that was visible on brain scans.

The senator and his family are considering further treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation, as he recuperates at his home in Arizona.

In a blistering statement through his office, McCain criticized the administration over reports that it was ending a program to assist Syrian opposition forces fighting the government of Bashar Assad.

“If these reports are true, the administration is playing right into the hands of Vladimir Putin,” said McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Making any concession to Russia, absent a broader strategy for Syria, is irresponsible and short-sighted.”

More significantly, McCain’s absence is forcing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to delay action on health care legislation. Republicans need his vote in order to move forward on repealing and replacing President Barack Obama’s law.

McCain’s closest friend in the Senate, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said that they had spoken by telephone Wednesday night and that the diagnosis had been a shock to McCain. Graham said “woe is me” is not in McCain’s DNA. “One thing John has never been afraid of is death,” said Graham, who said he expects McCain to be back at the Capitol.

Prior to a Thursday news conference on immigration legislation, Graham said McCain called him three times. “He is yelling at me to buck up, I’m so going to buck up,” Graham said.

Meantime, prayers and words of encouragement multiplied on Thursday from presidents and Senate colleagues past and present.

“I called Senator John McCain this morning to wish him well and encourage him in his fight. Instead, he encouraged me,” said former President George W. Bush, who prevailed over McCain for the GOP presidential nomination in 2000. “I was impressed by his spirit and determination.”

Former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas said: “Having known John for many decades, I am certain that he is as tough as they come ai??i?? if anyone can defeat this, it’s him. John is a true American hero.”

According to the American Brain Tumor Association, more than 12,000 people a year are diagnosed with glioblastoma, the same type of tumor that struck McCain’s Democratic colleague in legislative battles, the late Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. The American Cancer Society puts the five-year survival rate for patients over 55 at about 4 percent.

McCain, a former combat pilot, has a lifetime of near-death experiences ai??i?? surviving a July 1967 fire and explosion on the USS Forrestal that killed 134 sailors, flying into power lines in Spain, being shot down in October 1967 and falling into Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi, and going through 5 1/2 years in a North Vietnamese prison.

“The Hanoi Hilton couldn’t break John McCain’s spirit many years ago, so Barbara and I know ai??i?? with confidence ai??i?? he and his family will meet this latest battle in his singular life of service with courage and determination,” said former President George H.W. Bush.

Commenting on both McCain and the response, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said, “The outpouring of bipartisan respect and love for John McCain as he faces this cancer battle reminds us that after all the meanness there is a human side to politicians. Count this Democrat in John McCain’s corner.”

In the past, McCain had been treated for melanoma, but this primary tumor is unrelated. Doctors said McCain is recovering from his surgery “amazingly well” and his underlying health is excellent.

With his irascible grin and fighter-pilot moxie, McCain was elected to the Senate from Arizona six times, most recently last year, but was twice thwarted in seeking the presidency.

An upstart presidential bid in 2000 didn’t last long. Eight years later, he fought back from the brink of defeat to win the GOP nomination, only to be overpowered by Obama. McCain chose a little-known Alaska governor as his running mate in that race, and helped turn Sarah Palin into a national political figure.

McCain returned to the Senate, determined not to be defined by a failed presidential campaign.


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Dissension over masks returns in Senate, House

FILE - In this March 16, 2021, file photo, an usher holds a sign to remind fans to wear masks during a spring training baseball game between the Oakland Athletics and the Arizona Diamondbacks in Scottdale, Ariz. The Republican-controlled Arizona Senate voted Monday, March 29, to rescind its mandatory mask policy, and the House speaker made the same move on his own authority. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File)
FILE – In this March 16, 2021, file photo, an usher holds a sign to remind fans to wear masks during a spring training baseball game between the Oakland Athletics and the Arizona Diamondbacks in Scottdale, Ariz. The Republican-controlled Arizona Senate voted Monday, March 29, to rescind its mandatory mask policy, and the House speaker made the same move on his own authority. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File)

Around the time Senate employees swapped out paper signs saying masks were “required” with signs saying they were “encouraged,” new signs popped up outside the office suite shared by Sens. Rebecca Rios and Victoria Steele.  

Laminated yellow papers featuring a mask-wearing emoji and the words “please wear a face mask inside this office” are taped under their nameplates and on the door itself. After the Senate voted along party lines to eliminate its mask mandate on March 29, those pleas are all Democratic lawmakers and Senate staff say they have left to protect themselves from the airborne illness.  

“Unfortunately, now it’s every man for themselves,” said Rios, the Senate minority leader. “People will have to stay masked up and avoid people who refuse to wear masks.”  

In this Thursday, July 9, 2020, file photo, Gov. Doug Ducey speaks about the latest coronavirus update in Arizona. Ducey ordered cities and counties to scrap their mask mandates, but he will not take any action to curb their decisions to ignore the order. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)
In this Thursday, July 9, 2020, file photo, Gov. Doug Ducey speaks about the latest coronavirus update in Arizona. Ducey ordered cities and counties to scrap their mask mandates, but he will not take any action to curb their decisions to ignore the order. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)

A week after Gov. Doug Ducey abruptly announced that he would stop local governments from enforcing mask mandates, except in their own buildings and public transportation – Arizona never adopted a statewide mask mandate – Republican majorities in the House and Senate have done away with mask requirements but left restrictions that limit public access to the government in place. 

In the House, where a mask mandate existed solely on Speaker Rusty Bowers’ orders, enforcement stopped immediately. House Government and Elections Committee Chairman John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said during his afternoon meeting on March 26, scant hours after Ducey’s announcement, that Bowers, R-Mesa, had told him masks were now optional.   

“I have no power to mandate mask wearing, especially when the actual rule is you don’t have to,” Kavanagh said in response to a complaint from Rep. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, about some Republicans not wearing masks.   

Across the mall, Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, took the news that the governor was blocking city mandates as a sign that she could finally leave her office, where she had been sequestered and voting by video call all session because she refuses to wear a mask.  

Townsend walked on to the floor on March 26, causing a commotion. Senate President Karen Fann told her to wear a mask “at least one more day,” and Townsend moved to the doorway, prompting Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, to insist that she needed to be escorted back to her office.  

A few days later, Townsend returned to the floor once again, this time for good. After a frequently emotional debate on March 29, the Senate voted to do away with the mask mandate entirely, but keep other Covid restrictions. 

Senate President Pro Tem Vince Leach, R-Saddlebrooke, tore his mask off with a flourish as soon as the vote ended and gestured for a senior Republican staffer to do the same (the staffer refused). One row in front of him, Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, fired off a tweet using language from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. “Free at last! I just removed my mask at the legislature. Looking forward to seeing more faces and fewer masks,” he wrote. 

No vote was required in the House, where only four Republicans showed up with masks on March 29. By March 31, most Republicans had removed the plexiglass barriers separating their desks, though Democrats kept them up.  

Masks are still mandatory in the chief clerk’s office and the rules office, and are encouraged wherever else social distancing is impossible, under the House’s new policy.  

“We are basically asking people, if they come to see people who are wearing masks, they show respect and maintain social distancing,” Bowers said.   

Fann, likewise, encouraged senators to show respect for each other. She swapped floor seats with Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, and the only Republican who sat on the left side of the chamber, creating an invisible line between mask-wearers and non-mask-wearers. Fann is rarely at her desk because she presides over the chamber, and she vowed to wear a mask whenever she was there. 

It was a nice gesture, said Sen. Martín Quezada, who sits behind Fann, but it had the unintended consequence of bringing even more barefaced Republicans to his side of the room because they want to talk to Fann.  

“It’s like animals to a watering hole,” said Quezada, D-Glendale. “It just attracts more of those members over to her.”  

Quezada said he is particularly concerned about Senate staff, including the many young and not yet vaccinated pages who sit next to lawmakers on the floor and run errands for them. While Senate rules still explicitly allow employees to leave any room in which CDC guidelines are not being followed, he said no staffer in their right mind would challenge an elected official. 

One junior employee, the legislative assistant for freshman Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, was abruptly forced to resign earlier this year after talking back to Rogers about office décor and working while sick. That former employee is preparing to sue the Senate.  

“They can’t come out and give interviews,” Quezada said about Senate staff. “They can’t come out and be quoted in the newspaper, but I hear from them.” 

In this May 19, 2020, photo, then-Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, listens to debate in the House while wearing a protective mask. Shope, now a state senator, is one of few Republicans who continues to wear a mask after the Legislature dropped its mask mandate. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
In this May 19, 2020, photo, then-Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, listens to debate in the House while wearing a protective mask. Shope, now a state senator, is one of few Republicans who continues to wear a mask after the Legislature dropped its mask mandate. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

All legislative Democrats and employees but only a few Republican lawmakers have continued covering their faces this week. Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, said he decided to stay masked until after he gets his second dose of a Covid vaccine and waits the recommended number of days for the vaccine to fully take effect. 

Even after that, Shope said he’ll keep a mask in his pocket and be ready to put it on as needed.  

While the House and Senate have changed their mask policies, other Covid restrictions remain in place. As senators finished their work on the Senate floor on March 31, a masked-up custodial worker sanitized the bottom rung of a stair railing – continuing an intense cleaning regimen that began with Fann having pages scrub doorknobs every hour in March 2020.   

Lawmakers are still allowed to vote remotely in committee hearings and on the floor. Public access to both buildings is still limited, though Bowers said he will begin allowing a limited number of guests in the gallery. 

And in the Senate, Republicans and Democrats alike continue huddling in private rooms behind locked doors to hold caucus meetings that are legally required to be open to the public. Fann blocked Democrats from continuing to share video links to their caucus meetings and never offered the option for Republican caucuses, leaving lobbyists, reporters and interested citizens in the dark. 

Fann has blamed Covid – or, more precisely, critical coverage of how Republicans have handled Covid – for shuttering the building. 

Staff writer Nathan Brown contributed reporting. 



Don Shooter joins LD13 race for return to Capitol

Rep. Don Shooter relaxes Feb. 1 before a historic vote of his colleagues to remove him from office. He was ousted by a vote of 56-3. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Rep. Don Shooter relaxes Feb. 1 before a historic vote of his colleagues to remove him from office. He was ousted by a vote of 56-3. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Former representative Don Shooter, who was expelled from the Arizona House just months ago, will run again for a seat at the Capitol.

Shooter filed 828 nominating petitions to run as a Republican for state Senate in Legislative District 13, well more than the 474 needed to qualify for the ballot. If he were to win, it would be a swift return to politics for a man who was voted out of the Legislature by his fellow lawmakers in February after a House investigation found he serially sexually harassed colleagues and lobbyists.

Shooter refused to answer questions Wednesday about his past behavior at the Capitol. A House investigation concluded there was “credible evidence” Shooter violated a sexual harassment policy and created a hostile working environment at the Capitol.

The investigation followed up on multiple claims of sexual harassment made against the former representative and senator, sparked by accusations from a fellow lawmaker.

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, first named Shooter as one of the men in the Legislature who had harassed her. She told KTVK (Channel 3) political reporter Dennis Welch that Shooter asked about her chest in her office and came uninvited to her room with beer at a work conference, where she didn’t answer the door.

After Ugenti-Rita came forward, eight other women told stories of inappropriate, sexually charged comments and unwanted touching, although some of the allegations were found by a special investigator to be unfounded.

The special investigator hired by the House also said there is evidence that Shooter acted inappropriately with women. There also was evidence that Shooter told Mi-Ah Parish, a Korean-American woman and then publisher of the Arizona Republic, that the one thing he has not done on his bucket list was “those Asian twins in Mexico.”

“I’m not going to answer. That’s it, we’re done,” Shooter said when asked what his supporters have had to say about his conduct. “I don’t care. I’m not saying anything.”

Shooter is running for office while also preparing a legal challenge against the state. He alleged in a notice of claim filed in April that the speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives and staff members in Gov. Doug Ducey’s office conspired to remove him from office in an effort  to prevent him from uncovering “serious issues of malfeasance in state government contracts.”

The state has 60 days to respond to that claim, meaning Shooter can’t file a lawsuit before June 15, his attorney, Kraig Marton, confirmed.

Reporters pressed Shooter on how his presence in the race, and if he wins, his return to the Capitol, might affect his former colleagues.

“I don’t care,” Shooter said, before feigning concern that there may be some people who are aghast at his possible election. “Oh no! No that can’t be so,” Shooter said, clasping his face in mock horror.

There was one comment Shooter made sure reporters heard: “Let’s dance.”

Don Shooter supporters work to get him on ballot for Senate

Rep. Don Shooter asks colleagues Thursday not to expel him from the House on the heels of a report saying he is guilty of multiple counts of sexual harassment. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Rep. Don Shooter asks colleagues Feb. 1 not to expel him from the House on the heels of a report saying he is guilty of multiple counts of sexual harassment. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Asked earlier this month if he’d run for office again following his historic expulsion from the Arizona House of Representatives, former legislator Don Shooter said, “Hell no.

Now Shooter claims he’s willing to serve, but only if a small band of Yuma Republicans can gather enough petitions for the disgraced politician to qualify for the ballot. Shooter was voted out of the Legislature in February after a House investigation found he serially sexually harassed colleagues and lobbyists.

Sally Kizer, who chairs the Colorado River Tea Party, said Shooter reached out to her last week and asked her to circulate his nominating petitions. Shooter used to be first vice chair of her tea party organization, Kizer said, and she and others are gathering signatures for his potential candidacy. Petitions are due May 30.

Shooter told the Arizona Capitol Times that he was first approached by a handful of loyalists who wanted to collect petitions for him. He then reached out to more supporters who wanted to help, Shooter said, adding he’s comfortable with a late push to get his name on the ballot.

“You gotta remember that I was drafted the first go around, and these are only my core supporters I’m sure,” Shooter said, referring to his first legislative campaign in 2010. “They said, ‘Aren’t you gonna run,’ and I said, ‘Well, I didn’t plan on it.’”

Shooter claimed not to care whether they accomplish their goal.  But when they offered to gather signatures for him, Shooter said he told them, “If you get the petitions, I guess I’ll run… If people want me to work and serve, I’ll go.”

Shooter would not say how many signatures he’d already gathered prior to his expulsion from the House, or speculate on the odds he’ll gather the 474 petitions necessary to qualify for the Republican primary in Legislative District 13.

“I don’t know, but we’re going to find out,” he said. “Then we’ll find out if the voters really care about the stuff that’s happened or if they care about having an effective legislature.”

If he qualifies, Shooter would be a candidate for the district’s state Senate seat, which he held from 2013 to 2017 before serving in the House.

Constantin Querard, Shooter’s former consultant who now represents incumbent LD13 Sen. Sine Kerr, said his recollection is that Shooter had somewhere between 400 and 500 signatures collected last year — a candidate would be well served to submit at least 700 to make up for invalid signatures, he added.

Shooter spoke dismissively of the conclusions of a House investigation into multiple claims of sexual harassment made against the former representative and senator, sparked by claims from a fellow lawmaker.

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, first named Shooter as one of the men in the Legislature who had harassed her. She told KTVK (Channel 3) political reporter Dennis Welch that Shooter asked about her chest in her office and came uninvited to her room with beer at a work conference, where she didn’t answer the door.

After Ugenti-Rita came forward, eight other women told stories of inappropriate, sexually charged comments and unwanted touching. An independent investigation produced a report detailing his repeated violation of a House harassment policy by creating a hostile work environment for female colleagues, other lawmakers, lobbyists and an intern at the Arizona Legislature.

Shooter alleges in a notice of claim that the speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives and staff members in Gov. Doug Ducey’s office conspired to remove him from office in an effort  to prevent him from uncovering “serious issues of malfeasance in state government contracts.”

Some voters would hold Shooter’s expulsion and the allegations that led to it against him, Querard said. But other voters may view the allegations as “fake news” and a “political hit job,” he said, meaning Shooter could be a factor in the race.

“I would take him very seriously in a primary,” Querard said.

Perhaps, Shooter said, there are voters who remember him more as he described himself: an effective legislator.

“I’m a Kentucky hillbilly. I have never suffered from ambition. I haven’t,” Shooter said. “But I’m willing to serve, if people want me to, because I think I was a decent legislator.”

Besides, he quipped, “I got nothing to lose. What are you going to do, fire me? You’re going to kill me twice?”

Ducey appointee gets money from board she serves on

A White Mountain rancher who received $66,000 in grants from a state board she serves on will get another term on that board.  

The Senate this week confirmed the nomination of Sarahmarge “Wink” Crigler to the state’s Livestock Loss Board, over the objections of Democratic lawmakers who argued that it looked bad for a person who benefited monetarily from the board’s decisions to continue serving on the board. 

“This is all about the appearance of impropriety, and this just doesn’t look good for the state of Arizona,” said Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale. 

In 2019, Crigler received $66,000 from the board to help pay to move 300 cows and their calves to a pasture outside of the range of Mexican gray wolves. The board gave just over $206,000 in grants that year – $96,000 to pay ranchers for cattle killed by wolves and $110,000 through a new research grant program for ranchers to test methods to prevent conflicts between wolves and cattle. 

Crigler, who has been a member of the board since it was created in 2015, voted to create the research grant program that her Springerville ranch benefitted from mere months later, according to meeting minutes. She recused herself from the vote on whether to fund her specific proposal, and she said she didn’t see any conflicts of interest. 

“I did it in good faith with the intent of the board,” Crigler said. “One of the intents of the board was to look at strategies that would reduce conflict.” 

The actual cost to move her cows out of wolf range was almost three times as much as the grant she received, she said. It cost about $3.50 per head of cattle per day, and she had 300 cows for 180 days, plus an extra $1,000 in moving costs.  

And people who criticized her for benefitting from a board she serves on didn’t consider that her practices save money, she said. The board approved about $25,000 in payments to neighboring ranches for lost cattle at its last meeting alone, Crigler said, and she could have been among the ranchers seeking payments if she didn’t send her cattle away.  

“What people don’t look at is that I don’t get paid large sums of money for lost livestock,” Crigler said.  

Ducey’s office was similarly unconcerned about the appearance of a conflict of interest. Spokesman C.J. Karamargin said the governor expects Crigler and other board members to follow set rules, including recusing themselves from votes when necessary. 

“In the past, she has complied with board policy and recused herself when issues come up that could be a potential conflict and we expect that she will continue to do so,” he said.  

Sandy Bahr, director of the state’s Sierra Club chapter, said Crigler recusing herself from a vote on her grant request doesn’t automatically eliminate conflicts for the board. Her status as a board member could still create pressure for other board members to approve her request, Bahr said.  

“She’s part of the board, she’s sitting right there, and clearly if someone else on the board wants her support for what they’re asking for, it creates a weird power dynamic,” she said. “You have someone who has a vote on every other thing the board does asking for a substantial amount of the money.” 

The Sierra Club also opposed Crigler’s re-appointment because of her public statements about wolves, including comments about wolves being a government tool to force people out of rural areas and into urban areas.  








Ducey looking at ‘rainy day fund’ to cover free health care for poor children

Gov. Doug Ducey reads to patients Tuesday at Phoenix Children's Hospital while giving out candy for Halloween. With him is Barney the dog. The governor said later he may use state funds to keep a children's health insurance program alive following congressional inaction. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Gov. Doug Ducey reads to patients Tuesday at Phoenix Children’s Hospital while giving out candy for Halloween. With him is Barney the dog. The governor said later he may use state funds to keep a children’s health insurance program alive following congressional inaction. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Gov. Doug Ducey may tap the state’s “rainy day fund” to keep health care coverage for 23,000 Arizona children until Congress finally acts.

The governor said Tuesday that both the House and Senate are weighing legislation to restore funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. It provides free care for children in families earning up to twice the federal poverty level, or about $40,840 a year for a family of three.

Cash for CHIP ran out when the federal fiscal year ended on Sept. 30.

In the interim, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has used unspent dollars from the just-ended budget year to keep the program alive. But Christina Corieri, the governor’s health adviser, said those funds are expected to dry up by the middle of December.

After that?

The Arizona law which accepts federal dollars for what is known in the state as KidsCare, spells out that if the federal government ultimately stops funding the program, the state has to stop enrolling children. That’s exactly what happened in 2010 when Arizona lawmakers decided they did not want to pay the state’s 25 percent share.

Lawmakers voted last year to reinstate KidsCare, but only after Congress agreed to pick up the full cost, as least through the end of the federal budget year. The most recent figures show 23,199 children enrolled.

It is the failure so far to approve the $15 billion annual appropriation to care for 9 million children nationwide going forward that again places health care at risk.

“We want to see KidsCare continued,” the governor said Tuesday after visiting children on Halloween at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. And Ducey said he has “every confidence” that Congress will act before the funds run out.

But the governor said the state has the ability to deal with circumstances “as they happen.”

“It’s part of the reason we’ve been fiscally responsible,” he said. “That’s why we’ve grown the rainy day fund.”

Ducey would not provide specifics.

“What I don’t want to do is negotiate what we’re going to do in the budget in these press gaggles,” he told reporters. “But when you look at what we’ve done in the past and where we’ve put our priorities, you’ll see this is important for us.”

What’s formally known as the “budget stabilization fund” currently has about $460 million.

That would more than cover any interim costs. In September, the state got $6 million in federal funds on KidsCare.

But with increasing enrollment since the freeze was lifted, the governor’s office pegs the cost for October through December at $20 million.

Ducey, however, would need legislative approval to shift around those dollars.

An aide to House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said his boss does not want to comment until he sees more details. There was no immediate response from Senate President Steve Yarbrough.

Ducey’s staff is exploring another option, one he may be able to do on its own. And it’s based on doing a bit of shifting of dollars — and children —  among programs.

The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s Medicaid program, covers individuals and families earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

But here’s the thing.

The federal government pays about two-thirds of the cost of those up to the federal poverty level. But under the Affordable Care Act, the feds pick up the entire tab for those in the 100 to 138 percent range.

Corieri said while waiting for Congress to act, the state could move all the children in that 100 to 138 percent band from KidsCare to AHCCCS. She said each month the state makes that shift frees up enough money to cover everyone else for another three months.

And she said that when Congress finally does refinance the CHIP program it is likely to approve “backfill” dollars to reimburse the state for any funds it spent providing care in the interim.

Ducey’s current desire to keep KidsCare alive is the latest in what has been a politically mixed relationship between Arizona and the federal government on the issue.

Congress approved CHIP in 1997 to help children in families who don’t qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private health insurance.

Arizona did not join until four years later when Republican Gov. Jane Hull convinced lawmakers the program was a good deal. She noted the federal government was offering three dollars for every dollar the state provided, better than the regular Medicaid program.

In 2010, however, with the state facing a deficit, the Republican-controlled Legislature decided Arizona could not afford even its 25 percent match. They approved a freeze on new sign-ups, though those already in the program could stay.

The result was that enrollment, which had reached 45,000, dropped to fewer than 1,000.

Congress last year agreed to pick up the full cost. But even then Ducey was not interested in restoring KidsCare.

But he was outflanked when Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, attached restoration of the program to something Ducey and other GOP lawmakers wanted: changes to the program to allow more parents to use public dollars to send their children to private and parochial schools.

Enrollment has been climbing steadily since then, though it is not yet back to pre-freeze levels.

The legislation, however, has the provision requiring a new enrollment freeze if Congress ultimately fails to restore full funding.

Ducey not going to appoint himself to U.S. Senate

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

Don’t look for “Senator Ducey,” at least for the foreseeable future.

The governor is not considering appointing himself to the U.S. Senate should that become necessary if John McCain were to quit before the end of his term, according to press aide Daniel Scarpinato.

“Gov. Ducey has never and would never consider such a ridiculous notion, no matter the circumstances,” Scarpinato said in a Twitter posting this weekend. And if that were not definitive enough, he expanded on that in a message to Capitol Media Services.

“How much more clear can I be?” he asked.

The comments are designed to end days of what has become a guessing game since McCain revealed he has a particularly hard-to-treat form of brain cancer.

McCain himself has sent out repeated messages that while he is exploring various treatment options he intends to return to the Senate. That, however, has not stopped various suggestions and theories — and an outright claim by Kelli Ward, who lost to McCain in the 2016 Republican primary that he should step down and Ducey should name her as his replacement.

Ducey, who has been on vacation this past week, has maintained silence. Scarpinato said that’s by design.

“Our office has intentionally refused to engage in this gossip because it’s incredibly disrespectful,” he said in one Twitter message.

But that proved too much after some in the media pointed out that, at least legally speaking, Ducey apparently could select himself to fill any Senate vacancy that develops. Scarpinato again took to his keyboard to term that `irresponsible speculation run amok and misleading to Arizonans.”

He said it would have been one thing to throw out that idea if the governor had said or done something leading anyone to believe he would give up his current job as the state’s chief executive to become one of 100 senators. But that hasn’t happened.

What has happened has come from Ward who is trying to not only set herself up as heir apparent but also to send a message to McCain that his diagnosis is “grim,” that she believes he is dying, and that he should step aside for his own good.

“As a doctor, I’ve counseled people in similar situations and these end-of-life choices are never easy,” she said in a message on her campaign web site. “I usually advise terminal patients to reduce stress, relax, and spend times laughing with loved ones.”

And if his own self-interest is not enough to convince McCain to step aside, Ward said that the Senate has “complicated and difficult problems” to deal with.

“Arizona deserves to be represented by someone who can focus on those challenges,” Ward wrote.

That “someone” who Ducey should consider naming, Ward told an Indiana radio station last week, should be her.

“I have a proven track record of years in the state Senate of being extremely effective and listening to the voice of the people that I represent,” she told WOWO. And Ward said she made “an extremely good showing” against McCain in the 2016 Republican primary, picking up 39.9 percent of the vote against 51.2 percent among the four names on the GOP ballot.

Scarpinato said there has been “no discussion” with Ward — or anyone else — about a potential appointment.

“We have zero attention focused on a ‘replacement’ and talk of this sort is completely inappropriate,” he said.

Ward has since announced her bid to unseat Jeff Flake, the state’s other incumbent senator, who is up for reelection in 2018.

This isn’t the first time that Ward has, in essence, said that McCain is dying, though the timing was a bit difference.

In an interview before last year’s GOP primary, she told Politico that if McCain, who was turning 80 at the time, were reelected he might not be able to finish the six-year term.

“I’m a doctor,” she said. “The life expectancy of the American male is not 86. It’s less.”




Ducey open to working with Dems on budget

Gov. Doug Ducey, third from left, helps cut a ribbon Wednesday for the formal opening of the new U.S. headquarters of CP Technologies in Prescott. Ducey said after the ceremony that he is willing to work with Democrats to pass a state budget and tax cut. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Gov. Doug Ducey, third from left, helps cut a ribbon Wednesday for the formal opening of the new U.S. headquarters of CP Technologies in Prescott. Ducey said after the ceremony that he is willing to work with Democrats to pass a state budget and tax cut. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

With Republicans at a stalemate, Gov. Doug Ducey said Wednesday he’s willing to work with Democrats to cobble together the votes for a new state budget and tax cut.

“What’s important to me is that we get the budget that I presented — or as close to it as we can — over the finish line,” he told Capitol Media Services. And the governor said his door is “always open.”

That potentially paves the way for Democrats, who have been kept in the dark while the governor and GOP leaders crafted their spending and tax cut plan, a chance to have some input in exchange for needed votes.

And there may be room for a deal.

House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, told Capitol Media Services there may be some wiggle room, even on the idea of cutting taxes. It all comes down to details.

“I couldn’t tell you specifically whether or not we would support a tax cut in addition to additional revenues until we look at the plan,” he said.

“We won’t negotiate in isolation,” Bolding said of reducing tax rates. “We’ll look at the entire plan and what the trajectory looks like.”

Even Ducey, who is championing a $1.9 billion tax cut and creating a flat tax rate, said even that could be negotiable.

“That’s part of the deliberation process,” he said. “And, typically, as we begin moving forward, the debate happens, the deliberation happens.”

But Ducey won’t say how much he is willing to give to line up the votes.”

“I do not like to have those deliberations in the press,” Ducey said. “I like to do them with people rather than with the press.

Reginald Bolding
Reginald Bolding

What’s working in favor of the Democrats is that there is at least one GOP holdout in both the House and Senate unwilling to support the $12.8 billion spending plan and $1.9 billion in permanent tax cuts the governor is pushing.

In fact, neither the House nor Senate have any plans to try to vote on any part of the plan when lawmakers reconvene Thursday morning. About the only thing the Senate intends to do is start the process of seeking an override of the 22 bills Ducey vetoed two weeks ago after he got miffed when lawmakers decided to recess for two weeks when a budget deal first fell apart.

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said that’s the nature of Republicans having a bare majority in both chambers: Leadership needs every one of them to line up in support for the party plan.

“It’s a challenge when you have 31 and 16,” Fann said Wednesday, referring, respectively, to the GOP membership in the 60-member House and 30-member Senate.

“Everybody knows they’re number 31 or 16,” she said, giving each of them leverage. “It creates a very tough working situation.”

Ducey, for his part, said he’s going to engage with Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, and Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, whose votes he needs — but does not have — for the plan.

“We have some very thoughtful legislators that care about certain things,” he said when asked about the two GOP holdouts. “And I want to understand what’s important to them and make sure they understand what’s important to me and make sure we have a successful budget.”

But it isn’t as simple as getting Cook and Boyer on board. Fann said if they get some of what they want, that could result in the loss of other Republican votes. And that is what could give Democrats a seat at the negotiating table.

Bolding insisted he is not trying to play political games.

“For us, it’s not about leverage or what puts us in the best position,” Bolding said. “It’s about putting together a plan that works for Arizona.”

And that plan clearly differs from what the Republicans are proposing.

Much of that is on the spending side of the ledger. Bolding said there are “critical gaps with our infrastructure,” seeking more money for housing for the needy, Covid relief and education.

“As long as we can do those things and create a plan that works for everybody, we are willing to engage,” he said. “At this point, everything is on the table.”

Well, not quite.

Bolding said the proposal to create a single 2.5% individual income tax rate for all Arizonans regardless of income is a non-starter. That would scrap the current system of four brackets, ranging from 2.59% for couples with taxable income up to $53,000 a year to 4.5% on taxable earnings above $318,000.

Also non-negotiable, Bolding said, is the plan he said undermines Proposition 208, the measure approved by voters in November to put a 3.5%  income tax surcharge on the most wealthy — meaning income above $500,000 for married couples — to raise upwards of $800 million a year for K-12 education.

Strictly speaking, nothing in the budget plan repeals that levy as lawmakers are powerless to overturn the initiative. But it puts a provision in law creating an absolute cap of 4.5% on all income taxes, including that surcharge.

The proposal does require the state to “backfill” any lost revenues for schools. But Bolding said using other state revenues to do that effectively undermines the initiative.

“Proposition 208 clearly stated that these additional dollars were not to supplant (state revenues),” he said.

“They were supposed to be additional, supplemental resources,” Bolding said. “If we are shrinking our state budget, we are going to provide less funding into education, with education being the largest portion of our budget.”

But the minority leader said the claim by Ducey of being willing to work with Democrats rings hollow, at least right now.

“We obviously have reached out as we know that the state is facing a fiscal cliff in the next few weeks,” Bolding said.

That’s because the new budget year begins July 1. And, unlike Congress, there is no option in state law to enact a “continuing resolution” to keep the government operating in the absence of an adopted spending plan.

“But we have not been engaged up until this point,” Bolding said, saying Democrats have contacted “the highest staff member in Gov. Ducey’s office,” meaning Chief of Staff Daniel Scarpinato.

Ducey, for his part, acknowledged he has been distracted from what’s happening — or not — with the budget.

“My top priority right now is the Telegraph Fire and the Mescal Fire,” Ducey said, having issued a declaration of emergency earlier Wednesday. “We’ve got to do all the things that are appropriate to that and make sure they have the resources and appropriations as well.”

As to actually enacting a budget and tax-cut plan, the governor said he remains “optimistic.”

“We’re just not there yet,” Ducey said.


Ducey picks former U.S. Senator Jon Kyl to fill McCain’s Senate seat

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, left, appointed former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl on Sept. 4 to fill the seat vacated by the late Sen. John McCain. Though Kyl accepted the appointment, he will not seek election in 2020 nor did he agree to serve out the full remainder of the term. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, left, appointed former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl on Sept. 4 to fill the seat vacated by the late Sen. John McCain. Though Kyl accepted the appointment, he will not seek election in 2020 nor did he agree to serve out the full remainder of the term. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Gov. Doug Ducey tapped former U.S. Sen Jon Kyl today to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Sen. John McCain.

Ducey’s appointment comes the same day as confirmation hearings begin for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, whom Kyl is shepherding through the U.S. Supreme Court confirmation process.

An ardent supporter of Kavanaugh, it comes as no surprise that Ducey tapped someone who will vote to confirm him to the Supreme Court.

But Kyl, 76, who did not promise to stay in the Senate seat until 2020, may not serve for long after seeing through Kavanaugh’s nomination.

“Over the last few months, Sen. Kyl has been working closely with the White House on the Senate confirmation of President Donald Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh,” Ducey said. “Now, Sen. Kyl can cast a vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation.”

But citing Kyl’s experience, bipartisanship and 26 years in Congress, Ducey dismissed the suggestion that he only picked Kyl because he is pro-Kavanaugh.

Kyl, a lobbyist, dismissed the idea that his work will impede his ability to serve in the Senate. He will not be able to work as a lobbyist while serving as an elected official.

Republicans hold a slim majority in the Senate, which means selecting a Kavanaugh supporter to replace McCain could be vital in getting the judge confirmed to the Supreme Court.

McCain did not offer Ducey any suggestions on his successor. A former McCain staffer said McCain always supported increasing diversity within Republican politics and said McCain likely would have chosen a Hispanic woman to replace him.

Ducey said he received an abundance of advice on the appointment — much of it unsolicited, the governor joked. But the best advice he received came from another governor, although he did not say whom.

“The best piece of advice I received was from another governor who said, ‘just do the right thing. Pick the best possible person, regardless of politics,’” Ducey said.

Kyl is headed to Washington, D.C. today. Ducey said he had already talked to Senate leadership about getting Kyl sworn in as soon as possible.

At a press conference announcing the appointment, Ducey praised Kyl’s experience

Kyl served as a U.S. Senator from Arizona from 1995 to 2013 and served in the U.S. House of Representatives before that. Sen. Jeff Flake, who is stepping down at the end of the year, succeeded Kyl in the Senate.

“It’s not the time for newcomers, and now is not the time for on-the-job training,” Ducey said.

McCain’s wife, Cindy McCain tweeted that Kyl is a dear friend of hers and her late husband.

“It’s a great tribute to John that (Kyl) is prepared to go back into public service to help the state of Arizona,” she McCain tweeted.

Since McCain’s death, there has been rampant speculation about whom Ducey would appoint to the vacant seat. The governor held off naming a successor for more than a week as he mourned the senator’s death both here and at memorial services in Washington, D.C.

But Ducey’s appointment of Kyl may not curtail speculation because Kyl has not promised to serve until 2020 — when the seat is scheduled to come up for election. Kyle promised Ducey he will at least serve through the end of the year.

Kyl said he accepted the appointment because he is putting country first, like McCain did so many times during his political career. But he reminded reporters that he stepped down from the Senate because he wanted to spend more time with his family and more time in Arizona, all things that could keep him from serving until 2020.

Ducey declined to speculate who he would appoint if Kyl stepped down before 2020, saying he’s still trying to convince Kyl to stay on for longer. He did, however, adamantly insist he would not appoint himself to the seat.

By law, Ducey was required to appoint a Republican successor to fill McCain’s seat, although he almost certainly would have tapped a Republican regardless.

Arizona Republicans like Flake, AZGOP Chairman Jonathan Lines and others praised Ducey’s decision to appoint Kyl. Trump chimed in, too, tweeting his support of Kyl Tuesday.

But Ducey’s gubernatorial opponent, David Garcia, criticized the governor’s pick. Garcia said he would have selected someone like Cindy McCain or former Attorney General Grant Woods, someone who was more in the mold of the late senator and who might be more willing to stand up to Trump.

“Jon Kyl has served as Brett Kavanaugh’s ‘sherpa’ through the nomination process and will undoubtedly vote for his confirmation which puts many rights we take for granted at risk, chief among them are women’s reproductive rights, civil rights, voting rights, environmental rights and workers rights,” Garcia said in a statement.

Ducey signs ‘historic’ Colorado River drought plan legislation

Gov. Doug Ducey and Secretary of State Katie Holmes display legislation Ducey signed for Arizona''s Drought Contingency Plan. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey and Secretary of State Katie Holmes display legislation Ducey signed for Arizona”s Drought Contingency Plan. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

In the culmination of extensive talks that brought together water users from all corners of the state, the Arizona Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey signed off on a multi-state drought plan Thursday.

The governor and lawmakers celebrated passage of the Drought Contingency Plan bills as a “historic” moment that showed the state could work together to head off drastic water shortfalls on the Colorado River.

Ducey signed the two bills from a room in the historic Capitol building where nearly 40 years ago Gov. Bruce Babbitt signed the Groundwater Management Act. The governor signed the bills with Secretary of State Katie Hobbs beside him and flanked by Republican and Democratic lawmakers and various water users and water leaders that helped forge the drought plan deal.

“We did it by bringing everyone to the table, putting party labels aside and placing Arizona first,” he said. “The Drought Contingency Plan is a historic, bipartisan achievement.”

The bills Ducey signed easily cleared both chambers of the Legislature. Only a few Democrats voted against the bills in the Senate, saying the drought plan doesn’t adequately address the issues of water scarcity and conservation. Lawmakers in the House unanimously passed both bills.

Not since lawmakers passed a slew of reforms last year to reduce opioid addiction and overdose deaths has the Legislature been so united on a single issue.

Ducey and lawmakers from both parties stressed the vote on the DCP is not the end of water policy talks. Instead, it is just the beginning of talks about the state’s long-term water future and water conservation efforts.

“We got here, ladies and gentlemen,” said Rep. Rosanna Gabaldón. “We’re making a good step in the right direction and it doesn’t end today.”

Democrats also warned that climate change cannot be ignored as a factor in declining water levels in the Colorado River.

“It is absurd and careless to think that a 19-year megadrought that we find ourselves in today has nothing to do with climate change,” said Rep. Kirsten Engel. “In fact, it has everything to do with climate change.”

Ducey promised Arizona isn’t done on water reform, but it’s too soon to tell specifically what that will look like, he said. But Ducey specified that he wants the next steps on water to be a collaborative process with plenty of discussion from numerous groups, similar to the DCP process.

“To speak specifically and exactly about what the next step is going to look like in Arizona’s water future would be irresponsible because there’s a lot of good ideas,” he said.

Ducey also said he took to heart comments legislative leaders made about increased conservation efforts and creating a culture of conservation in Arizona that teaches everyday citizens to use less water.

The governor also acknowledged some lawmakers’ concerns about climate change, saying the state needs to plan for changing weather patterns.

“It’s certainly something that’s important to policymakers behind us and it’s certainly something that will become part of this discussion,” he said.

In passing a bill by Senate Majority Leader Karen Fann, the Legislature approved plans for Arizona to sign onto a DCP — an implementation plan for seven Colorado River Basin states to leave more water in the river as Lake Mead, one of the river’s reservoirs falls to perilously low levels.

Lawmakers also voted Thursday on another Fann bill that makes tweaks to state law so Arizona can implement an Arizona-specific drought plan that limits the state’s waters users from using Colorado River water.

That bill also allocates $39 million — $9 million for groundwater infrastructure in Pinal County and $30 million to compensate water users that will face cutbacks.

Tucked in the legislation is also a clause that leaves the door open for the Legislature to allocate more funding to Pinal farmers down the line if a promised allocation of $20 million from the federal government is held up.

By 2023, Pinal farmers will have to replace water from Central Arizona Project with groundwater as a result of water cutbacks. But Pinal farmers fear federal dollars for groundwater infrastructure may not come in until 2021 or later, which wouldn’t give them enough time to prepare for when the CAP spigot cuts off in 2023.

Pinal farmers have requested that if such a situation occurs, the state fronts the money to be repaid by the federal government at a later date.

Republican Rep. Sine Kerr implored lawmakers not to forget about Pinal after passage of the drought plan.

“While DCP is done on paper, it’s still our responsibility to finish what we say we’ll do,” she said. “That’s crucial for Pinal County families and agriculture. I implore you to not leave these families in Pinal County hanging after we pass DCP.”

Under the legislation, the state will allocate $7 million to Pinal farmers in the current budget cycle and $2 million in FY ‘20. The $30 million appropriation also will occur in FY ‘20.Because the water bills are “emergency” measures, they will require two-thirds votes in both chambers.

The legislation lawmakers voted on Thursday was the result of a series of drought-planning talks among approximately 40 people representing water users, government interests, farmers, developers and municipalities. Ted Cooke, Director of Central Arizona Project and Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, led the drought-planning charge.

Drought Contingency Plan details:

Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan: An agreement between Arizona, California and Nevada to conserve water in Lake Mead — a reservoir on the Colorado River.

Upper Basin Drought Contingency Plan: An agreement between Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico to conserve water in Lake Powell. The seven states will also have to agree to a companion agreement, in which they pledge to implement the drought plans in good faith.

Arizona drought plan by the numbers:

As a result of the Drought Contingency Plan, Arizona is implementing its own drought plan and the state and other entities are compensating some water users that will face substantial cutbacks.


  • $60 million from CAP to compensate the Gila River Indian Community for leaving water in Lake Mead
  • $30 million from the state to compensate the Colorado River Indian Tribes for leaving water in the lake
  • $9 million from the state to Pinal County farmers for groundwater infrastructure
  • $8 million from non-governmental entities like the Walton Family Foundation and others to Colorado River water users to leave water in the lake
  • $20-$25 million from the federal government to Pinal County farmers for groundwater infrastructure
  • $5 million from CAP to Pinal County farmers for groundwater infrastructure
  • Approximately $1.2 million per year for Pinal County farmers from a repurposed groundwater withdrawal fee

Ducey straddles fence on Senate election audit

Gov. Doug Ducey said he’s confident in the results of the 2020 election yet wants to see the results of a Republican-backed audit and hand count of 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County.

“I’ve defended our election integrity,” the governor said at a Monday press conference. “I’m not going to change my position at all.”

Ducey said Arizona has had a series of reforms and improvements in the past three decades.

“In many ways I think Arizona is a model state,” he said. “We have a compendium of best practices in our state.”

Despite that, the governor said it was within the power of the Senate, as a separate branch of government, to decide whether yet another audit is needed. But he brushed aside a question of whether that feeds into the conspiracy theories that somehow the results of the election — the one he declared as accurate — were wrong and that people cheated.

“To give an accurate answer, I’d have to see the results of what the Senate is well within its legal rights to do,” he said.

All this comes as Democrats say the sole reason for the audit is to come up with an excuse to make it more difficult to vote.

“Right now Arizona is leading the country in voter suppression bills from Republican legislators,” said Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale. “It is no coincidence this is happening after they lost an election.”

All five Maricopa County supervisors have said a new audit is unnecessary. But only Democrat Steve Gallardo showed up for the Monday press conference — and dealt with hecklers who insisted there was massive fraud and that Donald Trump actually beat Joe Biden in Arizona.

“You lost the election,” he said. “Deal with it.”

The move to audit the ballots comes despite a legally required hand count of a random sample which turned up no errors.

The counting equipment was tested both before and after the election. And the Maricopa supervisors, four of whom are Republicans, even hired outside auditors in a bid to prove that there was no tampering with the machinery.

That still left GOP senators dissatisfied and resulted in them going to court and winning the legal right to access the equipment and the ballots. Yet on Monday, Senate President Karen Fann said she is still working to get this process started more than four months after the election was completed.

“We hope we have something to get out to you very soon,” she told Capitol Media Services.

Some of what needs to be worked out is the mechanics of having people go through 2.1 million ballots and marked down, one by one, how someone voted.

Fann said she hoped to have bipartisan teams reviewing each batch to provide a level of accountability. So far, though, Democrats see the entire effort as purely political show and won’t participate.

“It’s too bad the Democratic Party doesn’t believe in getting answers for our constituents,” she said. “I think that’s our job.”

The Democrats, for their part, say the only reason people have questions is that Republicans, led by Trump, have made repeated and unsubstantiated claims of fraud. And they see no reason to participate.

But it isn’t just the Democrats who question the whole premise behind the audit.

Helen Purcell, a former Maricopa County recorder, and a Republican, said she was approached by an attorney representing GOP senators asking if she would be willing to oversee the process. She refused, calling it “not a necessary process” and saying she trusts the results of the two independent audits already conducted by the county.

Fann said that for the time being the plan is to limit the hand count solely to the presidential race, the one that Biden outpolled Trump in Maricopa County by more than 45,000 votes. That provided a crucial edge to let Biden win Arizona’s 11 electoral votes by 10,457.

The Senate president denied that all this does is feed into the claims, all so far with no basis, that Trump really won here.

“We start with the presidential primarily because that was the closest one in terms of numbers,” Fann said.

So what’s the plan to do the task?

“All this will be made clear as soon as we finish the contract details,” Fann said, referring to the agreement the senate is making with a yet-to-be-identified outside firm. And she promised the contract would be public.

Election audit draws more GOP politicians

Some of the 2.1 million ballots cast during the 2020 election, are brought in for recounting at a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican lead Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix. The equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden and the 2.1 million ballots were moved to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden's victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Some of the 2.1 million ballots cast during the 2020 election, are brought in for recounting at a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican lead Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Three Pennsylvania lawmakers were in Arizona on Wednesday to check out the state Senate GOP’s partisan audit of the 2020 election. 

They’re the latest Republicans to make a pilgrimage to Phoenix, ground zero in the “stop the steal” movement’s push to find support for conspiracy theories suggesting the election was stolen from former President Trump. 

U.S. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz cheered  the audit at a rally just outside Phoenix last month. The next day, several prominent Trump supporters and conspiracy promoters were advertised as speakers at a Phoenix megachurch. Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys extremist group, recently posted a short video of himself at the Arizona Capitol.  

Political pilgrimages are nothing new to Arizona, where Republican politicians have long enjoyed photo ops in front of the Mexico border wall. But now, the draw is the Arizona State Fairgrounds, site of a former basketball arena where a Trump supporter who has promoted election conspiracies is overseeing a hand recount of 2.1 million ballots from Maricopa County. 

The latest visitors are Pennsylvania Sens. Doug Mastriano and Cris Dush, and Rep. Rob Kauffman. They met with Arizona legislators at the Capitol before traveling to the audit site to get a briefing from the auditors.  

“Transparency is a must (in) our republic,” Mastriano wrote in a news release posted on Twitter. “Every citizen should be confident that their vote counts.” 

As Trump and his allies claimed without evidence last year that his Arizona loss was marred by fraud, the Arizona Senate GOP used its subpoena power to get access to all ballots, counting machines and hard drives full of election data in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix and 60% of Arizona’s voters.  

They handed all of it over to a team led by Cyber Ninjas, a small consulting firm with no prior election experience for a hand recount and analysis of vote-counting machines and data. 

The effort will not change President Biden’s victory, and election experts have pointed to major flaws in the process. But it’s become a model for Republicans in other states hoping to turn up evidence supporting conspiracy theories.  

“It’s my belief that Arizona will be the launch pad for elections audits and election integrity efforts all over this great country,” Gaetz said. He listed the swing states where Trump lost in 2020. 

Greene said the audit was the reason she and Gaetz chose Mesa, a Phoenix suburb, for the second stop on their tour of America First rallies. 

“Matt said, ‘You been following that Arizona audit?'” Greene said. “I said, ‘Yeah I’ve been following it.’ He said, ‘Lets go to Arizona.’ I said, ‘Count me in.'” 

Mastriano has become a one-man force in conservative politics in Pennsylvania, leading anti-mask protests last year, pushing to overturn Trump’s re-election loss and showing up outside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot. 

In November, Mastriano organized a hearing in Gettysburg that featured Rudy Giuliani and a phone call appearance by Trump in which the president claimed the election was rigged and urged state lawmakers to overturn the result. 

All three visiting Pennsylvania lawmakers were among the 64 Republican legislators who signed a letter asking the state’s congressional delegation to object to Pennsylvania’s electoral college votes being cast for Biden. 


Associated Press writer Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, contributed. 


Election audit overshadows work in Senate

Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, May 6, 2021, at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool)
Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, May 6, 2021, at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool)

In some ways, the most important event of the 2021 legislative session didn’t even happen at the Capitol.  

Most senators had little to do with the independent review of 2020 election results ostensibly being done in their name, and as the recount and the session stretched on, many Republicans who supported the audit in theory were eager to focus on their own legislation instead of fielding questions about the audit. 

But the shadow of the audit loomed over everything at the Capitol this year. Some speculated it was partially responsible for the long delay in passing a budget, and it was certainly responsible for a weekslong standoff when one senator publicly vowed that she would block adjournment, and vote against the budget, if necessary, until the audit was complete. 

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, first locked the Senate into its ongoing audit by encouraging voters’ complaints in November, once it was apparent that Joe Biden was going to win Arizona and the presidency. While her counterpart in the House, Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, unequivocally rejected attempts from inside and outside of his Republican caucus to challenge election results, Fann set up a voter fraud hotline, approved a December hearing about the election and signed multiple subpoenas demanding Maricopa County turn over ballots and election equipment. 

All of this was done, Fann said, with the full support of the Senate Republican caucus. But their deliberations took place behind closed doors and outside of any normal hearing process. 

“Our entire Republican body thought that this was  and still do believe this is  the right and ethical and moral thing to do,” she said.  

Fractures in the Republican caucus first appeared in early February, when Fann introduced a resolution to hold the five Maricopa County supervisors in contempt. That would allow Fann to send the Senate’s sergeant at arms to arrest Maricopa County’s supervisors and incarcerate them for the duration of the legislative session, though Fann later insisted arrest was never really on the table.  

Regardless, the prospect of arresting county supervisors – men many of the senators knew well and considered friends – was too much for Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale. The first and only audit-related vote of the session failed 15-15, as Boyer joined Democrats to reject the contempt resolution. 

Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan, a Florida-based consultancy, talks about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican-led Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference April 22, 2021.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan, a Florida-based consultancy, talks about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican-led Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference April 22, 2021.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Senate eventually won its court battle with Maricopa County, and a judge affirmed that the Legislature could subpoena the election materials.  

There were no formal hearings or public votes on the $150,000 contract Fann ultimately awarded to Cyber Ninjas, a cybersecurity firm led by a man who publicly endorsed claims of election fraud, her selection of former Secretary of State Ken Bennett to serve in a quasi-governmental role as the Senate’s liaison or any other aspect of the audit.  

When Fann and Judiciary Chairman Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, eventually held a hearing, during a two-week break in ballot counting because the counting wasn’t finished by the time the Senate’s contractors had to vacate Veterans’ Memorial Coliseums for high school graduations, Senate Democrats who attempted to sit in were barred from the room. 

Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale, said at the time that Democrats were informed that it was a closed meeting, it wasn’t safe for them to be there because of Covid and there was a livestream available to watch.  

Quezada texted: “If I were in her shoes, I can’t imagine I’d ever lock elected members of the Senate out of this process unless I had absolutely zero confidence in the legitimacy of the process I had started, the people I hired to administer it, or my ability to respond to whatever legitimate questions were asked of me in that hearing. It seems pretty pathetic to me.”  

While the Senate remained closed to the public, Republican elected officials from other states began popping up in the Senate gallery, as guests of Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff. Rogers, an outspoken Trump supporter and one of the audit’s biggest fans, invited lawmakers from around the country to tour the coliseum and take ideas back to their own states, with a visit to the Senate to round out their visit. 

Diehard Trump supporters with “Stop the Steal” flags were a constant presence outside the Capitol in some weeks, sometimes confronting Democratic activists at press conferences or shouting down reporters as they tried to ask questions.  

And when the session started looking like it would end before the audit did, true believers in the Republican caucus sought to block adjournment. After hearing that the Legislature could adjourn in two weeks, Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, balked and began voting against election measures and vowing to vote against any other bills necessary to prevent adjournment. 

In the end, Townsend secured a promise, laid out in the state budget, that she’ll serve on a committee to oversee the audit results and potentially recommend a special session for more legislative work. While the session ended, the audit hasn’t yet. 


Elections officials mull criminal probes of forgeries


Elections officials said they will likely refer several campaigns that have been implicated for fraud and forgery to law enforcement for further investigation.

At least four candidates whose nominating petitions were challenged in Maricopa County Superior Court have faced allegations of widespread signature fraud.

Eric Spencer
Eric Spencer

State Elections Director Eric Spencer said the Secretary of State’s Office will allow the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office to determine whether to refer the four cases to law enforcement or an outside agency that can analyze the allegedly forged signatures.

County Recorder Adrian Fontes said he has not yet decided if the cases will be referred for prosecution. He said he met with the county attorney on June 27 to determine what the office will do.

Gubernatorial candidate Ken Bennett; Sandra Dowling, who is running for the 8th Congressional District; Rep. Ray Martinez, D-Phoenix, who was running for the vacant Senate seat in Legislative District 30; and Mark Syms, an independent candidate running for the Senate in Legislative District 28, have all been accused of filing fraudulent signatures.

The County Recorder’s Office invalidated thousands of the signatures the candidates turned in, including 1,460 collected by Syms, Dowling and Martinez that didn’t match those on voter registration records.

The candidates hired a man named Larry Herrera to collect signatures for them. Herrera, a Democrat who ran for the Senate in Legislative District 20 earlier this year, is also facing fraud allegations from the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission in connection with his campaign.

If the county refuses to pursue the matter, Spencer said, the Secretary of State’s Office will.

“I think we would give Maricopa County breathing space for a couple of weeks to determine if they want to do something. If they pass, I’m fairly certain Secretary (Michele) Reagan would want to take the next step and work on referring it to the attorney general,” he said.

Spencer said staff has been asked to do a cursory review of all candidate petitions to see if some of the same circulators who were implicated in these cases collected signatures for other campaigns.

However, he said a review of the nominating petitions will depend on what kind of resources the office is able to dedicate to this, since the office is also working on other election-related matters.

Still, that won’t deter the office from pursuing further action, he said.

“The bottom line is we’re not going to let this fade away or let it go. It’s probably too late to do anything for the 2018 cycle in terms of a deterrent effect, but in terms of the 2020 cycle, we need the circulator community to know there will be consequences for fraudulent activity,” he said.

Agency spokesman Matt Roberts said it’s premature to say if the Secretary of State’s Office will push for legislative changes to petition gathering laws next year. He said no one from the Legislature has approached the office about changes to the law.

“There has been what seems to be an uptick in issues in petition circulation and we will certainly take a look at the election cycle as a whole and determine what types of legislation might be necessary moving into the next election cycle and more importantly the next legislative cycle,” he said.

Spencer said in addition to a possible criminal investigation, another way to prevent such signature fraud from happening in future elections is to encourage candidates to vet signatures before submitting them to the Secretary of State’s Office.

He said much of the blame has been placed on the signature-gathering firms and the circulators themselves, but candidates hold some responsibility to double check their work.

“They don’t bear a criminal responsibility, but they do hold some responsibility, on a sliding scale, to ensure everything looks right,” Spencer said.

Spencer said first-time candidates or candidates using a new or unknown firm have an obligation to check their nominating petitions before turning them in. That obligation is less for experienced candidates who are working with a firm that has a proven track record, he said.

In Syms’ case, Spencer said there were numerous red flags, including widely reported fraud allegations against Herrera, the large number of signatures collected in such a short time frame, and the “astronomical” number of signatures collected in a single day by some of the circulators.

Taking all that into account, he said there was a high burden on Syms’ campaign to review the petitions.

“It is not enough to call yourself a victim of fraud,” he said. “Candidates aren’t victims here.”

Spencer pointed out that there are several candidates who withdrew from their respective races prior to a challenge being filed or once a challenge was filed because they reviewed their petitions and found that they didn’t have enough valid signatures to remain on the ballot.

Radio host Seth Leibsohn dropped out of the Republican primary for the 9th Congressional District after submitting his signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office but before a legal challenge was filed. Leibsohn ended his campaign after he reviewed his petition sheets and found that he didn’t have enough valid signatures to qualify.

Rep. Mark Cardenas, D-Phoenix, who was running for state treasurer, didn’t file nominating petitions because the people he hired to collect signatures provided fraudulent signatures the day before the filing deadline.

“That was a responsible and ethical thing for them to do. Those are two good examples of candidates taking responsibility for what goes on in their campaigns,” Spencer said.

Electors to meet as Senate holds hearing on election


The 11 electors pledged to Joe Biden are set to cast their votes today even as yet another court hearing is set in a bid to invalidate what they are doing and lawmakers look to see how the election was conducted.

But what will be different this year is there won’t be any public spectacle or audience.

Murphy Hebert, aide to Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, has asked the media not to disclose the location of the event due to security concerns. There has been heightened tension around the election, with supporters of President Trump engaged in multiple protests and even what some have suggested might be a call to violence.

In fact, Hebert said, the 11 electors — their names are public because they appeared on the ballot adjacent to that of Biden — have been asked to limit who they invite.

The public will, however, be able to watch a livestream of the event at “www.facebook.com/SecretaryHobbs/live/” beginning at 10 a.m.

It isn’t just Hobbs who is limiting attendance at an election-related event Monday.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee convene at 9 a.m. to hear testimony from Maricopa County election officials and members of the Elections Integrity Unit of the Attorney General’s Office.

But this event is taking place entirely online, at least in part amid concerns about COVID-19. In fact, both the House and Senate were entirely shuttered this past week after several lawmakers were exposed to presidential attorney Rudy Giuliani at a prior forum; Giuliani later tested positive for the virus.

The Judiciary Committee meeting also will be available online at “azleg.gov” by clicking on the link for the Senate, then the “live proceedings” button, and finally selecting Senate Hearing Room 1 from the available options.

Also today, Pinal County resident Staci Burk will be in court in her bid to mount her own challenge to the results of the Nov. 3 election.

Burk, representing herself, claims to have information proving fraud and misconduct in how the election was conducted.

She wants Pinal County Superior Court Judge Kevin White to invalidate the results, even if the court hearing is occurring after the electors actually cast their ballots. Burk contends, as have others who have so far been unsuccessful in voiding the results, that they can argue the case right up until Jan. 6 when Congress meets to tally the votes cast by electors from all the states.

On Friday, attorney Roopali Desai asked White to throw out the case entirely. She said that while Burk is alleging fraud “she fails to allege sufficient facts to support these vague conclusions, let alone that any alleged misconduct would affect the results or at least render it uncertain.”

Burk countered that she has witnesses and that she hopes to use at trial — if White doesn’t throw the case out — to get the evidence. But Desai told the judge she can’t legally do that.

“This is not a fishing expedition for her to learn more about whatever claims or grievances she has,” Desai said.

Burk, however, said she is entitled to the information.

“It’s not that I’m going on some wild fishing expedition,” she said. “I’m presenting some very concrete facts and truths to the court.”

And Burk expressed frustration about efforts by Roopali to limit the scope of the hearing.

“I don’t understand what the state’s problem is with trying to hide some very serious election issues,” she told the judge. “Doesn’t the state have a right to know what’s going on?”

White deferred any ruling on whether Burk gets to demand certain records and information.

Ethics committee might investigate Navarrete

State Sen. Tony Navarrete, who has yet to resign several days after he was charged with multiple felony child sex crimes, now faces a potential Senate ethics investigation and additional allegations of sexual harassment. 

On Monday, Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, asked the Senate ethics committee to investigate the charges against Navarrete, as well as his past support of legislation to teach age-appropriate sex education to younger children. He was charged Friday with seven different felony counts of child sex crimes, allegedly committed over the course of several years with two teenage boys.  

Senate President Karen Fann and Democratic leader Rebecca Rios also issued a joint statement again calling on Navarrete to resign his state Senate seat.  

“The circumstances and serious nature of the felony charges faced by Senator Navarrete provide an untenable distraction from his role as an elected official and public servant for District 30,” they said. “The Senator also now faces a Senate ethics complaint, and no one benefits from any further delay in his ultimate resignation.” 

Townsend said that as a mother, she’s not willing to wait for Navarrete to resign. The probable cause statement released by police includes the summary of a taped call one of the boys had with Navarrete in which he admitted and apologized for the abuse, and Townsend said that’s more than enough proof to remove him from the Legislature.  

“I don’t think someone with these types of accusations and taped confession deserves a single day longer in the Arizona Legislature, and I hope that we move swiftly to get this taken care of,” she said during a news conference. 

Under Senate rules, ethics committee chair Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, will receive the complaint and decide within the next few days whether to move forward with an investigation. The ethics committee can meet and conduct an investigation while the Legislature is out of session, but any action, such as expulsion, would have to wait until the Legislature is back in session.  

“Senator Navarrete is facing serious felony charges,” Kerr said in a statement. “He should resign from the Senate. In the meantime, the Senate Ethics Committee will follow its process.” 

An ethics committee investigation would be made difficult because of the ongoing criminal investigation, said Sen. T.J. Shope, a Coolidge Republican who chaired the House ethics committee when it investigated former Rep. David Stringer over Stringer’s past alleged sex crimes against minors. The Stringer investigation revolved around a closed case from decades earlier.  

“Anything the Senate does right now could conflict with a criminal investigation,” Shope said. “That makes it quite a bit different, really.” 

Townsend said she doesn’t expect Gov. Doug Ducey to call the Legislature back into special session immediately to vote to expel Navarrete, but she hopes he does if the ethics committee recommends it.  

Her complaint includes a request to investigate whether there have been any other allegations, including sexual harassment of a co-worker or subordinate, and what was done to rectify the situation.  

Over the weekend, political organizer and former progressive state House candidate Gilbert Romero shared publicly that he had been sexually harassed several times by Navarrete, describing “behaviors that made me feel extremely unsafe, uncomfortable, objectified and embarrassed in public in front of others.” 

In his statement and in a subsequent interview with the Arizona Capitol Times, Romero said he wasn’t ready to share the details of his interactions with Navarrete, but that he and other friends were harassed. When he tried to talk to others about the harassment, he said, they downplayed it.  

Romero said he didn’t push the issue at the time, but he felt he had to speak up this weekend after learning that Navarrete didn’t prey only on adult men. 

“I wasn’t on a crusade to ruin careers,” he said. “I wasn’t on a crusade to ruin anything.” 

Navarrete was openly gay and a member of the Legislature’s LGBTQ caucus. National conservative media and state Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, have repeatedly claimed that Navarrete’s sexuality is somehow connected to his alleged crimes, and Romero said he also felt the need to speak up as a gay man.  

“As a proud gay man myself, I am no stranger to unfair, ungrounded and just false assumptions of being a pedophile,” he said. “As a gay man, I wanted to show others that his victims weren’t just allegedly children. They were other men too.” 

Another portion of Townsend’s complaint questions whether Navarrete “used state resources to advance the effort to expose minors under the age of 12 to sexual content, to include such content in the public school system.”  

Conservative parents, lawmakers and activists have spent the past several years attacking Democratic politicians over sex education, especially after a bipartisan group in 2019 succeeded in repealing a 1991 law that prohibited teaching about homosexuality while educating students on AIDS and HIV. The AIDS and HIV instruction was a federal mandate, but Republicans at the time wanted to avoid doing anything to promote a “homosexual lifestyle.”  

Since the 2019 repeal, Republican lawmakers have introduced a series of restrictive sex education bills. Navarrete has spoken passionately against many of them, while simultaneously supporting Democratic sex ed bills, including one he sponsored this year to mandate “medically accurate” and “age-appropriate” sex education for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. 

Proponents of those bills say they’re intended to help younger children learn about concepts such as “safe touch,” helping them set boundaries and recognize whether they’re being abused. Opponents of the legislation view it as sexualizing young children, and Townsend cited those parents in explaining that part of the complaint.  

“They’re concerned about this effort on his part to put sexuality and those types of things in the early grades of school,” she said. Those who are concerned with the motivations of those people pushing this at such a young age of innocence, it has just deepened their concern and they want to make that statement that sexual exploitation of a child is not tolerated.”  

While pressure mounts for Navarrete to resign, there may be legal tactics at play in Navarrete’s delay the resignation or refuse, according to attorney Kory Langhofer.   

Langhofer, a prominent GOP attorney, represented former Maricopa County assessor Paul Petersen when he appealed his 2019 suspension from his elected post over criminal child trafficking charges.  

More often than not, public officials who are accused of a crime don’t resign immediately, he said.  

“When a public official is accused of a crime, they expect they’ll have a chance of successfully defending themselves,” he said. “And so, they don’t want to give up their office before their guilt is determined, and they’re also worried that resigning is generally perceived as an implicit admission of wrongdoing.”  

Some public officials wait until there’s a conviction, while others wait at least a few months. Petersen resigned in January 2020, three months after he was charged but before his conviction later that year. Former lawmaker Ben Arredondo, a Democrat convicted of fraud in 2012, resigned his seat as part of a plea agreement.  

-Staff writer Kyra Haas contributed reporting 

Editor’s note: A previous headline for this story erroneously reported the ethics committee would investigate Tony Navarrete, when actually, the decision to investigate has not been made. 

Ethics committee opens inquiry on Dem Miranda, votes along party lines

The Arizona Senate Ethics Committee will investigate a Democratic state senator for allegedly violating signature gathering laws, but won’t do any real sleuthing until the attorney general weighs in.

The committee voted 3-2 on party lines to pursue an investigation of Sen. Catherine Miranda, D-Phoenix, based on an ethics complaint filed by a Gilbert resident. GOP Sens. Kimberly Yee, Judy Burges and Steve Montenegro cast the votes in favor of the investigation.


The committee also voted to refer the complaint to Attorney General Mark Brnovich, and suspend any investigation of their own until after the Attorney General’s Office looked into it.

In a complaint sent to Senate leadership on September 20, Amy Andrea Celaya shared photos taken of Miranda while the lawmaker gathered signatures for a referendum on a recent school voucher expansion law. Those pictures showed that Miranda hadn’t checked a box indicating whether she was a paid or volunteer circulator before circulating the petition, nor was the county designated as required.

A scanned copy of the submitted petition sheet was also included, showing that information had been filled in, presumably after the photo was taken.

State law requires that circulators disclose whether they are paid or volunteers before gathering signatures.

The five senators on the Ethics Committee never debated amongst themselves the merits of the complaint. Only Sen. Martin Quezada, a Phoenix Democrat, asked whether the complaint warranted investigation. His question was answered not by the Republican lawmakers who voted for the investigation, but by the Senate rules attorney, who noted that voting to investigate further is not an indication of an ethics violation and that the complaint could still be dismissed at a later date.

Tom Ryan, an attorney representing Miranda pro bono, said there’s nothing to investigate. While it’s a misdemeanor to knowingly violate laws dictating that appropriate information be provided to voters while gathering signatures, the pictures don’t show intent on Miranda’s part to defraud anyone, Ryan said.

“This is going nowhere. I’m going to tell you right now, without talking to anybody at the AG’s office, they will dismiss this faster than a lamb can shake it’s tail. That’s how fast this is going to go down,” Ryan said. “There is nothing to this.”

Ryan Anderson, a spokesman for Brnovich, said attorneys have not yet reviewed the complaint, but will determine an appropriate response once they do so.

“Without commenting on this specific matter, we should never be eager to criminalize behavior that can be appropriately addressed via other channels,” Anderson said. “Sometimes people just make mistakes.”

Even with slim majority Republicans ignore Democrats’ budget ideas

The historic Arizona Capitol building. Arizona legislators have introduced several bills this year to allow the Legislature to have greater control over state agencies and other elected bodies. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR
The historic Arizona Capitol building.  PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR

What would happen if the Arizona legislature listened and worked together across party lines to create a budget that works for all Arizonans?  With an unexpected revenue surplus this year, we finally have the chance to address long-neglected needs in education, infrastructure, health care, and other state responsibilities that help everyone thrive. Unfortunately, even though Republicans hold only the slightest majority in the House (31-29) and Senate (16-14), they continue to exclude all Democrats (who represent nearly half the electorate) from budget discussions. That’s just wrong.  

Just as significantly, their strategy to force through a budget with only Republicans isn’t working. 

On June 7, it took just one Republican to cross party lines and join Democrats to help defeat budget bills containing the PERMANENT $1.5+ billion annual tax cut I recently wrote about why I oppose this disastrous “flat tax” planbut Republicans like Rep David Cook say they ALSO oppose it because: 

  1. the revenue losses to cities and towns would devastate their ability to meet public safety and other expenses,  
  2.  members were given no time to review the hundreds of pages of amendments we were presented just 30 minutes ahead of the vote,
  3.  it’s not fiscally responsible to base a budget on revenue forecasts that may have been artificially enhanced by billions of dollars of federal Covid relief, 
  4. Arizona should be using more of this temporarily available revenue to pay off our substantial debt. So many of us agree! 

Other Republicans in the House and Senate continue to voice additional objections to their proposed budget, making it all the less likely that Republicans can pass it alone. 

Earlier this week, a Republican committee chair suggested to a Democratic legislator that she might just push for a so-called “skinny budget” again this year. He responded as I would have – no.  We should pass a budget that makes major investments in our long-neglected responsibilities for infrastructure, classrooms, access to health care, and support for our local businesses, and leave the big tax and revenue policy changes for a special session later. Her immediate response was, “Oh no, I’d lose half the Republican votes.”  Well, you know what? We’d likely gain half the Democrats, giving us a truly bi-partisan budget.  

Democrats stand ready to work together on a budget that works for all Arizonans, not just the wealthiest few. And as Democratic Minority Leader Reginald Bolding recently explained, we support a tax policy that not only works for the short-term, but for the long-term as well.  

The State House opens each session with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. Often, when I hear Republican members pray that we all work together for the good of Arizona, I think to myself, “There are 29 of us across the aisle raising our hands high, wanting very much to work together for the good of our state!”  Yet, we are ignored, and the priorities of the people we represent – nearly half of Arizona voters – are not considered. Nonetheless, Democrats continue to show up every day to work for our communities, ready to negotiate, and eager to add our own good ideas to the mix. There is so much we could agree on, if only we were allowed to participate.  

The people of Arizona are counting on us to work together on behalf of all of us. What if we actually did? 

Rep. Judy Schwiebert represents Legislative District 20.  

Ex-Pima County justice of peace accused of false tax return

A former state lawmaker and Pima County justice of the peace has been indicted for making a false tax return and telling the Internal Revenue Service that luxury sports cars he bought were business expenses for his bus company.

Federal prosecutors say Keith Bee, a Republican who served in the Arizona House from 1991-92 and Arizona Senate from 1993 to 2000, is facing three counts of making a false tax return and one count of corruptly endeavoring to impede the administration.

He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment last Friday in U.S. District Court in Tucson. His trial is scheduled for Nov. 6.

The indictment states Bee falsely claimed the purchase of six cars plus construction work that included a custom garage for the vehicles were business expenses of Bee Line Transportation.

Bee didn’t run for re-election this year and retired as a county justice of the peace last month.

Expanding child tax credit is essential

Like many Arizona parents, the first question out of our mouths when confronted with a household emergency is: “Can we afford that?” Even earning what’s categorized as a “middle-class income” we live on a limited monthly budget where unexpected needs, including things like filling an eyeglasses prescription for my 10-year-old son or major dental work for my 7-year-old daughter, could throw us into a bit of a financial tailspin. 

Natacha Chavez

Covid intensified the strain. When the pandemic hit, we immediately put off these essentials, knowing we had to push necessary care to make sure we were good on other basic needs like the rising cost of groceries. Because of the expanded Child Tax Credit under the American Rescue Plan Act, some of the financial pressure we’ve been feeling is beginning to lift. I’m no longer forced to decide between groceries, school supplies or other important expenses. 

Families like mine don’t just need this tax credit as a temporary pandemic safety net. Our economy overall has taken a hit. Arizona families will continue to need help balancing the high costs of raising children, in which we’ve already seen an increase in food and gas prices, back-to-school supplies, daycare and after-school programs. We need consistent, long-term support to help manage these costs. 

With the help of the Child Tax Credit payments sent out, my husband and I were able to get the glasses my son needs before his eyesight got worse and in-person learning suffered. We can also cover our daughter’s dental care without flirting with debt. This credit isn’t just crucial to our well-being but for other families digging out of or in a much deeper financial hole. Previously, 692,000 children in Arizona received only a partial Child Tax Credit or no credit at all because their families’ incomes were too low. 

For my family, receiving the credit has been invaluable. Unfortunately, the expansion isn’t permanent —  yet. The support provided by the expanded Child Tax Credit is at risk of being taken away unless Congress extends the boost to the credit in its upcoming recovery bill. Arizona’s leaders have the opportunity to permanently expand the credit and they should. 

Looking to the future, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight for the pandemic and I worry about how I will be able to cover my family’s expenses if the credit ends. My husband and I will have to make more tough choices about the life we can provide for our children. 

No one should have to choose between health care, household bills, gas, clothing, school supplies, or nutritious food for their kids. Yet, far too many Arizonans are being forced to do so. Permanent expansion of the Child Tax Credit could cut child poverty by almost half. But unless Congress takes action, many Arizona families will continue to find themselves strapped under extreme economic strain and pressure. Our congressional leaders and senators have the power to alleviate pandemic hardship and put more Arizona families on the path to financial freedom by making the Child Tax Credit permanent. 

Natacha Chavez is a part-time community worker living in Phoenix with her husband and two young children. 


Expect revival of pet bills that failed to survive

In this January 18, 2019, file photo, a man blows a cloud of smoke from a vape pipe. Bills to regulate vaping died in the 2019 Arizona legislative session, but lawmakers vow to bring them back next year. PHOTO BY STEVE HELBER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
In this January 18, 2019, file photo, a man blows a cloud of smoke from a vape pipe. Bills to regulate vaping died in the 2019 Arizona legislative session, but lawmakers vow to bring them back next year. PHOTO BY STEVE HELBER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Even after settling on a multi-billion spending plan for the next year, there was plenty left unsettled when lawmakers went home for the summer.

That’s because of the 1,318 bills introduced in the 2019 legislative session, only 320 were signed into law. The rest languished in the House or Senate – or were vetoed by Gov. Doug Ducey – and while many of those proposed laws are ideas that may never see the light of day again, you can bet some will be back in 2020.

The lawmakers that introduced them promise.


Expect the debate over vaping to return in full force next session, as Sen. Heather Carter said she hasn’t given up on her legislative effort to change the definition of vaping in state law.

The Cave Creek Republican’s HB2357 maintained the current smoking age of 18, but would have defined vaping as a tobacco product in Arizona law, meaning local governments could crack down on vaping with their own local restrictions on the sale and use of vaping products.

Carter’s bill was met with strong opposition from a competing measure backed by the vaping industry that would have raised the smoking age to 21 but also eliminated some local restrictions on the sale and use of vaping products.

“The problem isn’t going away,” Carter said, that problem being teens’ use of vaping products. “It’s always difficult when you’re going up against the agenda of big tobacco. They have unlimited resources… When you put that up against a public health perspective, it’s always challenging. The work that we did this past session was critically important to raise the level of awareness of the crisis with lawmakers.”

Getting the issue on the Legislature’s radar could boost Carter’s chances of passing her bill in 2020, she said, since lawmakers can go back to their district and hear more about it.

They’ll “find out whether this is an ever-increasing problem in their own district, and I’m sure they will find that it is,” Carter said. “It’s a problem everywhere.”

Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, who supported the legislation backed by the vaping industry, did not respond to a request for comment.

Car rentals

Car sharing is another example of two lawmakers with vastly different views competing legislatively.

Neither Sen. David Livingston of Peoria nor Rep. Travis Grantham of Gilbert were able to guide their vision of regulating the peer-to-peer car sharing industry across the finish line, in part because both worked, to no avail, on a compromise rather than send each bill to the governor’s desk to let Ducey decide their fate.

Livingston’s SB1305 and later iterations of the bill would have treated car sharing companies like Turo – a website and app that functions like Airbnb, but with cars instead of homes – similarly to traditional rental companies like Enterprise or Alamo.

Crucially, that meant Turo would be on the hook for certain state taxes, and a special surcharge on rental cars that helps fund Arizona’s tourism industry.

The definition of a rental car company in statute was also important to officials at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, which has been at odds with Turo and other peer-to-peer car sharing companies about where Turo customers can exchange vehicles at the airport.

Livingston, R-Peoria, said he plans to bring back “mostly the same bill,” though he added that he’ll hold meetings with interested parties in the fall.

Grantham, a Mesa Republican who’s deployed for National Guard duty, could not be reached for comment. Though it wouldn’t be a surprise if his competing proposal, HB2559, makes a return as well.

Unlike Livingston’s bill, Grantham sought to treat peer-to-peer rentals as a wholly different industry than traditional car rental companies. By doing so, Grantham also carved out exemptions in statute to certain taxes on peer-to-peer car sharing transactions, including the rental surcharge.

Sales tax

Her pair of bills didn’t make it far, but that doesn’t mean Sen. Sylvia Allen is giving up on a proposal to raise sales taxes for education. The Snowflake Republican’s sponsorship of a measure to raise taxes also raised eyebrows, but drew the support of fellow Republicans like Sen. Kate Brophy McGee and Rep. Michelle Udall.

Even state Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward came out in support of the tax hike, or at least the plan to send the question to the ballot and let voters have the final say on raising the Proposition 301 sales tax from 0.6 cents to a full penny, with all funds earmarked for education.

Allen said she’ll “probably” bring the bill back, though she was hesitant given the cold reception the bill received in the Legislature. The measure never got out of the Senate.

Other ballot measures could play a factor, Allen said – for instance, if organizers with Invest in Ed take another shot at referring their own tax plan to the ballot, Allen said her colleagues might be convinced that her penny sales tax is a better alternative to higher income or property taxes that may be proposed via the citizen initiative process.

“I think my plan is a very good plan, a much better plan… That might play into it,” Allen said of competing ballot measures.

Fann demands records on audit from Hobbs

From left are Katie Hobbs and Karen Fann
From left are Katie Hobbs and Karen Fann

In a sign the Senate audit, which was supposed to be only about the 2020 election results, is now expanding in scope, Senate President Karen Fann now wants documents from Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.

In a public records request, the Prescott Republican is demanding any communications Hobbs has had with anyone about the audit and the litigation it has produced. And Fann is casting a wide net, seeking not just messages with federal, state and local officials but also political parties, volunteers, consultants, vendors, formal or informal advisors, fundraisers and the media.

“I can’t disclose what we’re looking for at this time,” Fann told Capitol Media Services, including how any of what she wants fits into the Senate’s need to investigate the election conduct and results as part of its duties to review existing laws and craft new ones.

The move comes as Hobbs, a Democrat, has publicly accused the auditors of “making it up as they go along,” and saying she has no confidence in whatever is produced by Cyber Ninjas, the firm Fann hired to conduct the review.

For the moment, Hobbs aide Murphy Hebert said her boss, is reviewing the request.

“At this point it appears to be the kind of nebulous fishing expedition that we’ve come to expect from the Senate president,” she said. And Hebert called it “ironic” that this comes even as Fann has hired outside counsel to fight requests for public records about the audit, “including who’s actually funding the partisan ballot review.”

The development comes as former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who was Fann’s initial choice as her liaison with Cyber Ninjas, said he has been locked out of the Veterans Memorial Coliseum over a dispute about information he provided to outsiders.

Meanwhile, Randy Pullen, whom Fann also tapped to work with the auditors, said the final counting of the ballots was completed Tuesday. He said they are being packed up for return to Maricopa County.

Pullen said a report on the audit could be prepared by the middle of August.

But all that depends on what new information is obtained from the county. And that goes to Fann’s separate decision to now issue new — and long expected — subpoenas to the county supervisors for items that Cyber Ninjas contends is necessary for it to complete its work.

Here, too, the scope is broad, ranging from envelopes in which early ballots were received to passwords, security keys or tokens to access the ballot tabulation devices. And then there’s the demand for the county’s routers, the devices that show traffic between computers as well as any links to the internet.

All that goes to the contention by the auditors that the county’s election system had somehow been compromised or hacked. That follows reports that the county’s voter registration system had been breached.

The issue of those routers — and what those who question the fact that Joe Biden won the state’s 11 electoral votes — has become so heated that former President Trump commented on it during the rally this past weekend in Phoenix, telling senators they must pursue that demand.

County officials say the election equipment itself was never connected to the internet, citing their own audit which they say confirms that fact.

But the fight goes beyond that, to the claim by Sheriff Paul Penzone that giving outsiders access to the routers could compromise law enforcement because it provides a road map of everyone communicating with anyone else in the county.

The subpoena also wants up-to-date voter records along with notations of any changes made. That goes to allegations by Cyber Ninjas that there is evidence some people were permitted to vote who had not registered by the deadline.

County spokesman Fields Moseley said any response will have to wait until the supervisors meet and consult with their legal counsel. But he said the supervisors believe “the county has already provided everything competent auditors would need to confirm the accuracy and security of the 2020 election,” a slap at Cyber Ninjas which has never performed this kind of audit before.

And Jack Sellers, who chairs the board, already has made his feelings quite apparent.

“I want to make it clear: I will not be responding to any more requests from this sham process,” he said in May.

The board is set to meet Wednesday. They don’t have a lot of time to respond: Fann has demanded that everything they want be produced at the Senate at 1 p.m. Monday.

That’s also the same deadline Fann set for Dominion Voting Systems, from who the county leases the counting equipment, to produce all the passwords necessary “for all levels of access, including, but not limited to, administrator access.” County officials, who have also been asked for that information, say they can’t produce what they don’t have.

Dominion is making it clear it intends to fight.

“Releasing Dominion’s intellectual property to an unaccredited, biased, and plainly unreliable actor such as Cyber Ninjas would be reckless, causing irreperable damage to the commercial interests of the company and the election security of the country,” a spokeswoman said in a prepared comment. “No company should be compelled to participate in such an irresponsible act.”

All this could pave the way for a new round of litigation about the extent of the ability of Fann to demand whatever she says is necessary for the Senate to investigate the 2020 election.

Strictly speaking, Fann does not have the necessary 16 votes in the Senate to hold the supervisors — or anyone — in contempt for failing to comply with the subpoenas.

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, balked at an earlier contempt vote. And since that time, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, initially a supporter of the audit said she has become soured on what has happened.

“Sadly, it’s now become clear that the audit has been botched,” she wrote in a Twitter post. “The total lack of competence by Karen Fann over the last five months has deprived the voters of Arizona a comprehensive accounting of the 2020 election.”

But just because the Senate can’t hold anyone in contempt does not leave Fann powerless.

The last time the supervisors sought to fight a subpoena they lost. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomasson said that Fann,, as Senate president, has broad powers to issue subpoenas for anything related to a legitimate legislative purpose. And he said the Senate is entitled to review the election results to determine whether changes are needed in election laws.

More to the point, the judge said there is no requirement for a majority of the Senate to approve issuance of a subpoena.


Fann not running for re-election

Senate President Karen Fann (Photo by Kyra Haas/Arizona Capitol Times)

Senate President Karen Fann is calling it quits after next year’s session. 

The Prescott Republican, who wouldn’t have been term-limited out until 2024, announced Monday afternoon that she will not be running for re-election. However, she does plan to stick around as Senate president in 2022. 

“It has been a privilege to advocate on behalf of Arizona citizens in my 12 years at the state Legislature and the honor of a lifetime to serve as Senate president,” Fann said in a written statement. “I look forward to a successful session in 2022 advancing policies that benefit all Arizonans, and then enjoying the life my husband and I have built for ourselves in retirement with our family.” 

Fann’s departure means, no matter what, both chambers of the Legislature will have new leadership in 2023 even if Republicans keep the majority – House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, is term-limited. 

This year, much of the Senate’s time has been spent on the audit of the 2020 election results in Maricopa County the chamber ordered and oversaw. Fann has been a vocal supporter of the audit, which drew national attention on Arizona and which some Republicans hoped would lead to the results of the 2020 election being overturned, although Fann has said that was never her goal. Democrats have heavily criticized the “fraudit,” as they’ve called it, as a partisan exercise that has been based on and provided fuel for conspiracy theorists and undermined confidence in elections. 

The auditors’ report found no evidence of widespread fraud, although it did raise concerns about some election processes.  

Attorney General Mark Brnovich is investigating some of the questions in the Cyber Ninjas’ audit report – former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes was interviewed last week by an agent from Brnovich’s office – and the audit is also expected to weigh heavily on next year’s legislative agenda, with Fann and other Republicans calling for new laws in response to the Ninjas’ findings. 

Fann was involved in local politics in Yavapai County before running for the Legislature, joining the House in 2011 and serving there before becoming a senator in 2017. She has been Senate president since 2019, beating Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, who had also sought the position. She succeeded former Sen. Steve Yarbrough, who didn’t run for re-election in 2018 due to term limits. Fann was the second woman in history to run the Arizona Senate; Brenda Burns, who had the job from 1997 to 2000, was the first. 

Mesnard wished Fann the best Monday. 

“There are a lot of unknowns right now with the legislative maps, etc., but I will be giving serious consideration to leadership as we approach the next Legislature,” he told the Capitol Times. 

Mesnard added that, “while I’m sure people are starting to talk leadership, and all the more now with (President) Fann’s announcement, but we have a whole other session in front of us with a leadership team in place, so it seems a bit early to start talking about it. I want to be respectful of the team we have there now. 

Yellow Sheet Editor Wayne Schutsky contributed. 

Fann says Supervisors fear outcome of election audit

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

Senate President Karen Fann said Friday that Maricopa County officials may be balking at cooperating with an audit of the 2020 election results because they fear what it might turn up.

“I’m beginning to wonder if they’re not as confident in their (election) system as they say they are,” Fann told Capitol Media Services on Friday of the latest refusal by county supervisors to let Senate-hired auditors review the tallying equipment and hand count the 2.1 million ballots where they are currently located at county election offices.

Her comments come less than 24 hours after the board foreclosed the option of opening up the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center to the outside auditors.

In a letter to the Senate’s attorney, Steve Tully who represents the supervisors, said they stand ready to comply with the original subpoena. That required the equipment and ballots to be delivered to the Senate.

“The request to perform any audit, recount or other related activities at MCTEC is beyond the scope of the subpoenas issued,” Tully wrote.

Fann said efforts are underway to find an alternate location.

It’s not a simple matter of space. She said the very nature of having actual ballots and counting equipment requires that it be in a place that is both secure 24 hours a day while also having the capability of being monitored by those who want to watch.

And if nothing else, Fann said it will add to the $150,000 that the Senate has agreed to pay its audit team. All this, she said, could be avoided if the county would just cooperate.

“For the life of me, I cannot figure out what they’re so afraid of,” Fann said. She said senators simply want to put the issues surrounding the vote to bed.

“If constituents have questions and they want those questions answered, why wouldn’t we do this?” Fann said. “It makes no sense.”

Tully said the board remains ready to deliver the ballots and the equipment to the Senate, which is what is in the subpoena.

“Alternatively, the county is willing to discuss delivery of the requested items to the senators’ custody at a non-county owned location of the senators’ choosing,” he said.

Jack Sellers, who chairs the board, said it’s not like the county is blindly accepting the election results. He said the county conducted “two extensive and independent” audits of the election in February.

“They showed no evidence of equipment malfunction or foul play,” Sellers said in a prepared statement. These findings, in addition to the hand count audit completed by the political parties and accuracy tests before and after the election, affirm no hacking or vote switching occurred in the 2020 election.”

And he took a swat of his own for the Senate’s decision to pursue its own review even after the one done by “certified experts” hired by the county.

“I hope the auditors hired by the Senate will take great care with your ballots and the election equipment leased with your tax dollars,” Sellers said.

All this comes on the heels of the Senate releasing the contract and other documents Fann has signed with Douglas Logan, chief executive officer of Cyber Ninjas, the lead firm hired to conduct the audit.

Questions were raised about that choice after discovery of Twitter posts by Logan suggesting he already has concluded that the election results, at least on the national level, are suspicious.

“The parallels between the statistical analysis of Venezuela and this year’s election are astonishing,” he wrote in a December post, a clear reference to unproven and denied allegations that Dominion Voting Systems, the company that produced the equipment used by Maricopa County, is linked to the family of the deceased former dictator.

Logan also has shared other posts, including one that said, “With all due respect, if you can’t see the blatant cheating, malfeasance and outright voter fraud, then you are ignorant or lying.”

“It was not a mistake to hire him,” Fann said.

“We have four great, reputable companies that are involved with this,” she said, referring to other firms that will work under the control of Cyber Ninjas. “This is being done in the utmost transparency with the most qualified people, with checks, double checks and triple checks to make sure all this is done correctly.”

And what of his Twitter messages which he deleted, but were found through archive searches?

“Just because somebody found some Tweet that’s within some archive program that none of us ever would have done it (the search) doesn’t mean anything,” Fann said. “Is no one allowed to say anything?”

Logan’s qualifications and possible bias aside, the scope of work that Logan has agreed to do for the Senate shows the firm is starting from the position that something is wrong. And it raises questions about the tactics.

According to the contract, Cyber Ninjas may contact individual voters in at least three precincts, even going to their homes, “to collect information of whether the individual voted in the election.”

In fact, the contract says part of the audit team the Senate hired already “has worked together with a number of individuals” — who are not identified in the contract — who knocked on doors “to confirm if valid voters actually lived at the stated address.”

Logan did not immediately respond to calls seeking more information. But Fann said the moves make sense.

“There were a lot of people that filled out affidavits saying that ‘I got 25 ballots at my house and there’s only two of us that live here,’ ” Fann said. And there also was a report of 75 ballots sent to a vacant lot in Tucson.

“They’re going to take those affidavits and they’re going to go to those people and they’re going to say, ‘You signed an affidavit that said that this happened. Is this true? Give us a little information so we can verify this and track it down,’ ” she said.

But not all those contacts will be based on affidavits. The audit team is going to be contacting voters in person to look for inconsistencies.

For example, Fann said, historical records may show a given precinct has never had more than a 35% turnout.

“And all of a sudden they had a 90% voter turnout,” she said. Fann acknowledged that this election did produce record turnout for both presidential candidates.

“But the question is, how do you go from 35% to 90%?” she asked.

Assuming voters talk to auditors at their door, that still leaves the question of what does it prove if those interviews show that 90% of them did not vote. Fann said that will lead to further investigation.

One possibility, she said, is that not all the ballots cast from that precinct were authentic, though Fann said it “obviously didn’t happen.”

She said it’s also possible that ballots from one precinct got mixed with ballots from another one. But that would not change the outcome of the presidential race as it was on all ballots.



Fann selects Republican Douglas York for IRC

Senate President Karen Fann has selected Douglas York, a Republican from Maricopa County, to serve on the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the Senate GOP announced today. 

In a statement, Fann said that York, the president of an irrigation business, understands “the challenges Arizona faces in the next decade” and the growth patterns of the state. 

York’s appointment to the commission means that Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, the next and final legislative leader to make their pick, must select someone from outside Maricopa County. The state Constitution stipulates that no more than two of the four partisan picks can hail from the state’s largest county.

Fann had until next week to make her pick. House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, made her selection yesterday, starting a seven-day clock for the Senate president. 

Evidently, Fann chose to accelerate an already sped-up timeline — House Speaker Rusty Bowers began the process last week, earlier than at any point in the IRC’s history, prompting an ongoing lawsuit from Fernandez and Bradley that stalled yesterday when a judge decided not to slow down the selection process.

In his application for the IRC, York wrote that he was motivated to seek the job in part because of his dissatisfaction with the outcome of redistricting in 2010. 

“I am interested in beginning a new process that is fair for the state of Arizona,” he wrote.

First day of bill filing brings out early birds with ERA, title lending, short-term rentals measures


Victoria Steele walked into the Arizona Senate before the sun rose Friday, wearing a purple, white and green suffragette sash over her dark pantsuit and holding the most important piece of legislation she plans to run next year. 

David Farnsworth was just a few seconds behind her, a stack of his own bills in hand. The two state senators — one a liberal feminist from Tucson, the other a self-described constitutional conservative from Mesa — sat chatting, waiting for the sun to rise and Senate staff to arrive so they could file the first bills of the 2020 legislative session.  

Friday was the first day Arizona lawmakers could introduce bills for the 2020 session, and lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol Mall used the day to lay the groundwork for what will be high-profile fights during the coming months: everything from ratifying the federal Equal Rights Amendment to regulating the title lending industry to returning local control to cities ravaged by the short-term rental marketplace.

Victoria Steele
Victoria Steele
David Farnsworth
David Farnsworth

Steele woke up at 4 a.m. and drove to the Capitol to introduce this year’s attempt to make history by becoming the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. The Congressional deadline to approve the amendment, which states simply that equal rights may not be denied or abridged on the basis of sex, passed without ratification four decades ago.

But feminists in recent years have rallied around the amendment, with Nevada and Illinois becoming the 36th and 37th states to ratify it. Supporters expect Virginia, which just elected a Democratic majority in both chambers, to become the 38th state next spring. 

Against that backdrop, Steele is pushing again for Arizona to join the cause. Even if Arizona won’t go down in history as the 38th state to ratify the ERA, Steele said approving it is important both in case the ERA runs into legal challenges and to preserve Arizona’s historical reputation as a leader in women’s equality. The state gave women the right to vote eight years before the 19th Amendment was ratified, has had more female governors than any other state and has one of the highest shares of women in the Legislature. 

“Even if they (Virginia) do it first, we do not want Arizona to be on the historical short list of states that never ratified,” she said. “We can show the women and girls of Arizona that we care about them.” 

Republican Sens. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, Heather Carter, Kate Brophy McGee and Tyler Pace signed on to bills to ratify the ERA last year, but supporters will have to convince at least two House Republicans to vote for the resolution and persuade influential committee chairmen to give it a hearing. 

Farnsworth, meanwhile, jumped into a brewing fight between the title loan industry and its critics with several bills that would add more regulations to the industry. One would prohibit title lenders, who offer short-term loans at typically high interest rates with a car as collateral, from making these loans to people who don’t actually own their car outright. 

Two others are differently worded attempts to cap annual interest rates for title loans at 36 percent. Both provisions are included in the Arizona Fair Lending Act, a 2020 ballot initiative supported by the same advocates who fought to stop payday lending in the state. 

A competing ballot initiative supported by the title loan industry would overturn almost all laws that limit annual interest rates and prohibit state and local governments from enacting new ones. Farnsworth’s wading into this fight with a series of bills to add more regulations to the title loan industry. 

Another measure Farnsworth filed this morning would require the Department of Child Safety to provide a monthly report to state leaders listing the dates children go missing from state custody, those children’s ages and a description of how they went missing. 

It’s the culmination of months of meetings with critics of the department, who described an epidemic of missing children. 

“My largest priority is to require DCS to give more detail on these reports regarding missing children,” Farnsworth said. 

Isela Blanc
Isela Blanc

On the House side, Reps. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, and Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley, fired the opening salvo with a bill to repeal a controversial 2016 law that prohibits municipal or county governments from regulating or banning short-term rental companies like Airbnb.

That law was pitched as something that could facilitate local economic growth, but critics and some city governments say that the unchecked spread of short-term rentals has driven up housing costs and reduced the amount of long-term rental inventory on the market.

“A large majority (of the rentals) are not grandma renting out a second bedroom,” Blanc said. “They’ve been converted into unregulated motels.”

Blanc and Lieberman said they’re confident the repeal effort can get bipartisan support, as the bill doesn’t add any extra regulation.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, was one of the few legislators of either party who opposed the 2016 law. He said he’s glad Blanc and Lieberman are taking a whack at a repeal, but he’s not so optimistic that they convince both the Legislature and the governor to essentially concede that, three years ago, they supported legislation that has harmed the state.

“Minds don’t change that quickly,” he said. “People are reluctant to admit mistakes.”

For Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, the first bill of the year was a rerun of marijuana legislation he tried to pass last year that was killed by Senate Democrats. His would allow the Department of Health Services to inspect any nonprofit medical marijuana dispensary during its normal business hours, without providing advance notice of an inspection.

Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Act, approved by voters in 2010, put the Department of Health Services in charge of operating the program and inspecting dispensaries and their “infusion kitchens,” where marijuana edibles are produced. But because of the advance notice clause, Department officials have been unable to inspect those kitchens. 

Any attempt to modify a voter-approved initiative takes a three-fourths majority in both legislative chambers and can only be done to further the intent of the law. Before re-introducing the bill, Borrelli told the Arizona Capitol Times he expects it to pass now that the public knows more about how inspections work.

“Hopefully the Democrats understand what the bill is now,” he said. “I guess Senator Borelli was a visionary.”

Arren Kimbel-Sannit contributed to the reporting of this story.

First House floor session in COVID era begins with failed adjournment motion

The state House’s first floor session since March began — and nearly ended — with fireworks.

Almost immediately, Democrats on Tuesday moved to notify the Senate that the chamber had completed its labors and was ready to adjourn sine die, a motion that, if passed, would have effectively ended the session.

The motion failed on party lines — if any Republicans have an interest in ending the session, they didn’t show it on the floor. But nonetheless it provided an opportunity for the two parties to stake their positions on the duties of the Legislature in a time of crisis.

Rep. Arlando Teller, D-Chinle, who made the motion to adjourn, cited the plight of his fellow members of the Navajo Nation, which has the highest COVID-19 infection rate of anywhere in the country.

“I believe that as a body that is looking to the best interests of Arizonans…we can successfully, cooperatively end today’s session, and proceed with special sessions that will be specific to the cover pandemic,” Teller said.

That’s one of the Minority’s key arguments: that treating this week as typical distracts from work that needs to be done to help the state survive and recover from COVID-19. Many Democrats want to end the regular session and immediately convene in a special session to that end.

“If we are talking about anything that is not COVID-19 related, we are doing our citizens a disservice,” said Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen. “I believe we need to sine die today and immediately jump into a special session.”

That would provide an opportunity to pass the worker protections and unemployment insurance reforms that Democrats desire. But Republicans don’t see a reason why the Legislature can’t take on some of those issues right now.

Among that group is Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, who on Tuesday filed legislation that would appropriate $88 million in federal grants from the CARES Act to support the state’s child care centers as they begin to reopen. It’s one of several pieces of legislation that advocacy groups like the Children’s Action Alliance have requested.

“This bill will appropriate that money and will allow child care centers to receive money so they can reopen…and remain open,” Udall said in a GOP caucus meeting Tuesday morning. “That money will flow to the centers. In order for people to get back to work it’s essential that they have somewhere safe where their children can go.”

If passed, the bill authorizes $85 million in one-time spending to the Department of Economic Security so it can offer forgivable loans to licensed child care facilities and $3 million to the Department of Health Services so it can waive license renewal fees for child care facilities.
Regardless of whether or not the Legislature goes into a special session after it finishes its work this week, Democrats aren’t thrilled about the way GOP leadership is conducting business.

Both the Udall bill and a separate measure to protect businesses and non-profits from legal liability if an employee or patron gets COVID-19 — the primary focus of Republicans this week — were assigned solely to the Rules Committee, rather than the Education or Judiciary committees, where such legislation might normally land.

On one hand, this is more efficient. On the other, there’s generally very little debate or public testimony in the Rules Committee, which has the task of deeming whether a given piece of legislation is constitutional.

“They don’t want to discuss the substantive issues,” said Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee

The same complaint can be made for the dozens of Senate bills the House debated today. Many of those carried committee amendments that their sponsors withdrew for the sake of expediency — and to give the Senate as little work as possible should it choose to reconvene and transmit those bills to Gov. Doug Ducey.

To House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, this reads as a political ploy.

“Stop trying to lure the Senate back into session with these Trojan Horse bills,” the Yuma Democrat admonished. “We know this is all about the strategy to get the Senate to reverse a 24-6 vote to adjourn.”

After all, unless the Senate decides to reconvene, most of the House’s work this week is for naught. The House needs the Senate to transmit bills that originated in the upper chamber, and it needs the Senate to vote on the Kavanagh and Udall bills, assuming they pass.

That said, Democrats still fell in line on some legislation that isn’t directly COVID related, such as Sen. Sean Bowie’s SB1445, which requires training programs for school counselors to include instruction on suicide prevention. Republicans pointed to this measure, which passed with near unanimity, as an example of legislation that shouldn’t wait until next year, pandemic or no.

The Senate’s role is immaterial, said Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa.

“I’m proud of those of you who have come in to finish bills that need to be done. It’s important for us to do what we were elected to do,” she said. “This isn’t about what the Senate’s doing.”

If Democrats care about getting in and out of the Capitol as quickly as possible, Townsend encouraged them to resist the urge to comment on each bill and explain each vote — only fuelling claims from the left that Republicans are trying to fast-track remaining legislation with minimal feedback.

“I’d like you guys to prove that you mean it,” Townsend said. “If you really mean it, and you really mean that we need to go home and come back for a special session, then do not press your request to speak. Resist that. Vote and go home.”

Flake’s vulnerability feeds GOP Senate concerns

In this July 19, 2017 photo, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. walks to his seat as he attends a luncheon with other GOP Senators and President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington. Flake’s re-election race is becoming a case study in the GOP’s convulsions between the establishment, a furious base, and angry donors. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
In this July 19, 2017 photo, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. walks to his seat as he attends a luncheon with other GOP Senators and President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington. Flake’s re-election race is becoming a case study in the GOP’s convulsions between the establishment, a furious base, and angry donors. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake’s re-election race is becoming a case study in the GOP’s convulsions among the establishment, a furious base and angry donors.

After bucking Donald Trump in a state the president won, Flake is bottoming out in polls. Yet Republicans look like they may be stuck with a hard-core conservative challenger who some fear could win the primary but lose in the general election.

A White House search for a candidate to replace former state Sen. Kelli Ward in the primary appears to have hit a wall. And now conservatives want to turn Arizona into the latest example of a Trump Train outsider taking down a member of the GOP establishment.

“People are fooling themselves if they think Jeff Flake is anything but a walking dead member of the United State Senate,” said Andy Surabian, whose Great America Alliance is backing Ward.

“I don’t see how he survives a primary. I don’t see how he survives a general. The numbers just don’t add up,” added Surabian, who worked at the White House as an adviser to Steve Bannon, then the president’s top strategist.

Despite discontent among some Republicans over Ward, Bannon met with her last week at a conservative conference in Colorado Springs to encourage her campaign, according to a Republican official who spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose the previously unreported private meeting.

Ward unsuccessfully challenged Arizona’s senior senator, John McCain, in last year’s election, losing in the primary by a wide margin. But in Flake, she would face a more vulnerable candidate at a moment when the GOP establishment is on the defensive, facing a simmering anti-incumbent mood heightened by Republicans’ failure to make good on seven years of promises to scrap Barack Obama’s health care law.

Flake is in danger of becoming the latest victim of this voter wrath. Yet, rather than making an effort to soothe pro-Trump GOP voters, he’s all but dared them to take him down by kicking off his campaign with an anti-Trump manifesto, “Conscience of a Conservative,” a book in which he bemoaned his party’s failure to stand up to Trump in last year’s presidential race.

“We pretended that the emperor wasn’t naked,” Flake wrote.

Trump, in turn, has lashed out at Flake on Twitter, calling him “toxic,” and praised Ward. White House officials say there’s little chance Trump will have a change of heart over supporting Flake. One official, speaking on condition of anonymity to disclose private deliberations, said Trump is irritated not only by Flake’s public criticism, but by what Trump sees as the senator’s attempts to use his critiques of the president to gain attention.

Nevertheless, Flake, 54, insists he won’t be getting out of the race. The primary is Aug. 29.

“We always knew we would have a tough primary. We always knew we would have a tough general,” Flake said in a brief interview at the Capitol. Asked about Trump’s opposition, Flake smiled and said, “There’s a long time between now and next August.”

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has protected vulnerable GOP senators in the past, but his ability to do so in the future was thrown into question last month by Sen. Luther Strange’s loss to rabble-rousing Roy Moore in a runoff in Alabama. A McConnell-aligned super PAC had spent around $9 million to help Strange.

Trump was encouraged by McConnell and others to back Strange, a decision which he reportedly now regrets and which only added to the frictions between the president and the Senate leader. Flake’s candidacy could provide occasion for yet more conflict between the two, given the possibility that they will be on opposite sides in the primary.

Adding to Flake’s problems, donations to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate GOP campaign arm, have dried up after the GOP failed to deliver on repealing and replacing the Obama health law. Some donors say they intend to withhold money from incumbent senators like Flake until they start delivering on Trump’s agenda, a strategy encouraged privately by some top White House officials.

“Donors are going to start cutting off funding for all senators until they get Trump’s initiatives passed,” said Roy Bailey, a Trump supporter and fundraiser in Texas. “I think there’s a real kind of movement going around that is catching momentum.”

Flake’s campaign points to strong fundraising numbers and upcoming events including a fundraising visit Monday by Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio. But Flake can’t even count on support from fellow members of his Arizona delegation. GOP Rep. Trent Franks demurred when asked if he would be supporting Flake for re-election

“I’m probably not going to, for a lot of reasons, not going to address that,” Franks said. “Obviously, Sen. Flake knows how profoundly bewildered and disappointed I was with his actions that, in the general election last year, if everyone had followed that line of reasoning, would have resulted in Hillary Clinton’s election.”

Franks’ name is one of several that have circulated as potential primary challengers to Flake, along with Rep. Paul Gosar, state university board member Jay Heiler and former state GOP Chairman Robert Graham. Several Republicans said the White House has been searching for some alternative to Ward.

Yet Ward shows no sign of stepping aside, and another consideration, usually unspoken, is McCain’s brain cancer, which will likely mean another vacant Senate seat at some point in the future.

Ward’s erratic history, which causes mainline Republicans to view her as damaged goods, is underscored by comments she made after McCain’s July cancer diagnosis, where she urged him to step down and suggested she should be considered to replace him.

“Look, you see what her numbers were in the McCain race – I don’t know what would make us think different now,” said Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz. Whichever Republican emerges from the primary will likely face Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, seen as a strong candidate.

It’s all adding to a season of trouble for GOP senators such as Flake and Dean Heller of Nevada, who also faces a primary challenge from the right. The good news for Senate Republicans, who hold a 52-48 majority, is that they have an extremely favorable map next year that has them defending only two genuinely endangered incumbents, Flake and Heller, while Democrats are on defense in 10 states Trump won.

Werner reported from Washington.

Former Senate staffer likely to sue Rogers, attorney says

Wendy Rogers speaks at a fundraiser in Scottsdale in 2014. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Wendy Rogers speaks at a fundraiser in Scottsdale in 2014. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Sen. Wendy Rogers may face a civil lawsuit alongside a Senate ethics investigation and federal workplace discrimination complaint, her former assistant’s new attorney said Monday.

Michael Polloni, who worked as Rogers’ assistant for just over a month before he was allegedly forced to resign, hired former lawmaker Adam Kwasman to represent his interests in the ongoing Senate ethics investigation and possible future civil lawsuits against the state and Rogers herself.

Kwasman told the Arizona Capitol Times he and Polloni’s other attorneys will likely submit a tort claim against Rogers for intentional infliction of emotional distress, or a similar claim. 

“This is a guy who literally put college on hold because he believed in a cause,” Kwasman said. “He worked so diligently that he was afforded a position in the halls of power in Arizona and was immediately harassed to the point of wrongful termination.” 

In a complaint sent to the Senate and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Polloni alleged that Rogers criticized his appearance, his family and his religion, broke an Eagle Scout award plaque, pestered him to work while he was on medical leave for Covid and threatened his physical safety. 

Additionally, because the complaint is public, attorneys say Polloni could have future trouble finding work in either the public or private sector. 

His attorneys will also request clearance from the EEOC to sue the Senate over how it handled Polloni’s employment. 

The Senate Ethics Committee has agreed to investigate the ethics claim and is set to meet on Thursday.

The Senate is still fighting a discrimination claim made by a Democratic policy adviser, Talonya Adams, who was fired in 2015 after she complained about being paid less than white men who worked for the Republican majority. Adams, who is Black, has been reinstated and won a $1 million verdict — reduced to $350,000 because of caps on damages – but the Senate prevailed on a motion for a new jury trial.

Rogers, too, is still embroiled in a civil lawsuit connected to her 2018 run for Congress in Arizona’s First Congressional District. During the primary campaign, Rogers ran political ads referring to one opponent, former Republican state Sen. Steve Smith, as “Slimy Steve” and implying that his employer, the Young Agency, was associated with a modeling site linked to sex trafficking.

The owner of Smith’s former employer, Young Agency, sued Rogers on claims of defamation and false light invasion of privacy, alleging the campaign ads implied she was involved in sex crimes. 

“Smith is a slimy character whose modeling agency specializes in underage girls and advertises on websites linked to sex trafficking,” the narrator said in the radio ad that’s the subject of the suit.  

A  Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled on Rogers’ motion for summary judgment in favor of the agency, allowing the case to proceed to trial, but the Arizona Court of Appeals overturned the lower court in a split decision on Dec. 8. The modeling agency has appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court, which has discretion whether to accept the case.  

Rogers did not immediately return a request for comment. 

Fraud prevalent in signature gathering of 4 campaigns


Clifford Curry seems really good at his job.

He collected hundreds of signatures for candidates running for governor, Congress and the Legislature.

On just one day alone, Curry collected 200 signatures for Mark Syms, the independent candidate running for the Senate in Legislative District 28. That’s more than 16 times the average 12 signatures collected on a daily basis by other petition gatherers.

And that’s just one of the issues with the signatures Curry collected that stood out to attorneys who challenged Syms’ nominating petitions for alleged forgery.

In addition to Syms, Curry collected signatures for three other candidates whose nominating petitions have also been challenged, and two of the campaigns were abolished.

But no one knows who Curry is.

Curry listed his address at a downtown Phoenix homeless shelter on the nominating petitions. Court and property records searches did not turn up any records related to someone with that name.

Lisa Glow, CEO of Central Arizona Shelter Services, where Curry listed his address, said she could not confirm if he was currently staying or had previously stayed at the shelter. She said there are other services offered at the South 12th Avenue address and sometimes people who have used services there will list the address as their residence even if they haven’t stayed at the shelter.

And Curry isn’t the only common thread between the four candidates.

The Arizona Capitol Times reviewed each of the candidates’ nominating petitions that were turned in to the Secretary of State’s Office and found that several other circulators worked for more than one of the candidates. At least two other circulators the candidates had in common, Alicia Joann Smith and Eric Dwayne Pearson, also listed their address at the homeless shelter.

Three of the candidates also hired the same signature-collecting firm.

In a complaint filed June 13 against Republican Sandra Dowling, who is running for the 8th Congressional District, attorney Kory Langhofer questioned the legitimacy of at least 222 signatures that were collected by Curry. Langhofer alleged that Curry forged or falsified the signatures, arguing that the signatures on the sheets Curry circulated appeared in consecutive, or nearly consecutive order, based on numbered addresses, were written in the same handwriting, and he had an unusually high collection rate.

Curry faces similar fraud allegations in a complaint Langhofer filed against Syms on June 11, and in a complaint filed against Rep. Ray Martinez, D-Phoenix, who was seeking to fill the vacant Senate seat in Legislative District 30.

garcia-composite-copyLanghofer also questioned several petition sheets submitted by someone purporting to be Anthony Garcia, a veteran petition circulator. The attorney alleged that the petitions were circulated by someone falsely claiming to be Garcia and using a fake address. The petition challenge against Syms also claims that someone falsely claiming to be Garcia collected signatures for him. The person purporting to be Garcia listed two different addresses on Dowling’s and Syms’ nominating petitions.

On most of the petition sheets circulated by the other circulators the candidates have in common, the signers’ addresses are also listed in numerical order, the voter information is written in similar handwriting and they are signed by every registered voter who resides at the address.

Langhofer argued in the complaints that it was “highly unlikely” that this could occur given that during the course of signature gathering, circulators will often encounter people who will refuse to answer the door or decline to sign the petition.

He alleged that the circulators likely filled out the nominating petitions using voter registration rolls and then forged the signatures themselves, adding that many of the signatures were similar in size, spacing and had the same slant.

The circulators also all had high collection rates and high validity rates, meaning that most of the signatures collected are associated with voters in that district, which the attorney also said is unusual.

renae-young-composite-copyThe circulators’ signatures themselves also varied from sheet to sheet. For example, a woman named Renae Young who collected signatures for several candidates sometimes signed her name “RY,” “Renae Y,” or her full name.

Langhofer alleged that some of the circulators were recruited by a man named Larry Herrera, according to the Dowling complaint.

Dowling told the Arizona Capitol Times that she hired Herrera to help her gather signatures after he was “highly recommended” to her by several people.

Gubernatorial candidate Ken Bennett, whose petitions were also challenged for alleged forgery, said Herrera reached out to his campaign while both parties were collecting signatures during the “Red for Ed” rally at the Capitol and offered to collect signatures on his behalf. Bennett said he had never heard of Herrera before.

Among the more than 1,300 signatures attorneys challenged in the Bennett complaint are several collected by Curry. A review of Bennett’s nominating petitions found that another resident of the downtown Phoenix homeless shelter, Joe Lozano, also collected signatures for him.

Dowling and Bennett said they have never met Curry and have never heard of him before.

The Arizona Republic reported that Syms’ campaign also hired Herrera.

Syms did not immediately return a request for comment.

larry-herrera-composite-copyHerrera’s problems with signature gathering didn’t begin with the Dowling and Bennett campaigns.

Herrera, a Clean Elections candidate who was running as a Democrat for the Senate in Legislative District 20, is also facing fraud allegations.

Herrera withdrew from the race after the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office invalidated 101 of the 200 $5 Clean Elections qualifying contributions he filed because, among other reasons, the signatures on the sheets did not match those on voter registration records, including four that were signed in the name of dead people.

While he eventually qualified for $16,995 in Clean Elections funding after turning in a supplemental batch of signatures, the Citizens Clean Elections Commission withheld funding from Herrera until the problems with his signatures could be further investigated.

During a meeting on April 3, Herrera told the commission that he collected 30 to 35 of the initial 200 signatures, mostly from friends and family, none of whom were flagged as deceased. The rest of the signatures were collected by volunteers, he said. Herrera said he collected 115 of the second batch of signatures.

However, a review of his qualifying contributions by the Arizona Capitol Times found that Herrera was listed as the solicitor on almost all of the sheets. His signature though, appeared to vary from sheet to sheet.

The commission has since asked the Attorney General’s Office to investigate the matter.

AG spokesman Ryan Anderson confirmed that the agency received the complaint on June 11 and is reviewing the matter. He could not provide details about the case.

Anderson said the Herrera complaint is the only current complaint the office is reviewing related to petition signatures or petition gathering.

syms-larry-herrera-2A review of Herrera’s nominating petitions also found that at least five people who circulated petitions for him all listed their address at a home or complex on East Kathleen Road, the same address that the fake Anthony Garcia listed on Dowling’s petition.

But while Garcia and the other circulators all listed the same street address, they listed varying zip codes – 85302, 85304 and 85053. Such an address doesn’t exist at any of those zip codes. The zip code for an apartment complex on East Kathleen Road is 85032.

Herrera did not respond to several requests for comment and no one answered the door at his north Phoenix home.

The allegations and subsequent investigations have derailed two of the candidates’ campaigns.

Martinez was kicked off the August 28 primary ballot after the court found that he didn’t have enough signatures to qualify. The County Recorder’s Office invalidated 420 of the 429 signatures that were challenged, including 105 in which the signature on the sheet didn’t match those on record.

The county invalidated 1,675 signatures Syms turned in, leaving him 767 signatures shy of the 1,250 he needed to qualify for the November general election ballot.

The lawsuits against Dowling and Bennett were dismissed after the Recorder’s Office found that they had enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, despite dozens of signatures that were invalidated because they didn’t match those on record.

French smart, compassionate, deserves a look

Dear Editor,

I’ve read in this paper that Republicans in Legislative District 6 are distraught over the primary victory of Wendy Rogers, their party’s candidate for State Senate. They say they’ll have trouble supporting her and question her integrity. Can I make a suggestion? Please look closely at who Ret. Colonel Felicia French is and what her values are. Of course her website only gives limited insight into the person she is. Colonel French was a Republican until she felt the party “left her” and the values she holds dear. I have known Colonel French for several years. She’s an honest, sincere Patriot and will give every ounce of her strength to improving the lives of LD6 residents. And if you want to chat with her, she’s always willing to have constructive conversations. Our district would be fortunate to be represented by such a smart, compassionate person. I urge my Republican and independent neighbors to look beyond party affiliation and instead vote based on the caliber of the person they’re electing.


Ellen Ferreira


Gallego eyes U.S. Senate in 2020

U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego
U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego

Congressman Ruben Gallego is considering a run for the United States Senate in 2020, when a special election will be held for the final two years of the late Sen. John McCain’s term.

Gallego told the Arizona Capitol Times that Democratic senators and activists have encouraged him to run, and that he is seriously looking at the race.

“We’re going to get through these November elections, make sure the Democrats take control, and then after that, I’m going to meet together with family, friends and supporters and decide next year whether to run for Senate,” he said.

The biggest determining factor, he said, is whether he’ll have enough time to spend with his son, who turns two years old in January.

“That’s definitely the most important thing, and, after that, to make sure that we’re going to be doing right by the state by making sure we take it back. And if we think that we can put the strongest campaign together to make sure that we’re a check on the president, then we’ll do it,” he said.

Gallego expects the Democratic base to be enthusiastic in 2020, with higher turnout among Latinos and millennials, and he believes he can energize those voters. He said he could face a contested primary, though that wouldn’t deter him.

“We feel confident we would win a primary, so that won’t be the determination of whether I run or not,” Gallego said

So far, the only candidate who has expressed interest in seeking the Democratic nomination for the 2020 Senate race is former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods. Woods, a close confidante of McCain who served as his chief of staff in the U.S. House of Representatives, is a Republican but is considering running as a Democrat.

Gov. Doug Ducey appointed former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl to McCain’s seat on September 4. But Kyl said he won’t run in 2020, and he may not serve past the end of the year. If Kyl steps down early, Ducey will have to appoint someone else to the seat.

Gallego is running for his third term in the House of Representatives. He faces a Green Party opponent but has no Republican opponent in the general election.

Getting around public records law

Vintage typewriter, old rusty, warm yellow filter - Top secret

When one Democratic state senator was arrested at the start of August, his colleagues snapped into action. 

Within 24 hours, the 13 other members of the Senate Democratic caucus released three separate statements –one expressing confusion at Tony Navarrete’s arrest, one sharing resources for sexual assault victims and a statement of faith in the criminal justice system after they learned the charges against him and one calling on Navarrete to resign after they learned the details of his alleged crimes. 

Through that day, and the four more that followed before Navarrete’s eventual resignation, Senate Democrats stayed in touch on a messaging app and through phone calls, texts and meetings. But those messages, about one of the most critical issues the state Senate faced this year, remain secret. 

A public records request for all communication the 29 remaining senators sent or received between Navarrete’s August 5 arrest and his August 10 resignation yielded new copies of press releases and more than two dozen emails from constituents – including several unrelated screeds about former President Barack Obama’s birthplace, Covid vaccines and China that only appeared to make the cut because the writer addressed them to “Arizona Legislature and Pedophile Navarrete.”  

The Senate’s public records attorney is still reviewing screenshots provided by three senators, but so far only one text message made the cut – on the morning of August 5, several hours before police arrested Navarrete but after his alleged victim recorded him admitting to and apologizing for sexually abusing the boy, Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios sent Navarrete a text message observing that a meeting they were in cut off. 

“I’ve got a (sic) run into another meeting but let’s you me and Jeff talk and figure out where we should head,” Rios wrote. 

“Agree. I’m sad it cut you off,” Navarrete replied. 

The Jeff mentioned is presumably Senate Democratic chief of staff Jeff Winkler. Rios did not return a call from Arizona Capitol Times. 

In this Wednesday, May 10, 2017 file photo, then-Arizona state Rep. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix, listens to a colleague on the floor of the House at the Arizona Capitol. Navarrete resigned Aug. 10, 2021, from the Senate after his arrest on suspicion of charges accusing him of sexual conduct with a minor. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
In this Wednesday, May 10, 2017 file photo, then-Arizona state Rep. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix, listens to a colleague on the floor of the House at the Arizona Capitol. Navarrete resigned Aug. 10, 2021, from the Senate after his arrest on suspicion of charges accusing him of sexual conduct with a minor. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Difficulty obtaining records comes down to two main issues. First, while Senate staff can search state-issued emails for responsive records, obtaining text messages or exchanges through social media requires elected officials without state-issued phones to save and send the messages themselves. 

They’re supposed to follow the law. But in practice, First Amendment attorney Dan Barr said, elected officials frequently use their private phones to avoid complying with state records laws. 

As of August 25, 22 of the 29 senators had responded to messages from the Senate’s public records attorney about the Arizona Capitol Times’ request. Half said they had no records to provide.  

Some senators shared messages outside of the time frame – Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, said she sent over a text she sent Navarrete on August 4, wishing him well with his recent Covid diagnosis, and fellow Phoenix Democrat Christine Marsh, who was recovering from cancer-related surgery when Navarrete was arrested, only had a text message from a constituent asking what happens next following his resignation.  

Others sought to comply by sending their text exchanges and WhatsApp messages, and encountered a second key issue in public access to government records: legislative privilege exempts lawmakers from sharing many records, including records related to their deliberative process to pass bills or discipline one of their own. The Senate’s public records attorney said still other messages were protected by attorney-client privilege – both caucuses have multiple attorneys on staff.  

Some officials say they go out of their way to avoid creating documents that could be considered public records. 

“The way I see it, any message that deals with a work-related issue is subject to release,” said Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Phoenix. 

Martin Quezada
Martin Quezada

To that end, Quezada said, the only messages he exchanged about Navarrete were on a group WhatsApp thread, and he asked Senate Democratic staff to forward them to the public records attorney. Quezada said he limits his participation in various group chats to confirming meeting times, and he tries to have any substantive conversations over the phone or in person. 

That serves two purposes, he said. It makes it easier to avoid misunderstandings, and it keeps their deliberations away from prying eyes. 

“I always want to be careful about the public records I create,” he said. “There are times that I intentionally create public records, and then there are times when I’m talking about strategy with staff that I don’t want to create public records.” 

As a school board member, Quezada hears regular reminders about public records laws and how they apply to elected officials. At the Legislature, most of that training is limited to a section during a new member orientation when lawmakers are first elected. They don’t have to repeat the training during future sessions. 

Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, said it would be helpful for lawmakers to receive regular refreshers on that training, including how lawmakers should preserve and prepare the records in their possession. She had to get help from her assistant to figure out how to find and capture screenshots of all the messages she exchanged and get them on to a jump drive to give to the Senate’s records attorney. And something went technically wrong the first time, so while Steele said she wanted to comply with a records request, she’s still trying to figure it out. 

“My brain doesn’t work as it used to when I was in my 20s,” Steele said. “There are legislators that are older than me that might be like, ‘How do you work this thing?’ There’s a bit of a digital divide or digital catching-up process that some of us do better than others, but it’s hard to keep up with it.”  

She remembers once sending a group text to members of a local governing body with a question she needed an answer to right away, only to have one of the members call and tell her they couldn’t respond in a group text because doing so would create an illegal quorum. Lawmakers, who regularly participate in group text messages and believe in some cases that their work communications can be kept private, could use more guidance on their responsibilities under Arizona open meetings and public records laws, Steele said.  

GOP in jeopardy of losing Arizona Senate seat, poll shows

In this Aug. 30, 2016, file photo, Kelli Ward concedes to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in their contest. Ward, who is running to unseat Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said July 17, 2017, she has met with White House officials about the campaign. (David Kadlubowski/The Arizona Republic via AP)
In this Aug. 30, 2016, file photo, Kelli Ward concedes to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in their contest. Ward, who is running to unseat Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said July 17, 2017, she has met with White House officials about the campaign. (David Kadlubowski/The Arizona Republic via AP)

Donald Trump remains more popular in Arizona than the nation as a whole.

But pollster Mike Noble said it doesn’t look like that will help the Republican Party hang on to the Senate seat being vacated by Jeff Flake.

The automated survey of 600 people likely to vote in the 2018 primary election found 45 percent of those asked rate Trump’s first year in office as a success. Another 49 percent disagreed and the balance was unsure.

That compares with a new Quinnipiac University national poll showing the president’s approval rating at just 33 percent and a Gallup survey with his positives at 38 percent.

Noble said that’s not necessarily a surprise.

“I think he’s holding the line a little bit better because illegal immigration, especially with Republicans, is still a top issue,” he said. Noble said that has been reinforced by Trump’s promises, made to Arizona audiences during the campaign and since election, to build a border wall, a project that has support among certain segments of the population.

But Noble pointed out that the 45-49 popularity rating comes in a state where Republicans have a 12-point voter registration advantage over Democrats.

More to the point, he said that while the president remains strong among those who describe themselves as conservative, moderates find Trump’s first-year performance disappointing by a margin of 2-1. And with independents making up more than a third of registered voters, that, in turn, is not good news for Republicans in the 2018 Senate race.

At this point, Noble said it looks like former state Sen. Kelli Ward has a strong edge over Congresswoman Martha McSally to be the GOP nominee. Ward leads 42-34 percent, though 24 percent are undecided.

McSally has not made a formal declaration of candidacy. But Noble said she already has 60 percent name ID, compared to 79 percent for Ward.

If Ward wins the Republican primary and Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema is the Democrat nominee, Noble said the current numbers give Sinema a three-point edge. That’s hardly a mandate, what with that being within 4 point margin of error.

Sinema fares a little less well in a head-to-head against McSally, with just a single point lead.

Noble said neither potential GOP nominee should take comfort from these numbers given that 12-point edge Republicans have in voter registration. He said much of this can be linked to the effect that Trump has had on politics at all levels.

“Look at the Virginia election,” he said.

It starts with a “surge” in Democrat turnout, much larger than the increase among Republicans. And Noble said the independents in that state skewed this election away from GOP contenders at all levels up and down the ticket.

“Having an ‘R’ next to your name is like having a giant bullseye on you politically,” he said, pointing out that the poll numbers for both McSally and Ward are nearly identical to the president’s approval rating in Arizona.

While McSally polls slightly better than Ward against Sinema, Noble said the numbers at this point suggest Republicans will nominate Ward, who has publicly aligned herself with the president. She is up by eight points in a head-to-head question.

All that, he said, is not good news for the GOP.

He said that Sinema, with a lot of cash in the bank and no strong primary contender, probably has no need to move to the left to win her party’s nomination. That means she doesn’t need to suddenly make a sharp pivot after the August primary — and it’s just weeks after that when early voting starts for the general election — to maintain her self-proclaimed label as a moderate to appeal to GOP and independent voters.

And there’s something else.

Noble said while Ward has higher name ID than McSally, she also has something else: higher negatives than positives, with 42 percent having an unfavorable view, versus 37 percent positive. McSally, by contrast, had a positive-to-negative ratio of 33 to 27.

That, however, did not come close to Sinema who the survey found 44 percent had a favorable view against 28 percent unfavorable.

State GOP spokeswoman Torunn Sinclair dismissed all the results, questioning the methodology.

She pointed out — and Noble acknowledged — that the survey is skewed to catch more voters 55 and older because he is calling only landlines and not cell phones. But Sinclair denied that should actually make the results more favorable to Trump and Republicans in general.

Nor was she swayed by the fact that Noble’s poll actually found Trump’s favorable numbers higher in Arizona than national surveys.

“I think he’s more popular” than the survey suggests, Sinclair said of the president. Sinclair conceded, though, she has no actual surveys to back up that contention, instead relying on what she said are other indicators.

“The Arizona Republican Party has seen an increase in voter registration and activism since President Trump’s election,” Sinclair said.

GOP senators keep distance from election audit

Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are being examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Thursday, April 29, 2021. (Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic via AP, Pool)
Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are being examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Thursday, April 29, 2021. (Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic via AP, Pool)

As the Arizona Senate debated the merits of allowing the sale of cocktailstogo on the morning of May 13, a standoff between several dozen diehard Trump supporters and a smaller, but just as vocal, contingent of progressive activists seeking an end to the Senate’s audit of the 2020 election was erupting just outside. 

That scene – a peaceful debate about an unrelated issue on the second floor of the Senate, a screaming match about the audit below – highlighted the lengths to which senators have tried to distance themselves from the audit being conducted in their name. The Senate GOP’s recount of Maricopa County ballots, which is now on track to drag on at least a month longer than it was originally expected to end, is the only Arizona political topic on most people’s minds, but most senators would rather talk about anything else.  

Rank-and-file Senate Republicans say the audit is up to Senate President Karen Fann or Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Petersen, the two people who signed subpoenas for the ballots. 

Petersen regularly defers questions to Fann, who defers to the contractors she hired or Ken Bennett, the former Republican secretary of state moonlighting as the Senate’s liaison for the audit. Bennett, meanwhile, insists only Fann or the professional auditors can answer basic questions, including who’s funding the remaining cost beyond the $150,000 the Senate agreed to pay.  

With their ongoing audit, as with all discourse about the 2020 election, almost all Senate Republicans have fallen into one of two camps: banging the drum about election fraud claims believed by huge segments of their base, or ignoring the recount a few blocks north to focus on legislation.  

In the first camp are people like Sen. Wendy Rogers, a freshman Republican from Flagstaff who so fervently admires President Trump that she waged an unsuccessful campaign to name a state highway in her district after him.  

Wendy Rogers
Wendy Rogers

“Multiple courts already determined we have the legal authority to subpoena the ballots for this audit,” Rogers wrote in an email to supporters last week. “The Dems are just terrified that we will find the truth: That Arizona went for President Trump.” 

In the other are people like Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, who says he doesn’t expect the Senate’s audit to find evidence of fraud or change any minds. Once the process is complete, Shope said he expects that people who trust the election system will maintain that trust and people who believe the election was full of fraud will still believe it was somehow stolen. 

In Shope’s eyes, Petersen is responsible for the audit, just as Shope was responsible for an ethics investigation into former Rep. David Stringer, who resigned in disgrace after police reports detailing decades-old allegations of child molestation resurfaced. Shope was the House Ethics Committee chairman at the time, and other House members outside the Ethics Committee knew of the investigation but were not involved.  

While he acknowledged that most people probably won’t draw a distinction between the Senate and its judiciary chairman, he also doesn’t think most Arizonans are paying much attention to the audit. 

“I think outside of our bubble, people aren’t as interested or have moved on overall,” he said. “Within our bubble we like to talk about it.”  

Fellow Republican Sen. J.D. Mesnard of Chandler, meanwhile, said his constituents are paying more attention to the audit than he is. His unsuccessful 2020 running mate, Liz Harris, tried to organize canvassers to go door-to-door interrogating voters about their voting history as part of a planned but ultimately abandoned portion of the audit. She also widely shared the personal cell phone number of the sole Republican senator to vote against holding Maricopa County’s supervisors in contempt for seeking court guidance on responding to subpoenas they said violated state law. She also films multiple daily videos about alleged fraud.  

At one legislative district meeting Mesnard attended during litigation over the audit, he recalled mentioning that there was a new judge on the case only to have the room shout the new judge’s name back at him. But while his constituents – at least those who regularly attend Republican party meetings – are closely tracking every development in the ongoing count, Mesnard said he tries to avoid it.  

“Maybe I’m living in a box because I hear various things, people getting worked up about this or that, but I’m not aware of what specific thing happened,” Mesnard said. “Am I following all the Twitter wars about it and every article that I knew from the beginning would not be kind? I am not.” 

J.D. Mesnard
J.D. Mesnard

Critics of the Senate’s audit regularly appeal to Mesnard, Shope and Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, as the “reasonable” Republicans they believe can stop the Senate from continuing an audit that has once again made Arizona the butt of late-night hosts’ jokes. But Boyer, though he’ll openly talk about being embarrassed by the Senate’s audit, contends there’s nothing he or other senators can do to stop it.  

The only way he foresees it stopping – and he was quick to emphasize that he isn’t proposing this – is if someone else replaces Fann as Senate president and orders it to end. He doesn’t think Fann will stop the audit herself, and it still has broad, though not universal, support in the Republican caucus.  

“We’re never going to be able to vote on the audit,” Boyer said. “That train has already left the station.”  

Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale, said Republicans seem to wrongly assume that they don’t have any influence on the audit process, but every rank-and-file Republican has a trump card he or she can play. All it takes is one Republican telling Fann, privately or publicly, that she needs to stop the audit or lose that senator’s vote on partisan legislation, including the state budget. 

“Each one of them is a 16th vote,” he said. “They can demand whatever they want. If they really wanted to end this, any one of them or a couple of them could go into Senator Fann’s office, sit her down quietly and say, ‘Hey, look, we got to stop now. Otherwise, we’re gonna have some problems,’ and none of them are doing it.”  

After The New York Times published an article over the weekend quoting Boyer as saying the audit made the Senate look like idiots, he heard from other Republicans who privately agreed with him. 

“’That’s pretty accurate,’ is what one member told me, but they would never go on record like I did,” he said. 

Boyer, who also was the sole Republican senator to vote against holding the county supervisors in contempt and was the first Republican legislator to acknowledge President Biden’s victory, said he has a simple explanation for continuing to speak out: reporters call him with questions and he answers truthfully. But he believes his colleagues, even those who are privately skeptical of the audit, are just trying to keep their heads down and waiting for it to blow over.  

“You’d have to ask them, but my suspicion is they wouldn’t want to tick off the Trump base,” he said. 

Recent polling data from HighGround supports that conclusion. Near the end of March, the Arizona firm surveyed 500 Arizona voters about whether they believed there was significant fraud in the 2020 presidential election, and found that only 42% of voters – but 78.3% of Republican voters – believed there was.  

HighGround consultant Chuck Coughlin wrote in a blog post about the results that they explain why Fann and her Senate caucus believe they must proceed with the audit. The 16 remaining Senate Republicans represent districts that were safe Republican districts when they were drawn in 2010 – though Trump lost in Mesnard’s Chandler-based district and eked out a victory with fewer than 400 votes in Boyer’s West Valley district in 2020. 

Coughlin warned that running on election fraud claims won’t be a winning strategy in a general election in 2022. And Quezada said he thinks his Republican colleagues are following the same strategy they do for other controversial issues: hope that voters forget about it. 

“They hope that the momentum is going to die down, but this one’s not,” he said. “It’s getting worse. it’s going in the opposite direction. So I think it’s a major miscalculation on their point.” 

GOP senators take revenge on Boyer

From left are Michelle Ugenti-Rita and Paul Boyer
From left are Michelle Ugenti-Rita and Paul Boyer

A small group of Senate Republicans on Tuesday sought to punish one of their GOP colleagues for killing their legislation by voting to claw back one of his bills from the House.

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, joined with Democrats Tuesday afternoon to kill a bill that could remove about 200,000 inactive voters from the state’s Permanent Early Voting List. 

Over the past week, Boyer and Senate Democrats have also killed Republican-sponsored measures to hold Maricopa County’s supervisors in contempt, ban photo radar and strip the Secretary of State of her authority over the Arizona Capitol Museum. His “no” vote on Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita’s mail voting SB1069 was the last straw, prompting Ugenti-Rita to call for a vote on getting the House to return a Boyer voucher expansion bill that passed yesterday.

Senate Democrats, initially torn between supporting Boyer in voting with them on election legislation and jumping at any chance to kill a school voucher bill they revile, ultimately voted with Ugenti-Rita and five other Republicans to support the motion.

The House will now receive a message asking that the voucher bill be returned to the Senate, and the full House must vote on that motion. If House members decide against returning the bill, it will proceed through committees as normal. 

House Speaker Rusty Bowers told the Arizona Capitol Times he plans to wait a day or two before holding the vote to see if the Senate will reconsider its reconsideration motion.

Republican Sen. Kelly Townsend, who was confused by the floor events because she was voting by video call in her office, asked for an explanation of the Ugenti-Rita motion after she realized it could be retaliatory.

“I certainly hope we don’t set the practice of retaliation,” she said. “I came here to vote for bills on their merit.” 

At least three of the six Republicans who voted to bring the voucher bill back to the Senate were irritated at Boyer for recent votes against their bills. A single Republican vote against a partisan bill can doom it because of the Senate’s 16-14 margin, and more often than not, Boyer has been that single vote. 

During a Senate transportation and technology committee hearing Monday evening, his “no” vote killed a bill from Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, to ban photo radar and red light cameras in the four remaining Arizona cities that use them. Boyer said he despises red light cameras, but he couldn’t justify removing that tool from cities who don’t have the resources to replace them with law enforcement officers.

Earlier on Tuesday afternoon, he voted with Democrats on the floor to kill a bill from Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, that would give control of the Arizona Capitol Museum to the Legislature, not the Secretary of State. Legislative Republicans have wanted to seize power over the museum from Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs since she hung LGBTQ pride flags over the old capitol’s balcony in 2019. Boyer said that control should remain with the secretary, regardless of who it is. 

And in a move that infuriated legislative Republicans, prompted an ongoing recall effort and pushed Boyer to relocate his family over death threats, he voted last week to prevent the Senate from potentially arresting Maricopa County’s board of supervisors over a spat about legislative subpoenas and post-election audits.

Boyer said he asked Ugenti-Rita to wait to vote on the election bill because he had questions he wanted answered before he could vote for it, but she moved ahead with the scheduled vote anyway. He said he still doesn’t know why Ugenti-Rita tried to reconsider his voucher bill, but that it’s clear she’s unhappy with him.

“I asked Michelle directly if it was retaliation,” he said. “She swears up and down that it’s not, but she won’t tell me the reason.”

Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, said the move surprised him, and he’s waiting to see what the House does.

“I’ve never seen one party use the rules that way to punish another person of their party,” he said. “If it was pretty apparent for Townsend to understand what was going on, then I have to assume everybody knows what’s going on. I don’t know how vindictive the House is to Boyer.”

Two years ago, it was the House — and Townsend herself — who sought to punish Boyer and then-Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, for their refusal to vote for the Republican budget until they secured a vote on a bill to expand legal protections for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Townsend and other House committee chairs were caught on a hot mic during a closed caucus meeting discussing punishing the two by refusing to hear their bills the following year.

Townsend appeared to allude to that incident in her comments to the rest of the Senate on Tuesday, saying she has learned from her mistakes and she wants other senators to learn from them as well. 

“I think we should be ashamed of ourselves,” Townsend said. “I want the record in the journal to show that I have learned from my own past mistakes that as tempting as it might be to do that to each other, this isn’t high school. This is the Arizona state Senate.”

  • Staff writer Nate Brown contributed reporting 

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include comments from Sen. Paul Boyer. 


Governor, House, Senate: three political parties?

Arizona’s Legislature and Governor’s Office will go from mainstream Republican control to three separate ideologies.

Control of the Governor’s Office flipped to Democrat, control of the Senate shifted to Republican control that is more in line with former President Donald Trump and control of the House remains relatively the same for the upcoming session.

Republicans kept their majorities in the state House and Senate but did not gain any seats.

In the Legislature’s most recent session, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, and Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, controlled the branches of state government. The leaders are from the same sect of establishment Republicans with some middle-of the-road conservative views. Ducey, Bowers and Fann did not work to decertify the results of the 2020 election – although Fann permitted the 2020 Maricopa County election audit – and they support some social justice issues.

Warren Petersen

This year’s elections ousted several “moderate” Republicans in the primaries, including Bowers, in favor of opponents endorsed by Trump, who claims the 2020 election was stolen.

The Trump-endorsees did not perform as well in the general election in statewide races, but the Legislature has more “MAGA” Republicans than ever before. In the Senate, those same Republicans are now in charge. Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, was narrowly elected Senate president on Nov 10. Although Petersen has never said that the 2020 election was stolen, he also never said it was secure and was instrumental in pushing the Senate’s 2020 Maricopa County presidential election audit.

In the House, Petersen’s “running mate” Rep. Joseph Chaplik, R-Scottsdale, lost the speaker election to establishment Republican Rep. Ben Toma of Peoria.

“Chaplik would be the total MAGA guy,” said attorney Tom Ryan. “And the problem for Toma, the difference in style between him and Petersen is, he’s got a tough row to hoe, especially with some of the MAGA people that did get elected. So, the way I look at it, I think more appropriately is he’s going to be more handicapped than Warren Petersen. Petersen will keep this group together. Toma is gonna’ be herding cats.”

Toma, ESAs, vouchers, Save Our Schools Arizona, private schools, tuition, charter schools, public schools, AEA
Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria

Toma and Bowers’ views are closely aligned, and the lawmakers are friendly. So much so that Bowers recused himself from running the House leadership election to avoid accusations of favoritism for Toma. Toma’s win suggests that the House will be run similarly to the past two years.

After House Republicans chose Toma as Speaker-elect, Toma said he doesn’t believe there is a significant difference in how conservative members of his caucus are and members are unified in their goals for the state.

Petersen and Chaplik tried to decertify Arizona’s 2020 election results. Petersen signed onto a resolution supporting “alternative” electors who declared that they were legitimate and worked with other Trump supporters to try to get the former president elected for a second term after he lost to Joe Biden. The actual Arizona electors cast their votes for Biden. Petersen was one of several Republicans who signed the resolution asking Congress to accept the alternative electoral votes instead of the legitimate ones.

Chaplik was not elected at the time, but he concurred on the alternative elector document.

Petersen and the other Republicans were unsuccessful in taking their claims to court.

How onboard Republicans are in unity remains to be seen. Rep. Jacqueline Parker, R-Mesa, said “get ready for shitshow round two” as she left the House Republicans leadership meeting.

Liz Harris

Another incoming Republican representative from Chandler, Liz Harris, recently said on a Cause of America podcast that she will refuse to vote on any bills until a new statewide election is held because she thinks Republicans should have performed better in legislative and statewide races. She also criticized Toma and said it wasn’t likely he would let election reform bills pass in the House.

Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix, said of Harris’ threat, “They wouldn’t have 31 votes anymore. How many more bipartisan budgets do we have to pass before they realize that strategy?”

Harris holds a small lead for the second Legislative District 13 House seat over Republican Julie Willoughby and they are headed for a recount. Rep. Jennifer Pawlik, D-Chandler, has secured the other seat, but Harris said she and Willoughby should be the district’s rightful winners.

Legislative District 4 Rep.-elect Matt Gress said there may be some institutional tension between the House and Senate, but that’s the point of having those two chambers.

“Republicans, we largely agree on a number of these pressing issues,” Gress said. “But I think it’s going to entail a lot of communication so that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing.”

Candidates Kari Lake and Katie Hobbs fought a bitter race for control of the Governor’s Office. Both candidates were far away from Ducey in their ideologies.

Republican Lake was Trump-endorsed and campaigned against Democrats and establishment Republicans, famously stating that she would drive a “stake through the heart of the McCain machine.”

Hobbs, a Democrat and secretary of state, defends the results of the 2020 election and pulled through by about 17,000 votes out of 2.6 million cast.

The state’s three political units must find a way to work together next session. Hobbs’ priorities of codifying Roe v. Wade and abolishing the aggregate expenditure limit on public school spending will have to get past Petersen. But his priorities will have to pass Hobbs, too. It’s not clear what will or won’t get by Toma.

“Experience matters and really that’s it,” Toma said about the speaker’s working relationship with Gov.-elect Hobbs.

 (File photo)

Democrat Janet Napolitano served as governor of Arizona from 2003-2009 with a Republican Legislature. As governor, Napolitano broke the record for highest number of vetoed bills at 180.

Without Republicans like Bowers, Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, Rep. Joel John, R-Buckeye, and Rep. Joanne Osborn, R-Goodyear, all of whom have shown a tendency towards being moderate or bipartisan, policy discussions could be much more discordant. There will also be dozens of new lawmakers joining the Legislature who could be anywhere on the spectrum of cooperative to obstinate when it comes to bipartisanship.

Boyer speculated: “I think that House and Senate Republicans are going to be in for a rude awakening because they’re just not used to coming into work” with a Democrat as governor.

Boyer did not run for re-election and was the only Republican who routinely stood in the way of the 2020 presidential election audit. He voted against arresting the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, shut down dozens of Republican election reform bills and worked with Bowie to pass a bipartisan budget in the last session.

Bowie often worked across the aisle and didn’t run for re-election either.

“Actually, I’m optimistic,” Bowie said of the upcoming session. “I think they could get quite a bit done. … Obviously, they might have fights on abortion or more controversial social issues, but most of the work that we do, like 85% of the bills we pass, are pretty non-controversial. So, I think there are some issues where you could see Governor Hobbs and the House and the Senate work together on meaningful policy.” He pointed to water, education and workforce development as bipartisan opportunities.

Matt Gress

Some Republicans, including Matt Gress, also said there’s room for bipartisan solutions to issues Arizonans are facing.

“We have some commonsense policies that I think both Republicans and Democrats should be able to get behind,” Gress said. “I personally want to work in a collaborative way, and I think it’ll just depend on the kind of tone that (Hobbs) wants to set.”

Bowie said he believes there are “still folks there that want to govern.”

“I think T.J. Shope is in that category,” he said. “I think Ken Bennett is in that category. I think David Gowan would be in that category. Not to say that they’re moderate in terms of policy, I just think they’re more moderate in terms of approach, and more pragmatic in terms of approach,” Bowie added.

By that metric, he draws a line between Toma and Petersen. “I think Toma is probably a little more pragmatic in terms of his approach, whereas Peterson is probably a little more ideological,” Bowie said. “I mean, they’re both conservative. But I think it’s more about how they approach the job. Do you want to get things done or do you want to obstruct?”

Boyer said that the difference between the Republican groups is not “establishment” versus “MAGA” because all the Republicans are conservatives. The biggest divisions are over election certification and personality.

“I really think it’s more of a style issue, where Chaplik’s more of a bomb thrower and Toma’s much more about getting things done,” Boyer said. He referred to an argument between Toma and Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek – an alternative elector who says he believes that Biden stole the 2020 election.

Hoffman attempted to push another abortion restricting bill on one of the last days of the session. Toma yelled at Hoffman and accused him of not following the process to introduce a new bill, not getting the votes needed to pass the bill, and not considering that the bill would potentially overlap with existing abortion laws. Toma also emphasized that he is pro-life.

“Toma was like, ‘I’ve done more pro-life legislation that you have.’ It’s just their style is a lot different,” Boyer said.

Consultants expect to see some leveraging on both sides next session.

Teresa Martinez

Hobbs has Democratic priorities like codifying the state’s 15-week abortion ban instead of the more restrictive 1864 near-total abortion ban. But to make that change, she’ll need to support of at least two Republicans. In exchange, the Republicans will likely ask for a conservative favor such as a tax cut.

Incoming Republican House Whip Rep. Teresa Martinez, R-Casa Grande, said there’s plenty of room to work with Democrats to ensure the state’s business is taken care of.

“It’s not ‘Thunderdome’ for Pete’s sake, you know, where two men enter and one man leaves,” Martinez said. “We’re going to debate like adults.”

If the two (or three) parties refuse to make trades, then the Legislature is in for a long session that won’t produce any substantive policy.

“It’s not really ideology. It’s more about approach,” Bowie said. “Do you want to build bridges? Or do you just want to throw bombs?”


Gowan seeks political comeback in LD14 Senate GOP primary

David Gowan
David Gowan (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

Arizona’s Legislative District 14 Republican Senate primary pits scandal-plagued former House Speaker David Gowan against Rep. Drew John and an anti-establishment political newcomer.

John, R-Safford, took over Gowan’s House seat two years ago after the former speaker left for a run for Congress amid an investigation into his misuse of government vehicles.

John served as a Graham County supervisor from 2000 to 2015 when he became a state representative. Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, urged John to run for the Senate seat she held since 2011, but had to vacate because of term limits.

Along with Becky Nutt R-Clifton, Griffin and John will form a trio of legislators running together. Griffin is a career politician and is deeply embedded in the Legislature as she attempts to win the other House seat in LD14.

The rural district is made of three counties in southeastern Arizona where population centers are scarce and cattle are the only traffic jam to encounter. Even though the district may be isolated, the RedforEd movement was not lost upon voters there, though, and education will be a deciding issue as the candidates make their appeal to voters.

Gowan supported Proposition 123 in 2016, a ballot proposal to increase annual distributions of state land trust permanent funds to education, providing an additional $3.5 billion to public schools over 10 years. A federal judge has since ruled the funding plan illegal.

Two years later, teachers walked out of schools and rallied around the Capitol, urging lawmakers to pass a 20 percent pay increase. John voted for Gov. Doug Ducey’s 20×2020 plan, which is designed to boost teacher salaries by 20 percent by 2020.

“As far as education, I think we have a good plan in place, but I think people need to understand that all we are doing with this plan is restoring what was taken away,” said John. “Where do we go from there?”

Then there’s Gowan’s support of SB1070, the tough illegal immigration measure, and the endorsement of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt in 2017 for defying court orders for his office to stop detaining people because they were believed to be undocumented.

Gowan did not immediately return requests for comment.

Gowan repaid the state $12,000 that he had wrongfully received as reimbursement for trips he had taken in state vehicles, but reported as taking in his own vehicle, and for per diem pay for days he had claimed to work, but didn’t. The Arizona Attorney General’s Office did not pursue criminal charges, but found there was “substantial disregard for determining whether state funds for per diem, mileage, and official travel were paid pursuant to proper authority” under Gowan’s leadership.

John takes a somewhat moderate approach to immigration, one that could possibly hurt him in the deeply Republican district that borders Mexico.

“I’m very solution oriented,” said John. “I don’t care where the good solution comes from. I don’t care what race it comes from, I don’t care what party it comes from. I think the Republican Party has better ideas, but not always the solutions.”

Newcomer candidate Lori Kilpatrick is trying to mold herself as the most anti-establishment candidate on the ballot, supporting the ideologies of President Donald Trump in a county that voted in favor of him over Hillary Clinton by more than 20 points in 2016.

Kilpatrick’s anti-establishment campaign may prove to be effective as she submitted more petition signatures than either of the two other candidates in the race, but unlike her two opponents, Kilpatrick has never held an elected office at any level.

John’s first term in the Legislature has been without scandal, and as the incumbent, he will attempt to focus the race on his and his opponent’s past service.

“This is my eighth election that I’ve been through,” John said, “and I just talk about what I’ve done, my experiences. Anybody can brag about what they’re going to do. I’m more about what have you done.”

Hobbs gets mixed results with latest apology

In this Dec. 14, 2020, file photo, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs addresses the members of Arizona’s Electoral College in Phoenix.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)

Hoping to undo damage to her gubernatorial bid, Democrat Katie Hobbs has issued a new apology to the staffer she fired in 2015 while she was minority leader in the state Senate. 

In a video posted December 8, Hobbs acknowledged that her response to Talonya Adams winning a $2.75 million verdict against the Senate in her discrimination case “fell short of taking real accountability.” 

“Please allow me to say this clearly and unequivocally,” Hobbs said. “I apologize to Ms. Adams. I’m truly sorry for the real harm that I caused Ms. Adams and her family.” 

Nowhere in the statement, however, does Hobbs admit what the federal court jury concluded: that Adams, a Black woman, was fired in retaliation for complaining about being paid less than white male policy advisors. 

Hobbs testified during the trial that she had “lost confidence” in Adams. 

After the verdict last month, Hobbs would not comment, instead having Jennah Rivera, who is her campaign spokeswoman, issue a prepared statement. 

That statement did not directly address the issue at trial of whether Adams, as a Black woman, was treated different than other staffers. Instead, Rivera said there was – and is – a “systemic” problem of Democratic staffers being paid less than those who work for Republicans in the GOP-controlled Senate. 

That led to comments that Hobbs really wasn’t addressing the reality that two separate federal court juries had found that Adams was the victim of discrimination in how she was paid and treated and that she was fired for complaining about it. On December 8, Hobbs acknowledged as much. 

“My response to the jury verdict was short sighted, unnecessarily defensive, and failed to meet the moment,” Hobbs said. 

In fact, the closest Hobbs came to acknowledging any culpability actually came during one of the trials when she said she wished she had “been a better ally” to Adams at the time Adams was complaining about salary inequities. 

“I need to be more than an ally,” Hobbs said now. “I need to be your advocate.” 

And she promised to do better. 

“My campaign will continue to recruit, hire and elevate women and people of color to leadership positions,” she said. 

Hobbs also said that if she is elected, she will create the position of “chief equity officer” with the goal of creating a more diverse government. And she said she would create a position within each state agency “dedicated to collaborating with communities of color and marginalized communities.” 

Pollster Mike Noble of OH Predictive Insights said the whole issue has damaged her campaign. 

“Hobbs went from a position of pretty safe in her primary,” he said. And he said her “missteps” in handling the issue is “casting doubt on how viable a candidate she is.” 

Noble said even if Hobbs can outlast her less-well-funded Democratic foes, all this could still create problems in the general election. 

How she had handled the verdict has left some members of the Black community less than satisfied. Cloves Campbell, publisher of the Arizona Informant, said Hobbs failed to take responsibility. 

“If she can do that kind of stuff while she’s in the Legislature, if she can sit there and lie as secretary of state, what can we expect from her as governor?” he told Capitol Media Services after the first apology. 

Campbell said December 8 that, as far as he is concerned, there’s nothing new in the latest one. 

“I threw it where it belongs, which is in the trash,” he said. 

Sandra Kennedy, a former legislator and, as a current member of the Arizona Corporation Commission the only Black elected to statewide office, also said she was not impressed by the latest statement. 

“I think this is just politically expedient for her,” she said. 

“It comes really late,” Kennedy continued. “Is she really asking the community who’ve been standing behind Ms. Adams to just forgive her and forget?” 

Adams declined to comment, saying she will have a press conference on December 9 to address the issue. 

But some members of the Black community are apparently ready to move on. 

While Hobbs continues to refuse to do interviews, she did have an audience with about 30 Black leaders on December 8. Among those present was Garrick McFadden, a Democrat who waged an unsuccessful race for Congress in 2018, the same time Hobbs got elected secretary of state. 

McFadden told Capitol Media Services he thinks that, after being battered over her initial response, she finally understands what she did and why it was wrong. 

“I think a light clicked in on the subtle uses of racism and how what she did was racist,” he said. 

McFadden said Hobbs probably didn’t see herself or her activities as having a racial bias. 

“Part of the dissonance she was feeling was, ‘I’m not a Klansman,’ ” he said. 

But McFadden said that sometimes white people do not understand there are other, more subtle forms of racism. And McFadden, who is an attorney, said the fact that a jury returned such a large verdict in a place like Arizona should have made it clear to her that others clearly saw what happened to Adams as being racially motivated. 

He said the Hobbs that spoke now gets it. 

“She was visibly vulnerable and she was scared,” McFadden said. 

“She was nervous, she was pensive, she came close to tears,” he said. “She got a standing ovation.” 

But Campbell said McFadden “hasn’t been here long enough” to be a leader in the Black community. 

“I’ve been here 50 years,” Campbell said. “And I’ve never been in the same room with him two times.” 

Hobbs’ two foes in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, former Rep. Aaron Lieberman of Paradise Valley and former Nogales Mayor Marco Lopez both have sought to gain advantage from the charges and the verdict. 


House begins probes into sexual harassment claims against Rep. Shooter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House Dems torpedo GOP efforts to pass budget

Efforts to enact a new $12.8 billion budget and tax cuts sputtered Tuesday as House Democrats refused to come to the floor, leaving the Republican-controlled chamber short of a quorum.

The maneuver came on the heels of Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, saying he had finally lined up all 31 House Republicans to support the modified plan.

Only thing is, four GOP lawmakers are absent. And while House rules allow them to vote remotely, Toma said the Arizona Constitution mandates that there be 31 people physically in the building to get a quorum in the 60-member chamber.

House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, is not suggesting that Democrats have the votes to block the plan.

But he told Capitol Media Services that Republicans presented some new amendments just 90 minutes before the session. And Bolding said that didn’t give Democrats enough time to fully understand what the majority was trying to push through at the last minute — and without sufficient public oversight.

That maneuver also hobbled any attempt by Democrats to research those-last minute changes and offer objections or alterations of their own.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, claimed that the maneuver puts operations of the state at risk.

While the new budget year doesn’t start until July 1, the current payroll period ends this week for checks that would be produced next week. But he claimed that if there’s no budget in place by the end of this week, that could mean that state employees won’t be paid for what they do next week.

And that, he said, leads to ripple effects as government would have to be shut down.

“So if you’re planning on a July 4th weekend at a state park of your choice, that won’t be available,” he said.

Also gone, said Bowers, would be funding for schools that open in July, revenues for cities and counties and even the ability of people to visit inmates in state prisons.

And what of essential services, like public safety — and keeping the prisons secure? C.J. Karamargin, press aide to Gov. Doug Ducey, brushed aside the question of what plans, finances and legal options — if any — the state’s chief executive has to deal with such a contingency.

“We’re confident there will be a budget,” he said. “We’re not going to engage in hypotheticals and what-ifs.”

Complicating matters is that even if the House approves the plan, there may not be the votes in the Senate.

Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said Tuesday it is “up in the air” whether she will support the spending and tax-cut plan. And with no Senate Democrats willing to vote for the plan, Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, needs her vote.

Townsend wants Ducey to rescind his executive order giving him emergency powers.

She pointed out that if lawmakers approve the budget, they will adjourn for the year. And that, Townsend said, leaves the governor with broad unilateral authority to enact restrictions and even effectively alter state laws, with the legislature not around until next January to try to countermand his actions.

Townsend also is balking at providing tax relief for the most wealthy to counter Proposition 208, which imposes a 3.5% surcharge on earnings over $500,000 a year for married couples.

She believes an audit will show that the measure did not pass. And Townsend questioned the need for legislation that makes sharp reductions in tax rates for the most wealthy if it really failed.

House Dems walk out stalls GOP budget

lot of numbers on a spreadsheet (3d render)

House Republicans’ hopes of passing a budget Tuesday were dashed when the Democrats boycotted the morning’s floor session. 

Without the constitutionally required majority of members present in the building to conduct business, the House adjourned until 10 a.m. Thursday, when all of the Republicans are expected to be physically present and they will try again. 

Meanwhile, the Senate plowed ahead, advancing four of the eleven bills making up the spending plan before breaking for lunch Monday and planned to finish the remainder in the afternoon and evening.  

Reps. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa; Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert; John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction; and Frank Pratt, R-Casa Grande, were not at the Capitol Tuesday, although they had planned to vote on the budget bills via Zoom. However, with all of the Democrats except for Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, boycotting, the chamber was a few short of the 31 needed to constitute a quorum. 

“This is not normal,” said Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria. “This is not OK. What is happening is a complete disdain for the only constitutional duty that we have.” 

House Democrats protested that the plan, despite how closely divided the Legislature is, has not included any input from them, and that if the Republicans want to pass a party-line budget they shouldn’t count on the Democrats’ help to do it. 

“You can’t simultaneously ignore the wishes of half the state and then take us for granted to pass a partisan budget,” Bolding said. 

Before adjourning, Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, warned of potentially dire consequences if there isn’t a budget in place before the new fiscal year starts on July 1, including employees not getting paid, schools and local governments losing revenue and people not being able to visit relatives in prison. 

“I would ask us all, it may really be tough, but could we contemplate growing up and shouldering the responsibility together and think of together more than individual and pass a budget?” Bowers asked. 

Toma said Democratic leaders promised him, after they similarly delayed a vote on an elections bill two months ago by not showing, that they wouldn’t do that again. 

“This is just a step too far,” Toma said. “I really hope voters start paying attention because this is an epic joke, and not in a good way.” 

The budget, which was introduced a month ago, has been delayed as Republicans made changes to get a handful of holdouts in their caucus on board. It includes a proposal to phase in a flat income tax that Democrats have unanimously opposed. Aside from their problems with the flat tax and other provisions such as what Democrats see as inadequate funding for education and infrastructure, Bolding said the public and Democrats also need more time to evaluate the amendments Republicans released Tuesday morning. 

“Dropping a dozen new amendments this morning that rewrite major portions of their plan to vote on this afternoon is inappropriate,” Bolding said. “A budget should be developed with all voices at the table, but they don’t want the public to know what’s in this plan until it’s too late.” 

Other Democrats echoed his sentiments. 

“I refuse to be complicit in the @AZHouseGOP’s desire to permanently reduce our state revenue by $1.7 billion,” tweeted Rep. Andrés Cano, D-Tucson. “We can use that money to fund our schools, expand health care, and protect our environment. If the GOP wants to be reckless, House Dems will NOT give them cover to do it.”  

Republicans said Democrats would be to blame if there is a partial government shutdown on July 1. Isaac Humrich, who use to work for former Republican U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, accused the Democrats of hypocrisy, highlighting a tweet from Rep. Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley, who spent the morning at a protest calling on U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., to support eliminating the filibuster. Humrich called the filibuster “a parliamentary procedure that bears striking resemblance to what House Dems just pulled.” 

Toma was guardedly hopeful the House will be able to pass a budget when it reconvenes on Thursday. 

“I’m as confident as anyone can be this session,” he said. “As far as I know, we have the votes.” 

Toma said he intends to pass a full budget. He said passing a “skinny budget” like last year’s that would keep state operations funded after June 30 without making other changes, which is one idea that has been floated, wouldn’t be as easy at this point as it might sound. For starters, it would have to be drafted, and that hasn’t been done. Toma said the House would move forward on Thursday whether the Senate passes a budget before then or not. 

“I can’t control what happens in the Senate,” he said. “I can only control what we do in the House.” 

House panel OKs changes to redistricting commission

Republican state representatives advanced a resolution to overhaul the membership of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission in ways that some worry will disenfranchise minority voting blocs.

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)

On a 4-3 party-line vote March 22, GOP lawmakers on the House Government Committee approved SCR1034, which would increase the number of commissioners on the IRC to nine from five. The resolution’s sponsor, Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, has said he’s hoping to make improvements to the redistricting measures to ensure that the process of redrawing Arizona’s legislative and congressional district boundaries is as nonpartisan as possible.

But at every turn in the legislative process, Democrats have rejected his efforts to alter the IRC. Yarbrough has offered multiple amendments to address those concerns, but Democrats say the resolution – which would still need to be approved by voters to take effect – would simply politicize the process.

On March 22, critics of SCR1034 focused on a change in the rate at which the size of Arizona’s legislative districts may vary. Under current law, the largest and smallest district may not vary in the size of their voting population by a more than 10 percent deviation.

Yarbrough proposed changing the deviation limit to plus or minus 2 percent, the same as congressional district boundaries, and he refused to budge from that position. The current deviations of up to 10 percent create a situation where votes in some districts are worth more than votes in others, Yarbrough said. In the last redistricting round, some districts were greatly overpopulated, he said.

“You will see even more unfairness built into the system if we don’t change it” before the next census, Yarbrough told the committee.

Joel Edman
Joel Edman

Joel Edman, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network, said that change could result in more cities and towns split between two legislative districts in the name of arguments favoring “one person, one vote.” Even with larger deviations, states must still make good faith efforts to not have districts vary too much in size, but “allowance for small deviations within constitutional limits can make a real difference in the map-drawing process,” Edman said.

“It can mean the difference between leaving a small city or town intact, or carving it up. It can help keep rural districts relatively compact, rather than stretching out their lines to take in yet another population center,” he said.

Lauren Bernally, policy analyst for the Navajo Nation’s Human Rights Office, said that’s the case for the legislative district covering her tribal lands. Creating stricter deviations between districts may dilute the voting influence of the Navajo Nation, she said.

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

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, criticized Yarbrough for failing to address the concerns of minority communities before introducing his resolution. Yarbrough said he relied on legislative staff to draft SCR1034, and that his own observations guided the resolution.

“I think that the shortcomings of the IRC are relatively apparent, and I’m trying to do whatever I can to make sure it is more fair, more bipartisan and less likely to be hijacked,” he said.

House passes budget package, Senate goes home


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

Just a few hours after saying she was “bound and determined” to pass a budget Friday night, Senate President Karen Fann sent senators home for the night without voting on an $11.8 billion spending plan.

Fann blamed the House, saying there wasn’t much else senators could do while waiting on the lower chamber to pass bills. Across the courtyard, the House approved the entire budget package after two straight days of pulling all-nighters.

It’s an unusual move for the Legislature, where the Senate and House typically move in lockstep on budget bills. And it highlights the difficulty Senate GOP leaders have faced in recent weeks as several rank-and-file members publicly pledged that they would vote against a budget unless leaders met their demands.

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, is leading a group of Republican senators demanding a different version of a tax plan than the one included in the budget deal GOP leaders reached with Gov. Doug Ducey a week ago. Mesnard repeated Friday night that he will vote against the budget unless he gets that tax plan.

Meanwhile, Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, and Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, vowed to stand united against the budget until the Legislature votes on Boyer’s plan to give sexual assault survivors more time to sue their abusers. With no deal Friday night, Boyer said he was surprised Fann would try to push a budget through.

“I think it’s fruitless, but I’ve been proven wrong before,” he said.

Fann, after allowing senators to go home for the night, tweeted that “the Senate will not pass bad policy in exchange for budget votes.”

The Senate debated two budget-related bills — one that funds human services and one that would allocate $2.5 million to a center designed to discourage abortions. Neither received a vote.

Meanwhile the House powered through votes on the budget package early Saturday morning, sending 11 budget-related bills over to the Senate.

House Republicans attempted to start the budget debate at 10 am Friday, but were on-again-off-again as the chamber attempted to wait for the Senate to bring the handful of holdout Republicans into the fold and line up its votes. Eventually, the House pushed ahead unilaterally, approving the budget package along party lines and closing up shop shortly after 4 a.m. Saturday.

That package included a tax conformity plan that Mesnard has vowed to oppose in the Senate, complicating the Senate’s attempts to negotiate with the holdout Republicans.

The chamber adopted an amendment to the main budget bill aimed at quelling opposition from a handful of other Republicans, including Carter. The amendment included at least $37 towards her priorities, including more than $18 million for graduate medical education, $8 million for the UA Health Science Center, $5 million more for SROs and school counselors, $5 million more for the Housing Trust Fund and $1 million for gifted education funding.

The House had already gotten a head start on the Senate, having debated and voted on three budget related bills on Thursday night and Friday morning.

Now, the ball is in the Senate’s court. The Senate has multiple paths it can take.

The cleanest would be to just amend the Senate budget bills to mirror the House’s bills, and vote on the same package that passed the House. Anything other than that would require additional votes from the House, more committee hearings, or even more daunting, a conference committee to hash out the differences between the House and Senate budgets.


House set to begin votes on bills Tuesday

House Speaker Rusty Bowers votes Monday in the Rules Committee on what bills will be heard this week. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
House Speaker Rusty Bowers votes Monday in the Rules Committee on what bills will be heard this week. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

The Arizona House of Representatives is set to hear potentially dozens of bills this week — including a measure to shield businesses from legal liability if a patron or employee gets COVID-19 — even as the Senate sits recessed, poised to finalize last week’s adjournment motion and end the session. 

Work officially began this today with a meeting of the House Rules Committee, which gave party-line approval to ten Senate bills and voted to allow the late introduction of a liability bill sponsored by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills. The Legislature has long passed the official deadline for the introduction of new bills, which can only be circumvented through a vote in the Rules committee. 

In the coming days, 11 House committees will meet to hear a bevy of unamended Senate bills leftover from the first half of the session, according to an email House Speaker Rusty Bowers sent to members and staff obtained by the Capitol Times. These committees may consider more than 60 bills, House Majority Leader Warren Petersen told the Associated Press this weekend — though how many will actually make it to the floor is unclear. 

And Tuesday at 1:15 p.m., the House will take to the floor for the first time in months to begin voting on some of the bills that will have by then made it out of committee. 

Rep. Athena Salman checks messages as the House Rules Committee votes Monday on which bills will be considered this week by the Legislature. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Rep. Athena Salman checks messages as the House Rules Committee votes Monday on which bills will be considered this week by the Legislature. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

House leadership is imposing a variety of safety protocols — members, staff and guests in committee hearings must wear masks and follow federal social distancing guidelines, for example. 

The primary reason for returning to work is to pass that liability bill, Petersen, R-Gilbert, said in the Rules committee today. If passed, the bill would require those who sue a business as a result of contracting COVID-19 to prove gross negligence with “clear and convincing evidence,” a lofty legal standard. The legislation would also decriminalize violations of executive orders related to COVID-19 and stop the state from seizing the licenses of non-compliant businesses, churches and other entities.

Kavanagh had hoped Democrats would come on board, giving him the two-thirds supermajority necessary to pass the bill as an emergency measure that can be enacted quickly. 

Kavanagh has yet to file a final version of the legislation, though Petersen today referred to it as a liability, enforcement and licensing bill, which could hint at its content. Kavanagh said the language is “up in the air,” as he had hoped Democrats would come on board, giving him the two-thirds supermajority necessary to pass the bill as an emergency measure that can be enacted quickly. 

But if today’s Rules meeting is any indicator, the proposal has few fans in the Minority. Three of the committee’s four Democrats  — Rep. Domingo Degrazia of Tucson was absent — voted against the motion to allow the late introduction of the bill. 

They said they wouldn’t vote for a motion to only allow a single liability protection bill from one Republican, effectively preventing them from introducing their own version of the bill. Plus, they said, the language wasn’t yet publicly available. 

“This is not a bipartisan process,” said Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe.

Democrats have been working on a similar proposal that would include protections for workers, said House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez.  

“We have to make sure … that if we’re going to hold a business harmless, they have to be doing everything they can to protect the patrons and the workers that are there,” the Yuma Democrat said. “You can’t protect a business that has everybody crammed in there.” 

John Kavanagh
John Kavanagh

She said her caucus members might vote for the Kavanagh bill if he’s open to an amendment. But she said she hadn’t seen a copy of the bill yet, and as such, can’t commit to voting one way or another.

The liability measure, as Petersen said, is this week’s primary focus. The hope is that the chamber adjourns by Thursday night, prompting the Senate to get the votes together to come back to the Legislature — currently, it’s in a recess as it awaits the House’s approval on an adjournment measure passed last week — and hear the bill.

What might sweeten the pot is the dozens of other Senate bills the House will be taking up this week. In theory, these are non-controversial bills that passed out of their chamber of origin with broad bipartisan support. These range from symbolic resolutions to a bill that would facilitate adult adoptions.

“We have no plans to put up bills with amendments since the senate has indicated they won’t do anything but the liability bill and a couple bills that are ready for 3rd read on their side,” Petersen said to his fellow Republicans in a text obtained and verified by the Capitol Times. 

But Democrats are poised to put up a fight, as they see these bills as extraneous distractions that are diverting time and resources from further coronavirus aid.

“My caucus has been and remains ready to work on COVID relief,” Salman said this morning. “But the time has passed to resume business as usual. As you can see, every person in this room is wearing a mask. We are not living in usual times.” 

She continued: “This agenda does not reflect that.

If Democrats succeed in pushing back, Republicans will paint them as an obstinate opposition that’s stopping the state from returning to those halcyon pre-COVID days.

“We need to constantly push the narrative that the Ds are stalling and keeping AZ society from getting back to normal as needed,” Petersen said in the text. 

Regardless, it’s not yet clear whether every bill that lawmakers debate this week will be as uncontroversial as promised. 

Rep. Kelly Townsend’s House Elections Committee was on Tuesday set to hear SCR1018, a voter referral that would limit the ability of the Independent Redistricting Commission to draw legislative district boundaries, constitutionally prohibiting the population of the largest legislative district from exceeding the population of the smallest district by more than 5,000 people. But the committee meeting was abruptly canceled Monday evening.


As is often the case with the House, there are no guarantees. The tempestuous chamber has twice promised to return to the floor only to balk at the last minute. Ill-will between the parties has intensified during the break, and the Senate’s role in all of this is still an unknown variable. 

“I don’t necessarily buy that this will go off without a hitch,” said Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, who serves as speaker pro tempore. “Now we’re just waiting to see where the hitch is.”

Julia Shumway and Hank Stephenson contributed to this report. 

House to put budget to vote on Monday


The Arizona House plans to return Monday morning to pass – or fail – a budget, with or without the Senate, a top House Republican confirmed Friday. 

House Majority Leader Ben Toma said he and fellow leaders are continuing negotiations with the Senate, governor’s office and Republican holdouts to secure as many votes as possible, but the House plans to vote on the $12.8 billion spending plan and the largest tax cuts in recent memory regardless of whether they have the votes to pass.  

“Many of us are furiously working today and probably over the weekend to finalize changes that should be ready by Monday morning,” he said. “Then we’re going to go ahead and attempt to pass it, and if there are any Republicans out there that want to hold out, they’re gonna’ have to explain why.” 

House and Senate leaders first planned to pass their budget more than a week ago, but after it became clear the bills lacked support to pass either the House or the Senate, both chambers called it quits until June 10, with the caveat that they would return earlier if they had reached an agreement with a handful of holdouts.  

The Senate’s plans for next week remain unclear: Senate President Karen Fann did not return a phone call and a spokesman for the Senate GOP said Friday morning he was trying to find out details but had not shared them by publication time.  

As of now, the budget still lacks the votes to pass either the House or Senate. All Democrats are opposed to a plan to shrink the state’s four income tax brackets to a single 2.5% rate that would disproportionately benefit wealthy Arizonans, and GOP leaders can’t afford to lose a single Republican in the House or Senate.  

Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, said in a text message that he remains opposed to the budget proposal, though he hopes House leaders will make additional changes to address his concerns, which include the tax cuts’ effect on cities and towns, debt, unfunded pension liabilities, water infrastructure and capital improvement needs. 

“I am concerned that federal COVID relief money has created a false economy and I believe it’s prudent to take some time to ensure we don’t send the state off of a fiscal cliff,” he added.   

Cities and towns now receive 15% of state income taxes through a decades-old revenue sharing agreement based on municipalities giving up the ability to impose a local income tax. The proposed tax cuts, which would amount to $1.9 billion in lost revenue in FY24, would cost $285 million in local revenue, a cut of roughly 31%, according to the League of Arizona Cities and Towns. 

Cities have advocated for increasing that shared revenue percentage to somewhere between 18.2% and 18.9% to prevent any losses to local revenue. Since last week, Toma said House leaders settled on a number around 17% — citing an economic analysis commissioned by the League that showed that 17% would work if looking solely at the impact of the flat tax. 

However, the same analysis indicated that the higher number is necessary because the Legislature also plans additional tax cuts for the wealthiest Arizonans to negate the effects of last year’s voter-approved Proposition 208, which added a 3.5% surcharge for single people making more than $250,000 and married couples making more than $500,000. 

Under the Republican tax plan, those wealthy Arizonans would pay 4.5% of their taxable income. The Prop 208 fund would receive the first 3.5%, and only the remaining 1% would go to the General Fund. Essentially, the richest Arizonans would pay a 1% tax rate for all state services, further shrinking the money available to be shared with cities and towns. 

League of Arizona Cities and Towns legislative director Nick Ponder said the league heard rumors Thursday night that the House cut a deal with cities – rumors which came as a surprise because the League hasn’t spoken to House leadership since last week. 

There is no deal, cities are not back to their preferred neutral stance on state budgets and an increase to 17% of state shared revenue is inadequate, he said.    

 Toma said he saw no reason to hold cities harmless for Prop 208, because they didn’t oppose the ballot measure.  

“In terms of the cities complaining if we’re going to do something to correct the tax policy issues that 208 has created, if they had concerns they should have lobbied against 208 and explained how this could hurt long-term revenues for them and for everyone else in the state,” he said.