‘Why don’t you listen to what I have to say?’

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, tries to speak above the heckling crowd at “Rally to Protect Our Elections” hosted by Turning Point Action at Arizona Federal Theatre in Phoenix. Ugenti-Rita spoke for only 75 seconds before she exited the stage. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/THE STAR NEWS NETWORK
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, tries to speak above the heckling crowd at “Rally to Protect Our Elections” hosted by Turning Point Action at Arizona Federal Theatre in Phoenix on July 24, 2021. Ugenti-Rita spoke for only 75 seconds before she exited the stage. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/THE STAR NEWS NETWORK

Not even five seconds into her speech at a rally to support former-President Trump and his agenda is when the boos and catcalls began for Arizona State Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita.  

She lasted at the podium for 75 seconds before she hustled off stage like a comedian who had bombed her set. 

The event, hosted by Turning Point Action – the fundraising arm of pro-Trump organization Turning Point USA – took place at Arizona Federal Theatre in downtown Phoenix on July 24, and all Republican candidates for the governor, secretary of state and U.S. Senate races were invited to speak. 

The crowd’s treatment of her raised the question of whether the Arizona Republican Party is doomed in the 2022 general election if this crowd was going to turn on one of the most conservative lawmakers in the state, someone who has passed more bills to tighten election laws than practically anybody else. 

Ugenti-Rita was one of two Republican candidates for the chief election officer job who showed up. Two others did not attend. The event surrounded the topic of election integrity – something Ugenti-Rita has built a career on over the course of a decade in politics. 

Ugenti-Rita’s record includes things conservatives have boasted about. She wrote the bill to ban ballot harvesting that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of on July 1. She also passed a bill this year to revamp the state’s early voting list, changing it from being permanent and laying out a process to remove registered voters who don’t return their ballot by mail. 

The indoor venue, formerly called Comerica Theatre, has a great sound that carries through the 5,000-seat auditorium, but during its usual concerts, the sound is coming from the stage, not the audience. 

Before she left the stage, Ugenti-Rita barely got through two full sentences as the heckling and hollering drowned her out and she shouted: “Why don’t you listen to what I have to say?” 

Two Republicans deeply tied within the grassroots of the state party were critical of the crowd’s treatment of her. 

Kathy Petsas
Kathy Petsas

Kathy Petsas is the Republican chairman of Legislative District 28 – one of Arizona’s strongest swing districts that houses some of the most prominent politicians in the state.  

She told Arizona Capitol Times she doesn’t agree with Ugenti-Rita on most issues, but that it was a “shame” nobody came to her defense to let her speak. 

“Ugenti-Rita deserved every right and every respect and courtesy to provide her message and it was a shame that party leadership like Kelli [Ward] didn’t speak up for her to say she deserves the right to speak,” Petsas said.  

She added that Ward, the two-time controversial chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, stood up for Daniel McCarthy, the failed U.S. Senate candidate in 2020 who was incredibly critical of Ward, during the state party meeting in January, but she didn’t extend the same courtesy to Ugenti-Rita. 

“If the party wants to win general elections, then they have a responsibility to allow all their candidates the platform,” Petsas said. “I don’t know that she’s the person I’m going to end up voting for. Maybe she is, but she sure did have every right to be there and speak.” 

Petsas said if there’s a candidate like Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley or Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, up against one of the Democrats for secretary of state, there’s a good chance Republican voters will not vote for that race rather than vote across party lines like what happened in Arizona in 2018 and 2020 on the top of the ticket. 

“If you don’t like either, all of a sudden you’ve got 75,000 Republicans who don’t vote,” she said.  

Nearly 36,000 people “undervoted” for the U.S. Senate race in 2020. 

Trey Terry
Trey Terry

Trey Terry, a Republican member on the Agua Fria School Board and a state committeeman in Legislative District 13, didn’t go as far as Petsas, but said it depends on how much longer Republicans are talking about the Senate’s audit of the 2020 election.  

“When it comes to a general election, this mindset that we saw at the rally is disastrous for Republicans moving forward,” Terry said. “Republicans in Arizona need conservatives like Ugenti, [House Speaker Rusty] Bowers, [County Supervisor Clint] Hickman, [Maricopa County Recorder Stephen] Richer, etc., if we want any chance at winning statewide or competitive elections.”  

He said winning a Republican primary is easier from what was seen at the rally, but general elections need independent voters to win statewide. Republicans far-and-wide have been appealing to Trump in hopes to win competitive races among their party.  

“Mark Finchem participated in the January 6 riot,” Terry said. “He would get crushed in a statewide general election. I think Shawnna is in a better position, but we just don’t know. I think if Republicans are still talking about this audit and the 2020 election in the 2022 general election, we are going to get crushed. If we are able to put this audit behind us and learn from our mistakes in 2020, there is a lot of history showing that Republicans can have a very good year.” 

Petsas said the crowd, which seemed to support another potential Trump presidency in 2024, would be better off supporting someone like Ugenti-Rita. 

“[She] is a legitimate conservative, with bona fides to prove it, which is a lot more than I can say for Trump,” she said. 

It’s believed that the boos for Ugenti-Rita were because she wouldn’t hear election bills from Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction. Ugenti-Rita, who chairs the Senate Government Committee with Townsend as vice chair, repeatedly said throughout the session that the bills were bad. 

“There is no shame in voting against something that is bad policy,” Petsas said, adding that it’s still no reason to boo her off the stage before she can lay out her platform. 

Terry said Ugenti-Rita has been the most effective legislator over the past decade when it comes to conservative changes on election integrity, but she could be criticized on other issues and he doesn’t support her candidacy or anyone else in that race.  

“But to criticize her on alleged unwillingness to ‘support election integrity measures’ or whatever, is intellectually deranged.” 

Ugenti-Rita in turn went home to immediately criticize the Senate’s audit of the 2020 election for the first time publicly and took a swipe at Senate President Karen Fann for her leadership, two moves that could hurt her chances in the race, which is still more than one year out.  

“I’ll put my record of fighting for election integrity up against anyone. What I won’t do is vote for ‘show’ legislation that does nothing to strengthen election integrity and introduced for self serving reasons,” she wrote in a Twitter thread immediately after the rally. 


All mail election debate gets new life, spurred by virus

In this March 10, 2020, file photo, a King County Election worker collects ballots from a drop box in Seattle for the primary election in Washington State, where elections are all mail. In Arizona, where voters can ask for a mail-in ballot, Democrats and some Republican election officials are calling for an all mail election, at least for this year as the coronavirus causes anxiety for face-to-face contact at the least and sickness and death at the worst. PHOTO BY JOHN FROSCHAUER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
In this March 10, 2020, file photo, a King County Election worker collects ballots from a drop box in Seattle for the primary election in Washington State, where elections are all mail. In Arizona, where voters can ask for a mail-in ballot, Democrats and some Republican election officials are calling for an all mail election, at least for this year as the coronavirus causes anxiety for face-to-face contact at the least and sickness and death at the worst. PHOTO BY JOHN FROSCHAUER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

A fight is brewing in Arizona over whether to switch to an all-mail ballot for the primary and general election in order to combat the spread of COVID-19.

A handful of states already operate their elections using a vote-by-mail process. While Arizona Democrats have long pushed to join those states, local election officials and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs are now seeking a temporary change during the coronavirus pandemic.

It comes off like a partisan issue, but there are some Republican election officials who agree that the current crisis is not normal and all-mail ballots are necessary, even if Republican lawmakers don’t feel the same way.

Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs

Hobbs, a Democrat, announced one day after the March 17 Democratic Presidential Preference Election that she would seek help from the GOP-controlled Legislature to make the temporary switch.

“We are in unprecedented territory,” Hobbs said. “We don’t know where things are going to be in August and November.”

The Legislature did not respond to Hobbs’ request before recessing on March 23, and it won’t take up the issue when it does return, Senate President Karen Fann said.

“My Republican caucus members are not in favor of that,” the Prescott Republican said. “This is more of a partisan issue.”

Conversations leading up to the March election were difficult and stressful, Hobbs said, adding that she does not want election officials, poll workers or voters to put their own health at risk to cast a vote.

“Arizona has a proven track record at being good with mail-in elections,” she said. In Arizona, voters can join the Permanent Early Voting List, or PEVL.

The state already has roughly 80% of its ballots cast by mail, with the 2018 election having the highest turnout yet for a midterm election at 2.4 million voters (roughly 1.92 million by mail). That election is what got Hobbs into her current position and brought more Democrats into office locally and nationally.

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, also a Democrat, had a similar solution just days before the March 17 election. He tried to send all registered voters their ballots by mail, until Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich obtained a court order stopping him.

But now the state has more time to prepare, while watching COVID-19 get worse. On March 17, Arizona had 20 diagnosed cases and no deaths, and the Legislature was still in session.

As of April 9 there are more than 3,000 known cases with 89 deaths and those numbers are ever growing. There’s no telling what the numbers will look like come August or even November.

Hobbs said switching to an all-mail election is not an easy solution, but it is the right one and it’s common sense.

“I think it is absolutely irresponsible to not look at this as a feasible solution in the middle of this health crisis, and I for the life of me cannot understand why anyone would be opposed to it,” she said.

Michelle Ugenti-Rita
Michelle Ugenti-Rita

Opposition to all-mail elections should be easy enough to understand, said Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, a Scottsdale Republican who leads her caucus on election policy. Changing the law is simply unnecessary because anyone who wants to vote by mail already can by signing up for the Permanent Early Voting List, Ugenti-Rita

“It empowers voters because they’re the ones still in charge,” she said. “We should default to making sure the voter is in control instead of trying to shove an agenda down their throats.”

Ugenti-Rita vowed to do everything she can to prevent universal mail elections, adding that counties would do better to launch educational campaigns reminding voters that they can sign up for the early voting list, or vote early in person to avoid Election Day crowds.

County election officials are taking advantage of a public health crisis to push a longstanding policy goal that has never been popular at the Legislature, Ugenti-Rita said.

“It’s not necessary to require all mail-in voting since the option already exists for voters,” she said. “This is just people not letting a crisis go to waste.”

The Arizona Association of Counties has pushed since 2012 to give counties the ability to hold elections entirely by mail. Cities and towns already have the ability to hold local elections by mail, but under state law counties lack the authority to change how elections are held.

In previous years, counties have argued that mail elections will save money and that voters like the ability to vote by mail.

“All of those things are still true, but none of those things matter this year,” said Jenn Marson, executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties. “What matters this year is it’s a health crisis.”

Counties hire and train poll workers, most of whom fall in the 65 or older age range considered most at risk for severe cases of COVID-19. They expect to have to hire about 16,000 poll workers, but those volunteers are hard to find even in normal years, Marson said.

Counties have been asking for a temporary change to session law, rather than a permanent change to state statute, that will enable election officials to run mail elections for the August primary and November general election, then revert back to the normal way of running elections next year.

Hobbs has pushed for the same thing. In response to an op-ed in the Arizona Republic from Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, Hobbs said it was irresponsible and only makes it harder to protect voters’ safety.

“The opposition would make more sense if we were talking about blanket authorization for all vote-by-mail from now until eternity, but we’re not,” she said. “There’s literally not one true thing in the entire op-ed. It’s just wrong.”

The decision realistically needs to be made by April 15 for the August primary and June 15 for the general election, Hobbs said.

bolickBolick argued that switching to an all-mail ballot is more complicated, riskier and less accurate than voting in-person. She wrote that a ballot cast in-person is counted more accurately and securely than one mailed, the voting by mail lends itself to fraud and confusion in part because the mail isn’t secure, that it’s more expensive, and the counties will need to hire and train more people to switch to a vote-by-mail system.

Bolick, who sits on the House Elections Committee, also argued there’s a link between voter fraud and mail-only elections, which is another false claim.

“I think that is based on misinformation and flat out not knowing how the process works,” Hobbs said to that argument. “Voting by mail is very secure.”

Bolick did not return a request for comment.

A previous claim of voter fraud happened out of the Legislature in 2016 where then-Sen. Don Shooter said people cheat by microwaving already sealed ballots with a bowl of water so the ballots can be opened, altered and then resealed without anybody noticing.

The Arizona Capitol Times investigated this claim and disproved it

Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert has also argued on Twitter that voting only by mail can lead to more opportunities for cheating in an election. It’s a narrative that President Donald Trump has pushed at least since the 2018 election in Arizona given the high volume of mail ballots. 

At the time, Trump was disputed by both Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and Republican Secretary of State Michele Reagan. The latter had to thoroughly explain Arizona’s ballot counting process and why it takes longer than most states.

Trump then took it a step further saying people cheat with mail-in voting and it would be bad for Republicans. He said if registered voters are given the opportunity to vote by mail or absentee “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

Trump also notably votes by mail.

Grantham said he thinks it’s the right of voters to vote in-person and considers voting during the pandemic as an essential service.

He said people can go to the grocery store during a pandemic, so why not vote in person?

Travis Grantham
Travis Grantham

Grantham has come under criticism for minimizing the pandemic at times, though his controversial Twitter comments have simmered down since saying only a small fraction of Arizonans have been infected with COVID-19 three weeks ago.

Local election officials also took umbrage with Bolick’s op-ed, calling it “inaccurate” and “misleading.”

Republican Pinal County Recorder Virginia Ross and Cochise County Elections Director Lisa Marra, who works for a Board of Supervisors with a Republican majority, said they spoke on behalf of the Arizona Recorders Association and the Election Officials of Arizona in an op-ed arguing it’s “crucial that the Legislature extend our ability to hold ballot-by-mail elections for state and federal elections.”

The duo wrote that it’s safer, cheaper and easier and wouldn’t compromise the integrity of elections, as Bolick claimed, noting that many cities and towns already hold all-mail elections.

“Mailing ballots to voters is less complicated and less expensive compared to the massive logistical undertaking of finding, staffing, equipping, testing, sanitizing and maintaining hundreds of voting locations across the state. Doing so is comparable to opening a new business overnight, and the staffing alone takes the equivalent of a small army,” they wrote.

Yavapai County Recorder Leslie Hoffman, a Republican, agreed with the two saying that because Arizona already has a lot of ballots cast by mail it would be a simple transition.

“We’ve got the system. We’ve got it down. We know how to do it right,” she said. “Voting is a tradition, not how you vote.”

Hoffman noted that one part of the argument that has consistently been forgotten about is even if 100 percent of voters sign up for PEVL or if the all-mail election happens, “you’d still have to open up a polling location in every precinct because that’s the way the law reads.”

Without a law change, that would still happen in the election, Hoffman said.

That law change, or any other in their favor, doesn’t seem likely at this point as the GOP majority Legislature is not inclined to move forward with the temporary change, Ducey has made no inclination to work with Hobbs or county officials on this and Hobbs thinks if it goes to court Brnovich will prevent it from happening.

Neither Ducey or Brnovich’s offices provided comment for this story.

Another argument against the idea comes from Tim La Sota, an attorney, who thinks Hobbs is overreacting to the pandemic.

He said a lot of people already vote by mail in Arizona and they still have that option, but going to all-mail for him is a “nonstarter” and that it’s less convenient for people in rural communities.

“The notion that we need yet another governmental solution, a one size fits all, I think just is the wrong solution,” he said.

His solution would be to send something out reminding voters how they can sign up for a mail-in ballot. Still, La Sota acknowledged that if the pandemic gets worse, his opinion might change.

Hobbs said if things don’t progress to an all-mail solution then what La Sota suggested is a backup plan.

“I would much rather spend that money mailing ballots instead because that makes it more expensive to have to do both,” she said.

All-mail ballots also cost less than the current election model, Hobbs said, though regardless of which option gets settled on, she said the office plans to use the $8 million from the federal CARES act to fund the final solution.

Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously reported that Cochise County Elections Director Lisa Marra works for a Republican County Recorder, when in fact, she works for the Board of Supervisors. 

Bill targets human traffickers for lawsuits


A Republican lawmaker’s bill will allow victims of sex trafficking to sue their pimps and anyone else involved in the crime.

Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, touted her bill during the Criminal Justice Reform Committee hearing on Jan. 20  as a common sense approach to allowing victims to seek damages against sex traffickers and their co-conspirators. 

The bill, HB 2116, got unanimous approval in the House on Jan. 28 and will require  passage in the Senate and the governor’s signature to become law.  

Bolick read a testimony letter from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office that said while restitution is available in criminal cases, it is difficult to win convictions get restitution in cases involving human trafficking. And restitution only covers economic losses that occur during the trafficking itself and not other underlying damages caused. 

Dianne Post, an attorney and state coordinator for legislative action with National Organization for Women, said prosecutors often don’t ask for restitution and often don’t follow up on collecting it when a court orders it. 

She said the bill not only aims to give victims a chance at proper justice through compensation for physical or mental anguish they’d endured, but also as a preventative tool.

“Well, the idea is to give recompense and to help the victims recover, but of course, the more prevention-oriented goal is that if the perpetrators know that they could be financially sued and lose the money they made, then they won’t do it.” 

The bill not only aims to give victims a chance at proper justice through compensation for physical or mental anguish they’d endured but as a preventative tool as well. 

“Well, the idea is to give recompense and to help the victims recover, but of course, the more prevention-oriented goal is that if the perpetrators know that they could be financially sued and lose the money they made, then they won’t do it.” 

Since taking office in 2015, Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office has prosecuted or is currently prosecuting 267 cases involving 327 defendants connected to sex trafficking, child sex trafficking, sexual exploitation of minors, or illegal enterprises/money laundering. 

The National Human Trafficking Hotline reported 234 Human trafficking cases in Arizona in 2019, with 150 cases identified as sex trafficking. The organization connects victims and survivors of sex and labor trafficking with services to support and help them.

Post said the reason it has taken so long for a piece of legislation like this to come up is because a lot of past efforts criminalized the victim. 

“We’ve worked on this bill at the federal level for many years, to ensure that the victim is treated as a victim because often times she’s [or he’s] treated as a criminal,” “She’s engaged in prostitution, so rather than being treated as a victim she’s treated as a perpetrator and therefore, is not seen as a person worthy of getting damages.” 

It’s a more complicated matter, according to Post, because there’s the issue of consent, and in many cases, of the individuals being enslaved or forced into these activities. 

“It would be the right direction should it pass, yes, but a lot more needs to be done, but it is a step in the right direction,” Post said.

Post recommended something along the lines of the Nordic model to combat sex trafficking in particular. 

“It is a model that says that all of the people involved in the trafficking and prostitution; the facilitator, the money man, the pimp, the buyer; all of those people are criminally liable, Post said.

Who would not be criminally liable would be the victim, said Post. The Nordic model approach to prostitution has been adopted in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Canada, France, Ireland, and Israel. 

Blame falls on Fernandez for Dems not taking House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Democrats led in early ballot returns for much of last week, but saw that lead close as Election Day neared – an inversion of the trend in previous elections, which saw Democrats take the edge late in the game. Republicans went into November 5 leading by roughly 1,500 ballots in LD6, with 60% turnout.  


Democrat Judy Schwiebert is leading in LD20 House, a widely-watched race that will serve as a test case of the Democratic Party’s suburban strategy. She has 36% of the vote in the West Valley district, three percentage points ahead of the incumbent, Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix. 

Rep. Anthony Kern, the district’s other incumbent, a Republican from Glendale, follows in third place, with 31%. He trails his seatmate by around 1700 votes. Like in LD6, Democrats began early voting with a sizable lead in returns, an advantage that diminished heading into Election Day. 

LD20 is one of two districts that President Donald Trump carried in 2016, but that supported Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema two years later, a sign to Democrats that they might be able to flip a seat in the Legislature. It’s the kind of suburban district that has peeled away from the GOP in recent years, with demographic shifts that narrowed the Republican voter registration advantage to only around 6,000. 

Schwiebert, like Evans, has proven a prodigious fundraiser and a magnet for outside spenders. She’s raised $551,464 as of November 3, surpassing both Bolick and Kern by hundreds of thousands of dollars.  


In LD21, Republican Beverly Pingerelli sits in first, with 35% of the vote. She’s two percentage points ahead of the incumbent Rep. Kevin Payne, R-Peoria, who in turn leads Democratic challenger Kathy Knecht by 1,264 votes. 

LD21 is a district of similar characteristics to the neighboring LD20: It spans the suburban West Valley and has new residents that Democrats hope can give them an edge. 

But the electorate hasn’t shifted to the same degree as LD20, and the Democratic registration disadvantage has remained relatively stable between last election and this one: around 14,000 voters. LD21 is also the home of deep-red retirement communities like Sun City. 

However, unlike LD20, LD21 has an open seat, as Rep. Tony Rivero, R-Peoria, chose not to run for re-election. This could make it possible for Knecht to edge out Pingerelli, even if Payne’s seat remains secure.  Knecht also has a track record in over-performing expectations. In 2018, she was only around 3,500 votes from winning the LD21 Senate race as an independent. 

Knecht, as with most of the other single-shot Democrats running this year, has vastly outraised her opponents – around $300,000 to Payne’s $72,000 and Pingerelli’s $47,594. If either of the Republicans is worried about their chances, that fear isn’t reflected in their fundraising. 


Republican Reps. Bret Roberts and Mark Finchem pulled ahead with a solid lead in LD11. Roberts has 34% of the vote, with Finchem not far behind. Democrat Felipe Perez, a medical doctor, has 32% of the vote. He’s separated from Finchem by around 3,400 votes. 

The map for Democrats has grown as the election cycle has gone on – or so they believe, at least. LD11, an expansive southern Arizona district that has elected some of the House’s most conservative members, is at the heart of that expansion. 

Democrats poured money into the district, especially in the late stages, seeing a potential for gains in the LD11’s increasingly blue Pima County section. Perez raised more money in the third quarter than he did in all of the election cycle previously. 

Independent expenditure groups played an outsized role, as the local party infrastructure is largely focused on more achievable districts. They spent almost $300,000 in Perez’s favor, and have invested around $250,000 to attack Finchem – not huge sums compared to LD6, but for a district where Democratic registration lags by almost 20,000 voters, it’s money that has turned heads southward. 

However, this money doesn’t necessarily translate into results, and the astronomically high turnout rates of southern Arizona retirement communities like SaddleBrooke could secure the Republican position.  


Republican Rep. John Kavanagh and Joseph Chaplik are leading over two-time Democratic challenger Eric Kurland in LD23. Kavanagh has 37% of the vote, leading Chaplik by three points. Kurland is in third with 29%. 

Kurland conceded on Twitter November 5, saying that “all of the fine people from Scottsdale, Fountain Hills, Rio Verde and Fort McDowell deserve nothing but your very best.”

Chaplik threw doors to the district wide open when he defeated Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, in the primary. 

Kurland has aimed his challenge almost solely at Chaplik, needling him for avoiding debates, suing political opponents and making claims of campaign sign vandalism. 

Only Kurland and Chaplik bothered to seriously fundraise, bringing in $266,157.40 and $187,662.76, respectively. (As a note: $80,000 of Chaplik’s haul came in the form of money he loaned his own committee). 

Kurland first ran on his “Time for a Teacher” platform in 2018, when he came within 3 percentage points of unseating Lawrence. 

Two Public Policy Polling surveys showed Kurland as the first pick of a plurality of LD23 voters, though more voters picked Kavanagh as either their first or second preference. 


House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, has a comfortable lead in LD4, but her seatmate is on track to lose. 

Fernandez has 40% of the early votes, while Republican farm business owner Joel John has surged into second, with 31%

He leads incumbent Peten, a Buckeye Democrat, by around two percentage points, or nearly 2,000 votes. 

John represents one of the few serious chances Republicans have of flipping a Democratic district this year. LD4 has conservative hotspots around Buckeye and the neighboring exurbs, as well as among the district’s farming communities.  

In Peten, the GOP saw a Democratic incumbent who generally has not performed as well as Fernandez, her seatmate, and who has yet to face a serious opponent since her appointment in 2017 and first election the following year. 

Republicans have come close in the district before. In 2014, Fernandez defeated Richard Hopkins by fewer than 200 votes. That said, the Democratic registration advantage – which now sits at around 16,000 voters – has grown considerably in the subsequent six years. 

Campaign launches range from amateurish to slick


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

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

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

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

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

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

Arizona’s top job 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karrin Taylor Robson
Karrin Taylor Robson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kimberly Yee
Kimberly Yee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marco Lopez
Marco Lopez

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

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

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

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

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

Top elections official  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Candidates head to court to defend petition challenges

Shawnna Bolick
Shawnna Bolick

Freshman lawmaker Shawnna Bolick has landed in court for using a P.O. box instead of her address on nominating petitions for her return bid to the state House. 

Bolick, a Phoenix Republican who represents Legislative District 20, is one of 25 candidates for state, legislative and federal offices who will be in court in the coming days to defend challenges to their petitions. Petitions were due April 20 and legal challenges to them are a routine part of the election process. 

Election attorney Kory Langhofer, who is defending Bolick from the claim she isn’t qualified to run because of the use of the P.O. box rather than her address, said it’s a weak argument, and he would know because he used it against Dan Saban, a candidate for Maricopa County sheriff in 2016, and lost. 

“We were on the other side then and the Arizona Supreme Court said [the P.O. box] is in the district so it’s fine,” Langhofer said. 

Bolick filled out her residential address as a P.O. box that’s in her district instead of her actual address, presumably since it’s protected because she’s married to Clint Bolick, an Arizona Supreme Court justice. 

The legal challenge, which is scheduled for an April 29 hearing, separately argues that 408 signatures are invalid because “they contain an improper or false calculator certification,” again relying on Bolick using her P.O. box as her residential address, and another 109 signatures are invalid for those signers not being in Bolick’s district. Republicans in that district need at least 455 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. 

In Saban’s case, the court said he didn’t strictly comply with the law, but he was close enough because his petition sheets didn’t cause any confusion or mislead any of the voters who signed them. . 

“I would bet heavily on Shawnna,” Langhofer said.

Bolick is joined by other incumbents who also must fend off  legal challenges. 

One is Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, a conservative Republican who’s routinely targeted as a beatable candidate. She faces a tough primary challenge against perennial candidate Wendy Rogers, and then that winner will take on Democrat Felicia French in the November election. 

Sylvia Allen
Sylvia Allen

In his challenge to Allen’s candidacy, lawyer and former state Elections Director Eric Spencer, warned that signatures the senator collected herself reveal a “potentially troubling pattern of fraud” that he wants to ask her about in court. 

The challenge states that Allen claims to have collected signatures around her vast northern Arizona district – in Flagstaff, Sedona, Cottonwood, Holbrook, Snowflake and Taylor – “on days when her public calendar proves that she was in the Phoenix metropolitan area attending to her official duties.” 

“These examples are potentially indicative of more widespread misconduct in Allen’s candidacy, which Plaintiff expects to further develop through Allen’s testimony at trial regarding whether she personally circulated all petition sheets bearing her name as circulator,” Spencer wrote. 

He added that besides the 42 signatures he found on six sheets she claimed to have circulated, “Allen may have fraudulently certified other petition sheets as well.” 

Allen filed 956 signatures for the office, which requires 484 minimum valid signatures. 

Spencer has a steep hill ahead of him, as he attempts to invalidate “at least” 528 signatures on a variety of grounds, including that circulators didn’t complete the fields on the back and that the signers aren’t registered to vote or don’t live in the district. 

He also alleges that one sheet is invalid because a felon who hasn’t had their rights restored circulated it. 

Allen told Yellow Sheet Report, a sister publication of the Arizona Capitol Times, she’s more irritated than concerned by the lawsuit, as she’s confident her signatures will stand. Volunteers who circulated her petition sheets signed them correctly, and she reviewed them personally, she said. 

“I’m irritated of course because it’s going to take time and money to challenge it,” Allen said. 

The plaintiff, William Chachkes, is a supporter of Rogers, she said, and Spencer is just throwing whatever arguments he can find. 

“It’s just part of the politics,” she said.

Corporation Commission

Five of the six Republicans running for Arizona Corporation Commission are facing challenges to their petitions, after a former commission staffer filed three challenges and a former superintendent of public instruction candidate, Bob Branch, filed three more. Commissioner Lea Marquez Peterson is the only safe candidate. 

Branch, a staunch conservative, first challenged Commissioner Boyd Dunn’s signatures on April 17 and has since filed challenges against Kim Owens and Sen. David Farnsworth, who terms out of the Legislature this year.

Branch told Yellow Sheet Report he would be bummed out if only Marquez Peterson qualifies on the GOP side for the three open seats, but the rules are the rules – and lawmakers should have changed those rules. 

“With the COVID virus, and the last month of not being able to collect signatures, I don’t think it’s just on [the candidates]. I think it’s on our state for not extending [the deadline],” Branch said. “That was shortsighted and done to protect people in office… and that’s not on me.”

Branch is alleging that 1,343 of Owens’ 7,360 signatures are invalid and 1,335 of Farnsworth’s 7,269 signatures are not valid. Republicans running for the commission need at least 6,663 valid signatures. 

Eric Gorsegner, a former commission policy analyst and chief of staff to former Phoenix Mayor Skip Rimsza, also filed a challenge to Dunn’s signatures arguing 1,103 of the 7,361 signatures he collected are invalid. 

Farnsworth, who had the fewest signatures of any commission candidate, is also facing a challenge from Gorsenger, who alleged that 2,156 of Farnsworth’s 7,296 signatures are invalid.

And Nick Myers faces a challenge from Gorsenger as well, who argues 2,191 of Myers’ 7,744 signatures are invalid. 

Before Gorsenger filed that additional challenge against Dunn, Dunn said he finds it suspicious that a Republican chose to challenge his signatures and not the signatures of candidates who have a “similar and even lower signature count.” 

Arizona Corporation Commissioner Boyd Dunn speaks with Arizona Power Supply chairman Don Brandt, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Arizona Corporation Commissioner Boyd Dunn. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Dunn said that after reviewing the first challenge, he isn’t worried. He said it “amazes” him that the challenge picked petition sheets which include former Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup, Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel (who is apparently registered under her married name Allister DeNitto) and Russell McCloud, a supervisor in Yuma County who is by law also listed as a defendant. 

“Half of my signatures came from the online E-Qual system with the Secretary of State,” Dunn said. “These are 100 percent verified.” 

He said he welcomes that “frivolous” lawsuit from attorney Tim La Sota. 

“It is a compliment that people like Tim are so afraid of my record of good governance and constituent services that he feels the only way to beat me is by means of a frivolous lawsuit,” he said. 

Gorsegner is also a financial backer of two of the Democrats running for the commission this year. He contributed $100 to Bill Mundell’s campaign and another $20 to Shea Stanfield. Gorsegner also contributed to Mundell’s 2016 commission race. None of the three Democratic candidates face challenges. 

The fifth commission candidate facing a challenge is Eric Sloan. 

Mary Halford, a Maricopa County voter, challenged his candidacy with the help of Democratic attorney Roy Herrera, arguing about 2,200 of his 8,017 signatures are invalid.

Most of the court hearings will be held the week of April 27, and candidates will either be removed from the ballot or continue campaigning for the primary on August 4. 

Yellow Sheet Report editor Hank Stephenson contributed to this story.

Court explains decision to let candidate stay on ballot

Shawnna Bolick
Shawnna Bolick

A court order allowing certain people to take their address out of public records does not mean they can hide it when they run for office, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The justices, however, agreed to let it slide this one time and permit Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, to seek a second term in the Arizona House even though she listed a mailing address on the spot on the nomination papers where it asks for a street address.

Chief Justice Robert Brutinel, writing for the court, said her “erroneous” entry on the papers was not done with the intent to defraud voters.

It also just so happens she is the wife of one of their colleagues.

But the justices in Tuesday’s ruling made it clear that anyone who tries this in the future — including Bolick — “flirts with disqualification.”

Clint Bolick
Clint Bolick

The decision has broader statewide implications. It could force future candidates who are legally eligible to shield addresses in some records to decide whether to list where they live — and give up their right to privacy and protection from possible harassment — or forego public office.

There is no question but that Bolick listed the street address of a private mailbox service on her nominating petitions.

She relied on the fact that husband, Clint, is a justice on the state’s high court. And Arizona law allows judges and other figures to restrict public access to residential addresses on certain records.

So what showed up on her nomination papers in the space listed for residence address was the address of 610 E. Bell Road 2-142 in Phoenix.

That drew a legal challenge.

A trial judge ruled in May that her husband’s status entitled her to make that move. That was upheld in a summary order by the four justices of the Supreme Court that heard the case — not including Clint — who said that the other address was “unlikely to have misled or confused voters” and that while she had not strictly complied with the law, she was in “substantial” compliance.

Robert Brutinel
Robert Brutinel

On Tuesday, in a full-blown eight-page opinion authored by Brutinel, the justices ratified the earlier order and further explained their belief that substantial compliance is enough — at least in this situation.

But Brutinel made it clear that he and his colleagues do not believe that’s really the way the law reads.

He specifically wrote that the law allowing candidates to shield addresses applies only to voter registration records “and does not extend to candidate filings.”

“Based on residency requirements provided in the Arizona Constitution and the applicable statutes, candidates are required to provide their actual residence address on candidates nomination documents even if they are protected voters,” Brutinel said.

And if that isn’t clear, the chief justice issued a warning of sorts. He wrote that Tuesday’s ruling based on the specific facts of this case allowing Bolick to run this year “does not mean she or any other candidate should use anything other than their actual residence address on future nomination papers and petitions.”

There was no immediate response from Bolick who is seeking her second term representing the district in north-central Phoenix about whether she will seek future office if the trade-off is having to list the address where she and her husband live.

A spokesman for Brutinel said he would have no comment about the decision and any reasons behind it beyond what is in the written opinion.

Central to the fight is a state law allowing certain individuals to ask for a court order to keep their residential addresses and those of everyone in their household off of voter registration records.

The ever-expanding list includes police officers and spouses, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, correctional officers, members of the Board of Executive Clemency, National Guard members who are supporting a law enforcement agency, individuals who have orders of protection and certain employees of child safety and adult protective services who have direct contact with families.

In agreeing to let Bolick remain on the ballot, Brutinel said the private mail box listed is in the same state, county, legislative district, city and zip code as where she actually lives. That, he said, shows there was no effort to mislead voters.

And Brutinel said that Bolick “relied, erroneously” on the court order allowing her to shield her address in certain public records as a reason not to list it on her nominating papers.

The chief justice also pointed out that Bolick used the same mailing address in her successful 2018 bid and, more to the point, that no one had challenged that.

“There is no evidence to suggest she had prior knowledge of the error or intended to violate the statute,” he said, which is why the justices decided she was in “substantial” compliance with the law and could remain on the ballot, at least for this year.

Bolick is seeking to hang on to one of the two Legislative District 20 House seats she holds along with Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale. The Democrats are offering only Judy Schwiebert in a bid to unseat one of them.

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.”

Democrats, Ducey PAC, begin election spending

(Deposit Photos)
(Deposit Photos)

Democratic PACs are beginning to spend on the general election, spreading money far and wide in an effort to support the party’s attempted takeover of the Legislature. 

Two independent expenditure groups – a type of organization that allows (sometimes anonymous) donors to funnel money into elections, so long as they don’t coordinate with candidates – have spent a combined $200,000 across the state to elect Democrats in GOP-controlled legislative districts. 

And they’re just getting started. Campaigns and PACs don’t have to report their third quarter finances for another month, so this figure just represents initial spending, an early peek at where political influencers are throwing their weight. 

If these figures are an indicator, Democratic groups see a wide-open map. 

Forward Majority Arizona and Opportunity Arizona, the two Democratic PACs spending the most so far, are allocating in the expected places: Legislative Districts 6, 17, 20 and 21, all places where demographic shifts give Democrats hope that they can nab a seat from Republicans. 

But the money is going beyond the usual suspects. Forward Majority, for example, has spent around $5,000 each opposing Rep. Mark Finchem and Sen. Vince Leach in Legislative District 11 and Reps. David Cook and T.J. Shope in Legislative District 8. 

It’s part of what communications director Ben Wexler-Waite calls “an aggressive portfolio strategy.” In other words, spending on Democratic candidates in districts where the odds are stacked high against.

LD8 has been comfortably in Republican hands since 2016, when incumbent Sen. Barbara McGuire lost a re-election bid to Sen. Frank Pratt, R-Casa Grande. McGuire is now challenging Shope, R-Coolidge, for her old seat, but the district hasn’t shown that it’s trending bluer. LD11, meanwhile, is solidly Republican, and would seem a stretch for Democrats to mount a credible campaign – Republicans there enjoy a sizable 10,000-voter registration advantage. Leach and Finchem, Republicans from Tucson and Oro Valley, respectively, are among the most conservative lawmakers in the Legislature. 

Finchem, for example, is a member of the Oath Keepers, a right-wing militant organization whose members often show up armed at demonstrations for racial justice. 

 “Nobody has ever run a real campaign against him,” Wexler-Waite said, adding that it’s important that Democrats are aggressive in what they hope to be a wave year.

“I think that the conventional wisdom of the past decade is going to be radically changed,” said progressive lobbyist Geoff Esposito. “There are definitely new opportunities and investments are going to reflect that.” 

Forward Majority, a Super PAC founded in 2017, is one of the several national groups working to turn statehouses to Democratic control in 2020. Arizona is one of its four targets. Since July, the group has spent more than $120,000, primarily on House races in LD6, LD20 and LD21 – all districts that Democrats see as among the most achievable wins. 

If Democrats hold all their House seats, and pick up two of the three, they’ll gain a slim majority in an Arizona body for the first time in recent memory. 

“They’re using millions of dollars against the limited amount of money that I have,” said Rep. Walter Blackman, a Republican from Snowflake – he and former Republican lawmaker Brenda Barton are facing off against Democratic Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans. 

While it’s not quite millions, money is materializing for the Democrats. Opportunity Arizona, for example, has spent more than $23,000 on ads and mailers against the incumbent Blackman in August alone. And Evans is far outpacing both of the LD6 Republicans in fundraising, 

Generally, Republicans have been slow to respond, though there’s plenty of time for that to change.  

Conservative groups have ponied up less than $2,000 to support Blackman. In LD20, Americans for Prosperity has spent $2,525 to support Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, a number dwarfed by the nearly $13,600 that Opportunity Arizona has spent in August to oust the incumbent Bolick. The trend holds for other candidates in these key districts – of all Republicans running for House in LD6, LD20 and LD21, only Bevery Pingerelli in LD21 has made it to the end of August without large spending by outside Democratic groups. 

Prominent Republicans and their bundlers have been more active on the Senate side. Arizonans for Strong Leadership, Gov. Doug Ducey’s PAC, has since July spent more than $211,000, largely for Republicans and against Democrats in Senate races in LD20, LD17 and LD6 – where it spent $42,000 on newspaper and radio ads targeting Democratic Senate candidate Felicia French, Democratic House candidate Coral Evans and Independent House candidate Art Babbott. 

The ad buys are handled by Mentzer Media, a Maryland-based firm that designs and places ads for conservative groups and is perhaps best known for handling the 2004 campaign “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” against Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. 

As of the pre-primary reporting period that ended July 18, Arizonans for Strong Leadership held just over $2 million in cash on hand, nearly a quarter of which is from a $500,000 March 4 contribution from GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons. 

Ducey is also directly helping some vulnerable incumbents through a second PAC, the Arizona Leadership Fund. Since December, Arizona Leadership Fund has given $33,500 directly to incumbents in five swing districts: LD6, LD8, LD17, LD20 and LD28. Sens. Kate Brophy McGee and Frank Pratt, and Reps. Anthony Kern, T.J. Shope and Jeff Weninger each received $5,200 from the PAC. Blackman, Bolick and Rep. David Cook of LD8 each received a single contribution of $2,500 on December 31. 

Former lawmaker, former congressional candidate, party chair vie for LD2 seat

Legislative District 2 Republicans nominated three people on Monday night as potential replacements for former Sen. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix.  

Former lawmaker Shawnna Bolick, failed congressional candidate Josh Barnett, and LD2 Republican party chair Paul Carver is the nominee slate the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors will now choose from.  

Kaiser attended the meeting and explained his resignation. He did not make any endorsements, but he nominated Carver. 

Kaiser resigned from the Senate on June 22, and the committeemen are required to meet within five days to select three nominees.  

Kaiser said he is leaving the Legislature to put his family first, but also said he will still work on public policy. 

“I kind of fell out of love being a politician. I did not enjoy being a politician, and I really wanted to put my family first again,” Kaiser said. “The reason I’m resigning is to protect the seat and protect the party.” With Kaiser resigning now it gives another Republican from his district time to establish themself as an incumbent before a tight 2024 general election. 

Six people were nominated at the beginning of the meeting: Debra Nolen, Linda Brickman, Carver, Barnett, Bolick and Ari Bradshaw. Rep. Justin Wilmeth, R-Phoenix, was nominated to replace Kaiser, but as a current representative, he declined the nomination. 

After the first round of voting, only Bolick and Barnett had more than 50% plus one vote and advanced. There was a second round of voting for the third nominee between Carver, Bradshaw and Brickman. Because Nolen had the lowest votes after the first round, she was dropped. 

Brickman dropped out after the second round of voting, and Carver had the most votes in the last round over Bradshaw. 

Kaiser said more than a week ago that he thought Carver might be nominated, and Kaiser was the first person to nominate anyone (Carver). “I don’t believe anybody should ever seek after leadership,” Carver said on Tuesday, June 20. He added at the time that if he were to be nominated, he would accept, and he did. 

Between in person and proxy voters, 121 PCs cast their ballots for the candidates. 

The board of supervisors will select one person to take Kaiser’s seat. The Legislature won’t reconvene until July 31, so the board has at least a month to make that determination and still avoid a vacancy at the Senate in their last floor meetings. 

PCs were disgruntled that the board of supervisors gets to make the final decision on their representation. Kaiser said he agrees it should be the PCs alone who decide on the appointment, but noted the in the past, the board got to make that decision unilaterally. 

Kaiser spent the last two sessions trying to increase Arizona’s housing supply through a series of ambitious bills, which were blocked at every turn. He hasn’t given up on pushing zoning deregulation and other housing measures however, and said he’ll continue to work on that through a nonprofit he’s started. 

However, housing isn’t something the three nominees look at the same way. Bolick declined to comment after the meeting, but Barnett and Carver both expressed reservations about Kaiser’s proposals.   

“There were a lot of good points in Steve’s bill,” Carver said. “You need to take a closer look at what the community wants.” 

Barnett said he’s talked to neighbors who don’t want trailer parks popping up near their $500,000 homes.  

Bolick served in the last Legislative session, then ran for Secretary of State. She lost to fellow former lawmaker Mark Finchem in the Republican primary in August. “I’m the only candidate who can hit the ground running,” Bolick said. She reminded the audience that she hosted a hearing on election problems with former Senate President Karen Fann that former House Speaker Rusty Bowers wouldn’t, that she has a plan for fixing Arizona’s elections and that she’s been an advocate of school vouchers. 

Carver didn’t say whether Arizona’s elections are fair, but he did say that the electorate has “lost faith” in the election system.  If Carver is selected by the board of supervisors, he will have to resign as chair, but not until then. 

Barnett said he’ll represent the people and be a “staunch fighter for election integrity.” He also pledged to get the “secrecy” out of the Legislature. Barnett also said he has the support of Sens. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, and Anthony Kern, R-Glendale. 

The ballots were tabulated through a hand count. In their nomination speeches, most of the candidates said they want to tackle election issues in some way by mandating paper ballots (which are the only ballots Arizona currently has), banning machines in elections, and requiring people to vote in person on election day. 

LD2 is highly politically competitive, only leaning slightly Republican. 

Kaiser narrowly won his election against Democrat Jeanne Casteen in 2022. Kaiser got 51.8% of the votes and Casteen received 48.2%. 

Rep. Judy Schwiebert, D-Phoenix, already filed a statement of interest to run in LD 2 in 2024 and is the first Democrat to do so.  

Barnett also filed a statement of interest to run in 2024. He lost to incumbent Congressman David Schweikert, R-AZ, in the Congressional District 1 primary last year.  

The Maricopa Board of Supervisors hasn’t announced yet when they’ll select Kaiser’s replacement to the Senate. 

GOP bill would allow lawmakers to override electoral votes

Felecia Rotellini, a member of Arizona's Electoral College, signs the Arizona Presidential Elector Ballot certificate Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
Felecia Rotellini, a member of Arizona’s Electoral College, signs the Arizona Presidential Elector Ballot certificate Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

The chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee introduced a bill Wednesday that would allow the Legislature to override the Secretary of State’s certification of the state’s electoral votes. 

HB 2720, sponsored by Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, says the Legislature “retains its legislative authority regarding the office of presidential elector” and can, by a simple majority vote, at any time before the inauguration of a new president revoke the certification regardless of whether the Legislature is in regular or special session or has held hearings on the matter.

Bolick’s bill would also make it easier to contest the results of an election by not letting a court dismiss a challenge or enter a summary judgment until after a jury trial, and limiting the circumstances under which laches, a legal doctrine dealing with unreasonable delay in filing a suit, can be used to dismiss election challenges. It would require at least 10 members of the general public who live in a county be chosen by lot and allowed to observe recounts, and it would require continuous video coverage of recounts, with the live feed clearly displaying the ballots being counted and the electronic screens being used by the Electronic Vote Adjudication Board.

Any duplicated votes would be required to be posted on the county’s website within 24 hours, and the board’s determination as to the voter’s intent. And, the bill would require counties to maintain a count of the number of physical ballots printed and the number of ballots otherwise generated in categories such as regular, provisional, early and federal-only ballots, and to post that information online within a day after Election Day.

News of the bill spread quickly after the Capitol Times first reported on it Thursday, with both the reporting and the social media backlash largely focused on the provision giving the Legislature the power to overturn the electoral vote certification. “Rep. Shawnna Bolick says your vote for president shouldn’t count (but hers should),” read the headline of a column in the Arizona Republic. Some national news outlets picked up on it, including NBC News and Business Insider.

“So really, we should just get rid of the presidential election altogether?” tweeted Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. “In reality, that’s what this bill would do.”

Shawnna Bolick
Shawnna Bolick

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, a member of the House Government and Elections Committee, said Bolick is too extreme to be in elected office because her election bill and because she was one of several co-sponsors of a bill that would make abortion a first-degree murder offense.

“First, she wants … women to get the death penalty for abortion,” said Salman. “Now, she wants to toss out the votes of millions of Arizona voters.”

In a statement Friday, Bolick accused the mainstream media of “using this elections bill as click bait to generate misleading headlines,” although she didn’t dispute the central point that it would give the Legislature the power to overturn the results of a presidential vote.

 “This bill would give the Arizona Legislature back the power it delegated to certify the electors,” she continued. “It is a good, democratic check and balance.”

In the wake of a presidential election in which the Democratic candidate carried Arizona for only the third time since World War II, followed by accusations of fraud and repeated attempts to overturn the results from some Republicans, GOP lawmakers this year have been introducing numerous measures this year to make changes to the voting process. Many of them are designed to put more restrictions on early voting or to allay concerns about voter fraud by making vote count rules more stringent or adding additional verification requirements to voter registration.

Bolick said she has been talking to election observers and poll watchers over the past months and taking reform ideas from constituents, and has received well over 30,000 emails, letters and calls pertaining to the November election.

“At the end of the day, I hope we can all agree we need to have secure elections cast by legal registered voters across Arizona,” she said. “Our constituents voted us in to restore the integrity of our elections.”

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include comments from Bolick. 

GOP lawmakers give business owners escape from school surcharge

Rep. Andrés Cano, D-Tucson, right, speaks with Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, during a vote on the Arizona budget Thursday, June 24, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Rep. Andrés Cano, D-Tucson, right, speaks with Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, during a vote on the Arizona budget Thursday, June 24, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Republican state representatives voted Friday to allow the owners of small businesses — and anyone who organizes their finances for tax purposes as one — to escape paying the voter-approved income tax surcharge on the wealthy to fund education.

And that would cut hundreds of millions of dollars from what is supposed to go to schools.

SB 1783, approved on a 31-25 party-line vote, creates an entirely new alternate tax category for small business, generally those now organized in a way so their income passes through to their owners. That means the owners now compute what they owe the state on their personal income tax forms, after deducting all business expenses.

Proposition 208, approved by voters by a 51.7% margin in November, imposes a 3.5% surcharge on adjusted personal income of amounts above $250,00 for individuals and $500,00 for married couples filing jointly. Under current law, that means the net earnings of the business retained by the owner.

But here’s the thing: That surcharge applies only to tax categories that existed last year when Proposition 208 was approved. And since this new “small business” classification did not exist last year, the surcharge would not apply at all to anyone opting to use that new category.

The tax relief in SB 1783 goes far beyond what the Republican-controlled legislature already did when they voted earlier this week to cap all income taxes at 4.5%.

In that case, unable to overturn what voters approved, lawmakers created a workaround: The wealthiest would still have to pay the 3.5% surcharge. But, with the 4.5% cap, they would have an effective tax rate of just 1% on their earnings.

But the voter approval of Proposition 208 also means that lawmakers have to make up the difference of what the high-income earners would otherwise have paid. So that guarantees the education programs funded by Proposition 208 would get all the money promised.

SB 1783 changes all that.

“This would create a loophole for the wealthiest in Arizona to file as a small business so they can avoid paying the 3.5% surcharge that Arizonans said they want to support education,” said House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen.

And there are fiscal implications: Legislative budget analysts figured that anyone who now is subject to the Proposition 208 surcharge and is eligible to use the small business classification will do so if it lowers their taxes. And they concluded that, out of the estimated $836 million Proposition 208 was expected to raise for education, SB 1783 would slash that by about $292 million.

Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, said the exemption is justified. She pointed out that campaign materials for the initiative said it would not affect small businesses.

And Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, said that means the proponents either were confused “or they willfully lied.”

But Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said that the campaign statement is true and that Proposition 208 is not a tax on business.

She pointed out that what’s subject to the tax is not the gross proceeds of any business. It’s what’s left to the owners after they pay all expenses

That list that can include everything from employee salaries and equipment purchases to other deductions. And it also encompasses what remains after any other deductions, like money a business owner puts into a 401(k) retirement account.

What that leaves — and what’s subject to the Proposition 208 surcharge — Epstein said, is the net income the owner pockets, and only above $500,000 for a married couple.

But Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, said that ignores how businesses operate.

He said they retain net earnings to help them weather the ups and downs of businesses. And it is those net earnings, Kaiser said, that are subject to the tax.

The measure needs final approval by the Senate before going to Gov. Doug Ducey. He is likely to sign it because he opposed Proposition 208.

That could lead to litigation.

The Voter Protection Act, a provision of the Arizona Constitution, bars lawmakers from repealing or making changes in anything approved at the ballot. The only exception is for amendments that “further the purposes” of the original law, and then only with a three-fourths vote.

Rep. Domingo DeGrazia, D-Tucson, said he believes what’s in SB 1783 runs afoul of the provision even though it doesn’t actually repeal the levy.

“The legislature cannot do indirectly what it cannot do directly,” he said.

And attorney Roopali Desai, who represents the Invest in Ed Committee that put the initiative on the ballot, has said the key is whether courts believe the change would “undermine the ultimate will of the voters.”

Half of whatever ends up being raised from Proposition 208 is earmarked for schools to hire teachers and classroom support personnel, a category that also includes librarians, nurses, counselors and coaches. Those dollars also could be used for raises.

Another 25% would be for support services personnel. That covers classroom aides, service personnel, food service and transportation.

There’s 12% for grants for career and technical education programs and 10% for mentoring and retaining new teachers in the classroom. The last 3% is for the Arizona Teachers Academy which provides tuition grants for people pursuing careers in education.

Gun happy GOP lawmakers push for expansion

In this Feb. 27, 2013 file photo Hank Johnson displays his handgun, in Springboro, Ohio. Arizona Republican lawmakers have introduced a host of bills in 2022 to expand places where people can carry a concealed handgun. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

Republicans have introduced several bills this year to expand the places where people can carry a concealed handgun.

While a couple of them are moving through the Legislature and could become law this year, others appear to have stalled.

Arizona already has very gun-friendly laws – it became the third state in the country to pass “constitutional carry” in 2010, allowing most adults 21 and older to carry a concealed handgun without a permit in most places.

Measures making statements of support for gun rights tend to sail through the Legislature on party-line votes. Several pro-gun bills have passed the House and await action in the Senate, including some requiring gun safety lessons in schools, exempting firearms from sales tax and limiting public contracts with companies that discriminate against gun businesses.

However, bills that would expand concealed carry have had a more mixed success rate so far, with some advancing and others stalling. House Bill 2489, which would have let 18- to 21-year-olds get provisional concealed carry permits, failed in February when Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, joined Democrats to vote against it.

And two that have gotten the most attention – House Bill 2447 and Senate Bill 1123, which differ in their details, but would both let people carry concealed weapons on public college and university campuses – may be stalled as well. Both passed out of committee in their respective chambers in late January and early February, but neither has gone to the House or Senate floor.

While the bills have been opposed by the usual opponents – Democrats, gun control advocates, university administrators and campus police – House Republicans aren’t all sold on them either. Both Cook and Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, expressed concern about HB2447 at a GOP caucus meeting in February, albeit for different reasons. Fillmore didn’t like the fact that the bill still requires a carry permit, which he sees as “a subtle form of gun registration,” while Cook worries about more guns on campuses.

“I just don’t see the positive of it in putting deadly weapons in a classroom setting,” Cook said.

Two concealed carry bills are still alive and could become law if they pass the Senate and gain the governor’s approval – HB2316, which would let people carry in non-secured government buildings such as libraries, town halls and recreation centers, and HB2414, which would let people drive onto school grounds with guns in their vehicles.

A cyclist crosses an intersection on the campus of Arizona State University on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Both passed the House last year, too, but were held in the Senate. This year, however, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved both on party-line votes earlier this month, clearing the way for a floor vote. Supporters of these and of “campus carry” say letting law-abiding citizens carry gives a “good guy” with a gun a chance to defend themselves and stop a mass shooter or other “bad guy.”

“Gun-free zones do not increase safety,” Rep. Shawna Bolick, R-Phoenix, said in a statement supporting HB2447. “They often do the opposite, creating conditions whereby law-abiding people are made more vulnerable to victimization by criminals who can have confidence that their misdeeds are not likely to be challenged with lethal force.”

Opponents worry that “more guns lead to more shootings,” as Marie Thearle, an Arizona volunteer with Moms Demand Action, put it. Thearle said it is a myth that more concealed carry means “good guys with guns” will stop shooters.

“People are not trained to deal with an active shooter situation, and they’re definitely not trained in how to quickly make themselves not a threat if uniformed police do show up,” Thearle said.

Thearle said she worried about the cost of HB2316 – last year’s version included a fiscal note saying it would cost about $3 million to $6 million a year to provide security at state facilities that would still ban guns.

Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, said the fact that the bill still bans guns in certain secured facilities such as courts, schools and police stations proves the danger.

“We’re basically admitting that guns are too dangerous for those locations,” he said.

Supporters of HB2414 said it would make people safer by removing the requirement that someone driving onto school grounds with a gun unload it. Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who was a police officer in New York City before moving to Arizona, said if you go into any police locker room you will see bullet holes in lockers from officers unloading their guns.

“There’s a risk of an accidental discharge when you’re handling your weapon unnecessarily,” he said. “This bill is actually a safety bill.”

Thearle said “a responsible gun owner would be comfortable loading and unloading their gun without risk of accidental discharge,” and should leave it at home if they’re not.

“There’s a reason why our schools are drug-free and gun-free, and that’s to keep our students safe,” said Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson. “Having loaded guns, even in the glove compartment of a car, is a dangerous situation for a public-school campus.”

About a dozen states have legalized guns on college campuses since Utah became the first in 2004. Republicans in Arizona have tried several times in recent years to pass “campus carry,” so far without success.

Rep. Quang Nguyen, R-Prescott Valley, sponsor of the bill, said, “My Second Amendment should not be defined by some invisible border around a campus.”

Bolick, who is one of the House bill’s co-sponsors, said it includes “significant guardrails” to make sure people carrying do so safely – it would require someone carrying on campus to inform administrators and would limit it to students and faculty.

Timothy Tizon, state chairman of the college libertarian group Young Americans for Liberty, said it would be worth it if it could have prevented one of the 23 rapes in 2019 on the University of Arizona’s main campus.

“Students have the right to protect themselves off-campus, and that right should be protected, not skirted,” he said.

Thearle, who is considering colleges for her daughter right now, said she doesn’t plan to have her go to school in Arizona if “campus carry” passes. She said students’ brains are still developing, and that guns on college campuses, where there is alcohol and drug use and when students are at an age when mental illnesses can first manifest, could be dangerous.

“Honestly, as much as (crime on campuses) makes news, college campuses are relatively safe places in part because they tend to be gun-free zones,” she said.

Arizona Capitol Times Reporter Camryn Sanchez contributed.

Half of this year’s bills died unceremoniously

(Photo by Franck Boston/DEPOSIT PHOTO)
(Photo by Franck Boston/DEPOSIT PHOTO)

Covid and increased Capitol security aside, this January at the Legislature started like almost every one before it.

Lawmakers and their assistants scurried between the House and Senate, passing bill folders back and forth to collect signatures and promises to support legislation. Grand ideas to dramatically change state government, tiny technical corrections fixing apostrophe placement, bills that took up two sentences and bills that ran for hundreds of pages all landed in hoppers in the House and Senate, ending with a record 1,708 bills — and another 115 memorials and resolutions — ready for hearings.

Six weeks later, more than half of them are legally dead.

Some bills gain new life, others born with ‘strikers’
By Julia Shumway and Nathan Brown

For every rule in the Legislature, there’s a maneuver to bend it. When it comes to session deadlines, strike-everything amendments buy another chance for seemingly dead bills.

This year, strikers on electronic cigarettes, unemployment and elections surfaced after deadlines for them to be heard in committee.

Vaping: For years, health care professionals and smoke shop owners have waged war over proposed regulations of vape products and electronic cigarettes. This year, Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, championed the health care side of things, with a now-dead bill that would have classified vaping products as tobacco and allowed municipalities to require tobacco retailers to obtain local licenses. Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, sponsored the now-dead vaping industry bill that would have preempted local regulations. Senate Commerce Committee chair J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, held both bills but introduced a strike-everything amendment to SB1103 with parts of both bills. Mesnard won committee approval of SB1103, which he described as a way to buy the two camps more time to negotiate. Its future depends on whether Boyer and Leach can strike an agreement.

Unemployment insurance: Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, used a strike-everything amendment to introduce a sweeping set of changes to the state’s unemployment system. Her SB1411 would raise the maximum weekly benefit to $320 from the current $240, reduce the number of eligible weeks to 20 from 26 and gradually increase unemployment taxes paid by employers. Fann said she has the votes to pass her bill.

Gambling: Gov. Doug Ducey and the state’s Native American tribes are negotiating a new gaming compact before the current one expires, and they reached agreement on allowing sports betting, as represented in a pair of mirror bills introduced by Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, and Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler. But Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, declined to hear Shope’s bill in the Appropriations Committee, which he chairs, and instead used a strike-everything amendment to attach the language to his own bill on historic horse racing. While the amended bill passed in committee, the tribes consider the historic horse racing component a “poison pill.” And it appears unlikely that Gowan’s bill could pass the full Senate.

Overturning elections: Gowan also drew national attention for a strike-everything amendment that would have asked voters to approve a constitutional amendment in 2022 to give the Legislature the sole authority to appoint presidential electors. After taking testimony near the end of a 12-hour hearing, Gowan announced that he would hold the resolution, saying he just wanted to start the conversation.

Checking Biden: Strike-everything amendments on both HB2310 and SB1119 would give the attorney general the power to review the constitutionality of federal executive orders. In 2014, Arizona voters approved an initiative that would prevent the state from using its resources to enforce unconstitutional federal laws. The process laid out in the two amended bills would allow the state to determine the constitutionality based on the attorney general’s opinion without waiting for court rulings. HB2310 passed the House on a 31-29 vote and SB1310 is awaiting a hearing in the Senate.

Conversion therapy: After fellow Republican Sen. Tyler Pace killed Leach’s bill prohibiting bans on conversion therapy or professional punishments for therapists who practice it, Leach reintroduced his bill as a strike-everything amendment to SB1325. The bill was on the February 23 Appropriations Committee agenda, but Gowan held it with no discussion, killing the bill for a second time.

Legislative consultant Beth Lewallen, who has closely tracked the Legislature for a decade, said this year’s dead bills mostly just show how a typical session goes.

Beth Lewallen
Beth Lewallen

“There were such a massive number of bills,” Lewallan said. “It’s normal for that many to die and I think it’s why we all take a deep breath and can’t wait when we get to crossover week.”

While some, such as a Senate resolution to hold Maricopa County’s supervisors in contempt, publicly failed to garner enough votes to pass, most of the bills that die in the House and Senate do so quietly. By the February 19 deadline to hear bills in committees in their chambers of origin, more than 950 measures were left to die.

Most were sponsored by Democrats, who struggle to have their ideas heard when Republicans still control both chambers. But some Republican bills also struggled to find a foothold.

Among the most notable were election bills, including ones sponsored by Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, and Reps. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, and Kevin Payne, R-Peoria, that would have overturned the 2020 election results, given legislators the power to choose future electors and ended the Permanent Early Voting List, respectively.

Lewallen, who founded her own consulting firm, Italicized Consulting, works for many clients and spends a lot of time analyzing and tracking bills. She said she noticed a larger number of duplicate bills this year, which she speculated could be why there were so many that died.

It’s a case of different people sharing the same ideas, she said, and the short window of time to be heard in a committee causes them to die.

The Pandemic and Vaccines

The Covid pandemic upended the 2020 legislative session and dominated the entire interim period through the election cycle, but most Covid bills from Democratic sponsors are now dead, as are bills downplaying vaccines.

Outside of bill sponsored by Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley, to give grants to small businesses that were closed due to Covid, none of the dozens of Covid bills targeting unemployment, rental assistance, wage increases or residential eviction moratoriums from Democratic sponsors received a committee hearing.

It’s a fight Democrats have wanted since early in the pandemic, and a reason why they would have been in favor of a special session if the Republicans would have agreed to work with them on legislation. But while Democratic bills are not moving forward, efforts to raise the unemployment cap are not dead. Bipartisan efforts are making their way through each chamber.

Criticisms from the left that Gov. Doug Ducey was not effectively combating the virus or helping the people who needed it the most prompted bills like Paradise Valley Democrat Rep. Kelli Butler’s HB2788, which would increase the amount of paid sick leave for eligible employees in schools, and Glendale Democrat Sen. Martín Quezada’s SB1607, which would have prevented landlords from increasing the price tenants must pay for the duration of a state of emergency plus 30 days.

On the flipside, while Ducey and Arizona health officials push the safety of receiving one of the available vaccines that have been administered to at least 1 million people so far, at least two Republican lawmakers see the pandemic as a new reason to push an anti-vaccination agenda that has come up in consecutive sessions.

The vaccine is not mandatory, but state and federal leaders strongly encourage getting it. Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, still wanted to remove a potential condition for employment to receive the Covid vaccine. Barto has a history of anti-vaccination efforts against the advice of health experts, but has yet to get any passed — though her bill to exempt dogs and cats from rabies vaccinations is moving in the Senate. Her Covid vaccine bill SB1648 never received a hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee.

An effort from Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction would have removed school immunization requirements, though it was not limited to the Covid vaccine.


A bill from Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, would have allowed women who get abortions and the doctors who perform them to be prosecuted for homicide, but it didn’t go anywhere after national attention at the start of session.

HB2650 would have given counties and the Attorney General’s Office the power to prosecute abortions while directing officials to enforce the law regardless of any federal laws or court rulings – such as the landmark 1973 case Roe v Wade – to the contrary. It contained an exemption for cases where the mother’s life was in danger, but not in cases when a pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. It was never assigned to a committee.

Other similar bills would legally classify abortion as homicide have been introduced in several other states over the past few years but have never gotten far. Blackman introduced another version of the bill, HB2878, a couple days before the House committee hearing deadline, which would allow abortion to be treated as homicide but doesn’t include the language directing the state to ignore federal courts that the other bill did. It died in the House Judiciary Committee without a hearing.

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, introduced a bill this year to repeal the unenforced pre-Roe v Wade abortion ban still on the books in Arizona. It was left to die after being referred to two committees – usually an ominous sign of a bill’s fate.

Responding to the Ballot

In clear response to the passage of 2020’s Proposition 208 (Invest in Education) Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, introduced a ballot referral that would require voters to reauthorize tax increases every five years. Since Prop. 208 was a tax levy on Arizona’s highest income earners for the purposes of funding public education, it would go to the ballot again in 2024 – along with all other retroactive tax increases approved on the ballot. Petersen’s SCR1028 never received a hearing.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, wanted to get a bill approved to crack down on marijuana impairments on the road – a provision that was not addressed when voters approved Proposition 207 (Smart and Safe Arizona), which legalized recreational marijuana for adults. Kavanagh’s HB2084 would set a blood level limit of two nanograms per milliliter to prove impairment, which experts say is not an accurate measure for marijuana intoxication. The bill died without a committee hearing.

Cell Phone with apps


Conservatives have long complained that social media giants are biased against them, and two lawmakers who were particularly active in using social media to push conspiracy theories about the results of the 2020 election introduced bills to do something about it. Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, filed HB2180 in early January, a bill seeking to penalize social media companies that censor content for “politically biased reasons” by deeming them a “publisher,” not a “platform,” and holding them “liable for damages suffered by an online user because of the person’s actions.” And Townsend Introduced SB1428, which would have let anyone sue Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites if they delete or minimize the reach of posts.

Neither of their bills ever got a hearing. And neither of them are on Twitter anymore. Both deleted their accounts in late January although Finchem, like many other conservatives who decry Big Tech bias, is still active on Parler and Gab.

Freshman blues

Heading into the session, everyone expected a repeat of last year’s bitter fight over whether transgender girls should be allowed to participate in girls’ interscholastic sports. Similar battles are raging in legislatures across the country, as part of a nationwide push following a Connecticut lawsuit filed by female athletes who say they lost chances at athletic scholarships to two transgender girls who took top spots at track and field competitions.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman attempted to head off the potential bills with a prominent op-ed in the Arizona Republic arguing that students should be allowed to play on teams consistent with their gender identity — which, for transgender students, is different from their biological sex.

Wendy Rogers
Wendy Rogers

Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, filed SB1637 early in the session to require only biological girls be permitted to play for girls’ teams, but Senate President Karen Fann never assigned it to a committee. Barto, the Phoenix Republican who led the charge last year, as well as ardent supporter Cathi Herrod, director of the influential social conservative organization Center for Arizona Policy, instead opted to hang back and wait for courts to rule on challenges to an Idaho law that would bar transgender girls from girls’ sports and a recent President Biden executive order that appears to require they be allowed.

SB1637 is just one of many Rogers bills that earned headlines in the national conservative media but won’t move forward. Fann also declined to assign her SCR1026, which would have removed Planned Parenthood founder and longtime Tucson resident Margaret Sanger from the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame.

Senate Transportation and Technology Committee Chair David Livingston didn’t bite at Rogers’ pitch to rename State Route 260 the “Donald J. Trump Highway.” Barto didn’t hear Rogers’ SB1511, which would classify so-called “gender-affirming care” as criminal abuse, or her SB1383 to ban abortions after a physician can detect a heartbeat – typically six weeks into pregnancy or just two weeks after a woman misses her period.

Committee chairs also declined to hear Rogers’ bills creating harsher punishments for blocking roadways during protests and defacing monuments.

Lewallan, the legislative consultant, said she thought most of the bills from Rogers died because of her different approach than the typical freshman lawmaker.

“She tackled really big, high-profile issues her first year. There was no learning curve. A lot of people come in and especially into the Senate, and take a handful of issues and really kind of learn their way through the process, and she had a very different strategy than a lot of freshmen,” Lewallan said.



In LD20, Democrats see road to power

American election campaign fight as Republican Versus Democrat represented by two boxing gloves with the elephant and donkey symbol stitched fighting for the vote of the United states citizens for an election win.

One reason to care about the result in the House race in Legislative District 20, a West Valley district where Republican control has slowly deteriorated – possibly enough to flip this year – is that the fate of the Legislature could dramatically change based on its result. 

Or so says Steven Slugocki, the chair of the Maricopa County Democratic Party. Like many in his party, Slugocki believes that the path to the first Democratic House majority in decades goes through LD20, the kind of white, independently-minded suburban district that pundits believe to be lurching away from the GOP. 

In 2018, Hazel Chandler, a Democrat, fell short of now-Rep. Shawnna Bolick by fewer than 2,000 votes. Slugocki said she believes that the registration gains that Democrats have made in the district – from around 36,000 in 2018 to 40,551 as of this August – are enough to make up that deficit. 

“Those extra 4,000 voters could make the difference between winning and losing,” Slugocki said. 

Still, Republicans maintain a roughly 5,000-voter advantage. Surmountable, sure, but the outcome is hardly set in stone. They say they believe they are better prepared than they were in 2018, when the Democrats surged to a 29-31 split in the House, propelled by voters activated by education and the Red for Ed movement. 

George Khalaf
George Khalaf

“Yes, this is everyone’s tier one, we take it seriously, they’re good recruits,” said George Khalaf, a Republican pollster and consultant working for Bolick’s re-election campaign, referring to House Democratic candidate Judy Schwiebert and her counterpart in the Senate, Doug Ervin. “But if it wasn’t going to be done in 2018, when education was a top issue, I don’t think it’ll happen this year. We’re prepared.” 

But Democrats have other reasons to be bullish. It’s one of two districts where voters primarily supported President Donald Trump in 2016 and Democratic Senate candidate (and now Senator) Kyrsten Sinema in 2018. The other is Legislative District 17, a suburban East Valley district that elected a Democrat representative in 2018 and could do the same in the Senate this year. 

Schwiebert is running as a single-shot candidate, allowing the party to consolidate resources to defeat either Bolick or Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale. That strategy proved successful for Rep. Jennifer Pawlik, D-Chandler, in 2018, who received more votes in that general election than her now-seatmate, the incumbent Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler. 

Even Republicans admit that she’s a strong candidate. A long-time high school teacher running as a conciliatory, pragmatic Democrat, Schwiebert said she’s hoping to appeal to voters who feel alienated by the paralyzing bitterness of the Legislature. She’s offering a slate of standard, though generally popular Democratic policies like protecting health coverage for those with pre-existing conditions and boosting public education spending. 

“I’ve lived in this district for my life. A lot of people who have been frustrated who know me through one avenue or another were reaching out,” Schwiebert said. “The other thing, I’ve been calling a lot of independents as well as a lot of Republicans. People are tired of the partisan bickering.” 

While she won’t address it head-on, Schwiebert’s significance to the makeup of the House is hard to deny. LD20 is one of a handful of districts where the Republican voter registration advantage is less than 10,000, all of which are top targets for the state and national Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. 

Democrats are homing in on LD20, neighboring Legislative District 21, and the northern-Arizona Legislative District 6 as their best shots for flipping the House. If they can hold their gains from 2018 and win just two of those districts, they have a House majority, breaking a Republican trifecta that has held strong since Janet Napolitano’s governorship. 

Judy Schwiebert
Judy Schwiebert

Moneyed interests have taken note. Like many possible swing districts, outside groups at the state and national levels have buffeted LD20 with cash, spending almost $130,000 in support of Schwiebert and just about as much against her. Some of those same groups have spent nearly $200,000 to attack Kern. 

Schwiebert has also managed to build up a sizable amount of cash – $158,000 as of the pre-primary reporting period, more than Kern and almost as much as Bolick. That number will in all likelihood skyrocket by the time the campaign files its next finance report. 

“The only advantage they have is funding,” said Kern, an influential Republican who currently chairs the House Rules Committee. “The voters are smart out there, they understand it’s a national movement to elect Democrats. But all they have to do is look across the border to California or Colorado.” 

Kern – who himself has benefited from nearly $100,000 in outside spending – said he believes that the voters in the district are more conservative than the fundamentals would suggest, and that even Democrats are going to support him. 

Anthony Kern
Anthony Kern

“I’m the only small business owner in the race, I’m the only experienced law enforcement officer, and I think those are important to voters,” he said. 

Kern and Bolick are also willing to campaign in person, which Democrats have largely avoided due to COVID-19. Khalaf said this could provide an advantage, helping to create bonds with voters. Meanwhile, the GOP will paint Schwiebert as a plant from too-liberal national Democrats hell-bent on flipping state legislative houses. 

To Kern’s point, Schwiebert is hardly in her party’s leftmost flank.

“I want to make sure that everybody in our community is safe,” she said. “That means making sure that our law enforcement officers have the resources they need, but it also means that we’re making our communities safer for all of us by having good schools and housing that people can afford.” 

She also does what she can to avoid embracing the frame that she’s part of any kind of national movement, repeatedly emphasizing that she’s new to politics and not interested in the meta-narratives of her race. 

“I’m really appreciative of all the enormous local support we have,” she said. “I can’t speak for other groups. I just know that I’m going to the Legislature to work with everybody who wants to work with me.” 

Slugocki, who now appears in national media seemingly every day to discuss the significance of Maricopa County to Democratic ambitions, has no such compunctions.

“The entire Legislature could very well come down to LD20,” he said. “All eyes are gonna be on us. It’s going to show that we can win in these areas that were once very red.”


Justice Bolick says attendance at political dinner wasn’t improper

Gov. Doug Ducey, right, speaks with Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, and Arizona Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick Aug. 15 before a dinner at the American Legislative Exchange Council conference in Austin, Texas. Clint Bolick was criticized for attending the dinner at the political conference. PHOTO FROM TWITTER
Gov. Doug Ducey, right, speaks with Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, and Arizona Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick Aug. 15 before a dinner at the American Legislative Exchange Council conference in Austin, Texas. Clint Bolick was criticized for attending the dinner at the political conference. PHOTO FROM TWITTER

An Arizona Supreme Court justice defended himself August 20 from a storm of criticism after being spotted at a conference known to push conservative legislation.

Gov. Doug Ducey tweeted a photo on August 15 showing him with Justice Clint Bolick and his legislator wife, Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, at a conference held by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, in Austin, Texas.

While Bolick did not actually attend the conference, he did attend a dinner with his wife.

The justice said he attended the ALEC dinner as his wife’s guest, but acknowledged that ALEC paid for his meal.

“Nothing at the dinner would remotely compromise my impartiality or create a reasonable appearance otherwise,” Clint Bolick said.

Critics jumped on the tweet, questioning whether Clint Bolick’s appearance there – albeit with his wife – and at a separate event hosted by school choice advocates in Austin, was a conflict.

Chris Herstam, a political consultant who left the GOP a few years ago, threw the first stone.

“I never thought I’d see a sitting AZ Supreme Court Justice standing w/his GOP legislator wife & the gov. who appointed him at an ALEC annual meeting. ALEC & the wife write the laws, Ducey signs them into law & Bolick rules on them. Something is very wrong with this picture,” Herstam tweeted, receiving more than 170 retweets and 300 likes.

Several responses poured in, including one from Brian Garcia, a law student who worked for U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema when she was in the U.S. House. He tweeted that Bolick’s duty to avoid the appearance of impropriety “goes out the window.”

Bolick said there was nothing improper about his talk at a school-choice education forum billed as “A Conversation with Justice Bolick,” which focused on experiences and strategies regarding litigating school choice cases leading up to a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court case stemming from a school choice debacle in Ohio.

“I was also asked about my transition from public interest law to the bench, my judicial retention election, the comparison of judicial elections in Texas and Arizona, and my tattoo,” Bolick said, referring to the scorpion tattoo he has on his finger.

He said judges give talks at events like that all the time.

“My colleagues and I all speak frequently at public forums and attend conferences at which positions are argued or taken on public policy or legal issues, including state bar functions, the State of the State speech, community forums, and even our annual judicial conference,” Bolick said in an email

U.S. Supreme Court justices also tend to abide by the same practices, he said.

“We are all mindful of our ethical responsibilities and can separate what we hear in a public forum from our duty to decide cases impartially,” he said, adding that as long as they don’t comment on legal issues that are likely to appear before them on the court, or express views on their ongoing cases, they’re not breaking any rules or endangering their neutrality.

The Judicial Code of Conduct states that a judge shall not be swayed by partisan interests; shall uphold independence of the judiciary; shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety; shall not engage in political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary; and a judge shall conduct the judge’s personal and extrajudicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with the obligations of judicial office.

ALEC is partially funded by the Koch Brothers and its conference is held for conservative state legislators to coach them into pushing model conservative bills.

Mark Harrison, an attorney who specializes in attorney ethics, said the mere attendance at the ALEC conference is not a violation of the Judicial Code of Conduct unless the justice expressed views or participated in activities.

This isn’t the first instance that accusations of breaking that clause of the code of ethics have been levied against Bolick. It was a common critique of his political behavior when he texted Ducey to name Bill Montgomery as John McCain’s replacement in the Senate last year.

Lawmakers propose giving themselves say over election certification

A voter leaves after casting his ballot at a polling station, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
A voter leaves after casting his ballot at a polling station, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Republican House members have introduced three measures over the past week to give lawmakers the power to reject election results.

Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, introduced HB2800 last week, which would automatically start a special session on the day of any general election. The special session would last for at least three days after Election Day, during which time lawmakers could “conduct hearings and receive testimony, documents and other evidence as appropriate relating to any irregularities that occur during and after the election regarding voting, tallying the votes and any other election procedures.” The Legislature could then vote to reject or confirm the preliminary election results. If confirmed, the Legislature would forward that confirmation to the county Board of Supervisors, and if rejected lawmakers would forward their findings to the Attorney General’s office for possible civil or criminal action.

Last week Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, introduced HB2826, which would amend state law to require counties to deliver their official canvass of election results to the Legislature as well as the Secretary of State. The Legislature would then be able to call itself into session to review the canvass and certify it. And on Monday he filed HCR2038, which would if passed add a question to the 2022 ballot on whether to amend the state Constitution to call a special session on the day of any general election to canvass the results. If voters approve the change, “the Legislature may hold hearings on the canvasses, receive evidence, hear witness testimony and approve or reject the county canvassses,” after which lawmakers would vote to either certify counties’ canvasses or reject them and forward the matter to the Attorney General for further action.

Roberts’ measures had no co-sponsors as of Tuesday, while six other Republicans are co-sponsoring Barton’s.

These measures may be the latest, but they’re not the only ones that have been introduced to give the Legislature more of a say in election results. Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, introduced legislation in late January that would, among other changes to election law, let the Legislature by a majority vote revoke the Secretary of State’s certification of the state’s electoral vote. And Rep. Frank Carroll, R-Surprise, introduced a bill that would let the Legislature decide how to award two of Arizona’s electoral votes and divvy up the rest by congressional district, instead of the statewide winner-take-all system most states use and which last year narrowly handed Arizona’s electoral votes to a Democrat for the first time since 1996.

Bolick’s bill hasn’t been assigned to a committee yet. Carroll’s has been referred to House Local Government and Elections but no hearing date has been announced.

Lawmakers resort to tricks, bullying to undo Prop 208

Shawnna Bolick
Shawnna Bolick

Amid last month’s lighting-rod controversies around vaccines, the border, and election recounts, an under-reported and dangerous abuse of power was taking place at the Arizona Capitol.   

We were front row witnesses to this blatant display of muzzling public debate and attempting to subvert a voter approved ballot initiative.  

Hunter Ruffin
Hunter Ruffin

The scene was the House Ways and Means committee, and the legislation in question was SB1783, which effectively guts the recently approved Proposition 208-Invest in Ed.  Sen. JD Mesnard of Chandler authored the bill, which creates a massive new tax loophole for the wealthiest Arizonans, allowing them to shield earnings that would have been taxable under Prop 208, including capital gains and investment income. The bill purports to protect small business, though Prop 208 did not tax businesses. Only the wealthiest Arizonans, including large business owners who choose to pass their business earnings to their personal income, earn enough individual taxable income to qualify.   

At this committee hearing, Rep. Shawna Bolick, the committee chairwoman, did her best to shield the true intent of the bill and prevent any factual testimony. In fact, when one of us, an Episcopal parish priest, offered public testimony and mentioned the damage to be inflicted on Prop 208 and our state’s one million school aged children, he was rudely chastened by Bolick. She outright forbade further mention of “Prop 208” in the hearing by both lawmakers and the public.  

The Ways and Means committee deteriorated into simply a mean committee. Rep. Bolick and other committee members testily interrogated Fr. Ruffin, as if he were the villain on trial. As some committee members protested that behavior, Bolick silenced further public testimony. The bill passed on a party line vote, during which Rep. Bolick explained her vote by praising how SB1783 undermines Prop 208.    

Rebecca Gau
Rebecca Gau

So why all the drama? The committee vote was predictable, but legislative leaders knew that authentic deliberation would show the bill to be the illegal sham that it is. No matter that Prop 208 passed in November with 1.7 million votes – they see their real constituency to be the narrow band of wealthy elite who are coalescing tighter to undermine the will of the voters.   

Even the Joint Legislative Budget Committee analysis (which was also banned from discussion) shows that this is a specific attack on Prop 208.  Its report details how SB1783 would carve out revenue only from Prop 208, cutting Arizona schools by over $377 million. Meanwhile, 6,000 millionaires get a $35,000 per year tax break. That’s more than Arizona’s average starting teacher salary.   

It also violates the Voter Protection Act, which “requires three-fourths vote to supersede the measure, or to transfer funds designated by the measure,” and only if those actions “further the purpose” of the will of the voters.  

Some 1.7 million Arizonan voters passed Prop 208-Invest in Ed because they were tired of waiting over two decades for the state’s leaders to exhibit real leadership. Absent a meaningful and constructive way to restore funds from decades of tax cuts, parents worked tirelessly to place it on the ballot and then to ensure its passage. And they did so during a pandemic.   

 And now legislators are thumbing their noses at those voters, resorting to tricks and bullying to try to undo an election – whether through SB1783 or under cover of the state budget. It is unacceptable for elected officials to play games with the future of our students.   

 Legislators, voters are watching.   

Rebecca Gau is Executive Director at Stand for Children Arizona. Rev. Hunter Ruffin is the Rector of at Church of the Epiphany in Tempe and a leader with the Arizona Interfaith Network.   


Lawmakers who lost primaries plan next steps

An old watchtower bell was mounted on the sidewalk in front of the state Capitol in Phoenix in 2021.  (File photo)

Twenty-two lawmakers lost their races this year for various offices and won’t return to the Capitol for at least two years.

Nine House Republicans, nine House Democrats and four Republican senators were knocked out of the running, several in surprising upsets from political newcomers.

Nearly all the legislators say they will spend some time focusing on their other jobs and families, but don’t rule out another run down the road.

House of Representatives

Morgan Abraham

Rep. Morgan Abraham, D-Tucson: “I can’t see a situation where I run for the lege (Legislature) anytime soon but there’s other offices,” Abraham said. He wants to go back to being an “involved citizen” in the meantime.

Rep. Richard Andrade, D-Glendale: Andrade is a locomotive engineer who was already on vacation in Hawaii by the middle of August. He’ll take a break from the Legislature but plans to run again as a Clean Elections candidate. “My opponent was able to pull it off because he had a lot of outside help like special groups, special interests,” Andrade said. He hopes that using Clean Elections funding will boost him and he won’t turn to organizations that he said disappointed him “immensely.” He lost his race to fellow legislator Rep. Diego Espinoza, D-Tolleson.

Rep. Walter Blackman, R-Snowflake: Blackman said in no uncertain terms that he will run for office again, but maybe not for a seat in the Legislature. “I’ve been asked to run for the Senate in my district, and so we’ll see. We’ll see, but I definitely am running,” he said. Blackman lost a congressional bid to Trump-endorsed newcomer Eli Crane.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers

Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa: Bowers is hard at work traveling on behalf of the state. He wants to make a trip on his own to Romania and Kazakhstan outside of work, and paint pictures of Romanian haystacks. Bowers is the best-known artist in Arizona politics and decorated the House with his own paintings and sculptures. His vacation plans are no indication that he intends to leave politics behind. “I’m very, very concerned about the direction my party has taken. Obviously, I’m not a ‘member in good standing anymore’ because I didn’t want the Legislature to take away the right of citizens to vote,” he said of being censured by Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward. Bowers said he wants to have an impact on the future of the Republican party. “I am a victim in a district against three competitors who used tactics and said things about me and my morality and my stature and my reputation that was disgusting. … It’s a vicious bunch of people,” Bowers said. His primary opponent David Farnsworth was endorsed by Trump after Bowers testified to the January 6 congressional committee about former President Trump’s efforts to overturn Arizona’s election results.

Judy Burges

Rep. Judy Burges, R-Sun West City: Burges said that she’ll be in her 80s when she runs again and she’d have to “give it some thought,” but in the meantime she’s going on a vacation to Hawaii for the first time. “I’m really looking forward to it,” she said on August 16. Burges wants to continue working for the Republican Party whether she runs again or not. “You can’t be busied out the Legislature and come back home and do nothing,” she said.

Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction: Fillmore said he will never leave politics and that his election isn’t over. He said he believes that he only lost due to problems in Pinal County on Election Day that included a shortage of ballots and is considering legal action. For now, Fillmore said he is in the mountains of Oregon “recuperating” by “drinking incessantly” and camping in a motel.

Joel John

Rep. Joel John, R-Buckeye: “To be frank, I don’t think I’ll run any time in the near future. I would like to run again, but the Legislature is a huge commitment for someone who runs a business and has kids at home,” John said. He has an agricultural business to run and takes care of his children.

Rep. Sarah Liguori, D-Phoenix: She wants to remain in politics and hasn’t decided whether she’ll run for the Legislature again. “This time last year, I didn’t know I was going to be at the Legislature. So, this time next year, I don’t know what my life is going to be like,” she said on August 15. Liguori is interested in putting her experience in real estate behind her and focusing instead on politics in Phoenix. She was appointed rather than elected to this term and lost to fellow incumbents Rep. Amish Shah, D-Phoenix, and Rep. Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix.

Rep. Robert Meza, D-Phoenix: Meza said he’ll keep working at his own business and potentially come back into politics later. “I’ve never been through this before, because I always win by large amounts,” Meza said.

Joanne Osborne

Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear: “I will be doing what I always do and try and be a part of my community, and have my small business, and be a mom and a grandma,” Osborne said. She is not sure whether she’ll come back but said that may depend on what happens in Arizona. “We’re doing well as Arizonans, and I hope nobody screws that up,” Osborne said.

Rep. Lorenzo Sierra, D-Cashion: Sierra said he may run again, but now he’s hunting for a job in the private sector and considering moving to Washington, D.C., with his wife. “We have kids who live out-of-state and one of them is getting married. We’d love to be near grandchildren,” he said. In terms of his work, Sierra said he wants to remain “politics adjacent” with community relations and marketing.

Rep. Christian Solorio, D-Phoenix, Solorio’s spokesperson (and sister) Diana Solorio said that he will continue to work in the community and combat homeless issues but has not committed to another politics run.

House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen; Rep. Shawna Bolick, R-Phoenix; Rep. César Chávez, D-Phoenix; Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson; Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa; and Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, did not respond to requests for comment.

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, Bolding and Bolick all competed and lost in the primary race for secretary of state. Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro-Valley, won that Republican primary.


Tyler Pace

Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa: Pace didn’t promise to run again, but he said the 2022 session was “probably” not his last time serving in the Legislature. “I have no plans running for office in this next election cycle. Other than that, I’m not entirely sure, but it won’t be the end,” Pace said. Pace has his own business to manage and is considering getting a cabin or a beach house to enjoy. He also said he’s not planning to collaborate with Robert Scantlebury, who beat him in the primary election for Legislative District 9.

Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction: “I have given ten years plus of my life to serving the people of this state and country. I’ve sacrificed my children’s childhood, my career before politics, to some degree my health due to the high level of stress and many other things, and right now my focus is my children and my family and then I will decide,” said Townsend. She used to work full time as a doula but said she probably won’t go back to that now. “I’ve given every last fiber of my soul to this state for a long time and now it’s time to turn and focus forwards,” she said. Fellow Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, beat out Townsend in the primary.

Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson: Leach still hasn’t conceded his Legislative District 17 race to victor Justine Wadsack. He had two friends file a lawsuit against Wadsack claiming that she actually lives outside of the district she ran in and is asking that her name be removed from the general election ballots and replaced with Leach’s. “If you’re going to represent the district; you should live in it,” Leach said on Thursday.

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, did not respond to requests for comment.


New Republican senator bashes Freedom Caucus

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a comment from Sen. Jake Hoffman. 

Returning lawmaker Shawnna Bolick disavowed the Freedom Caucus and its Senate leader and claimed to have moved on from the 2022 and 2020 elections in an interview with Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates. 

Bolick was selected to replace outgoing Sen. Steve Kaiser on Tuesday, and in recordings obtained by the Arizona Capitol Times through a records request, she assured Gates that she is not in line with Freedom Caucus Chair Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek. Gates interviewed her and two other candidates as part of the process to choose Kaiser’s replacement.  

“In 2021, I had many confrontations with Hoffman, so I’m not part of their wing. I might agree with the principles of what their group is supposed to be, but I just don’t support their tactics. I feel like they are gonna’ be the reason why we lose both the House and the Senate,” Bolick said. 

Hoffman suggested Bolick may have trouble passing legislation next year.

Attacking nearly a third of the legislative majority, unprovoked, is neither smart nor effective, and risks putting that member’s entire legislative portfolio on unstable footing,” Hoffman said Friday. “The reality is that attempting to tear your colleagues down doesn’t make you taller. The Arizona Freedom Caucus will continue, undeterred, to fight for opportunity, prosperity, and liberty for all Arizonans.”

Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek

Bolick served from 2019 to 2022 in the House of Representatives. She was known for sponsoring a bill that would have allowed the state Legislature to overturn the results of presidential elections. 

In her interview with Gates, Bolick said that as someone who knows and understands the process she won’t get “rolled” by other members.  

She also went into some of the details of her past interactions with Hoffman and the Freedom Caucus. 

Bolick confirmed that she would have voted for the budget the Legislature passed in May. “I voted for last year’s too, and that’s whenever Hoffman and all of them are like, ‘you’re a RINO,’” Bolick said. “I said, ‘border security. You guys are voting against border security.’ And I said, ‘if we had passed the first budget, we would have been out a month early, but you guys basically bloated it all up.’”   

She blamed Hoffman for trying to kill one of her bills appropriating money to fund use of an app people can use to report bullying, but she said that she got it through when he wasn’t there one day.  

She also criticized a bill Hoffman tried to pass that would have broken Maricopa County into smaller counties. 

“They came to me in – this is a Turning Point idea – they came to me and said, ‘we have this idea about breaking up Maricopa County.’ I said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘So, how many more prisons are we going to have?’ And I said, ‘That’s big government.’ Just Tyler Bowyer, obviously Jake Hoffman is on his payroll.,” Bolick said. Bowyer is chief operating officer of Turning Point Action.  

“I think it got killed in government (committee) and poor (former Rep. John) Kavanagh had to deal with Hoffman,” she said. 

Bill Gates

She speculated that Hoffman wanted to break up the county because he was “looking for a new job” as mayor in his town, which is Queen Creek.  

Bolick didn’t respond to requests for comment. 

She also responded to questions from Gates about her thoughts on election security.  

Bolick said that she wants to move on from the 2020 and 2022 elections but still wants to work on improving future elections.  

Bolick sat on a panel with Republican lawmakers who hosted speakers from True the Vote, a conservative group based in Texas that believes the 2020 election was stolen and that there is significant election fraud in Arizona. Bolick has also said that election was “rigged” several times over the last few years. 

In response to Gates’ questions about True the Vote, Bolick said her opinion of the group has changed and is “lesser than what it was before.” 

On the largest issue the legislature might tackle this year, a Maricopa County’s transportation sales tax extension to fund transportation, Bolick said she supports addressing light rail funding in a separate proposal. The tax, referred to as Proposition 400, has stalled in the Legislature over disputes over how much funding should go to light rail.  

Gates also interviewed the other two potential candidates to replace Kaiser, former congressional candidate Josh Barnett and Legislative District 2 Republican Chair Paul Carver.  

Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chair Clint Hickman said that one of the candidates had issues come up in their background check, but he wouldn’t say who. “The issue might or might not be important to that (legislative district’s precinct committeemen) that sent names to us,” Hickman said in a text on Wednesday. 

Carver addressed the fact that he was at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and that he was a member of the Three Percenters far-right group. He said the Three Percenters wasn’t what he wanted it to be and that he “never made it past the parking lot of the Capitol” on Jan. 6. 

Barnett wouldn’t commit to not running against Kaiser’s replacement in the district. He has already filed a statement of interest to run. 

 “I’m way more reasonable than what people think,” Barnett said in his interview.  

When Bolick was selected, Barnett criticized the decision. “I’ve seen a person say we should trust the Maricopa BOS to pick who represents LD 2 and no one should primary against the crooked BOS appointed Bolick? Can anyone tell me why this is remotely logical… to me, it’s the exact opposite,” he tweeted. 

Bolick also mentioned Barnett in her interview with Gates. 

“I can’t stand him. He hates me too,” she said. She also pledged to not try and challenge the appointee in the GOP primary if she wasn’t appointed. 

“This district is the key to Republicans remaining in the majority,” Gates said. 

Bolick will be sworn in Friday.  

Pen misinformation bleeds into primary

Election officials in Arizona’s largest county won’t soon forget #SharpieGate — the social media uproar that emerged after the 2020 election based on the false claim that Sharpie pens provided at the polls would ruin ballots before they were counted.

Now, as Maricopa County gears up for Arizona’s primary election on August 2, it’s facing a repeat of the same false theories in response to an announcement by election officials that they were switching to Pentel brand felt-tip pens on Election Day.

“DO NOT use the felt tip pen they will try to give you,” one Twitter user wrote.

“#SharpieGate all over again in AZ. Bring your ball-point pens,” wrote another, in a tweet that called election officials “treasonists” and accused them of trying to “rig the primaries.”

The county provides felt-tip pens to voters at the polls on Election Day because the pens have quick-drying ink that won’t smudge the ballots or produce wet splotches that jam up onsite tabulators. That can require the machines to be cleaned, causing long lines at the polls.

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer on Twitter urged those voting in the primary to “PLEASE PLEASE” use the provided pens to prevent machine problems and keep voting running smoothly.

Still, some social media users and prominent Republicans in the state this week encouraged voters to defy that guidance. Republican State Rep. Shawnna Bolick, who is running for secretary of state in the primary, tweeted that she planned to bring her own ballpoint pen for in-person voting, while Kelli Ward, chair of the state’s Republican Party, encouraged her Twitter followers to “use whatever pen you want” but ensure their ballot is dry.

Richer said voters who bring their own blue or black pen for the election will not be turned away but encouraged voters to use those provided.

“Just as we tell voters they shouldn’t use red pens, shouldn’t use pencil, shouldn’t use crayon, we are telling voters that – to help us ensure an accurate and smooth election – you should use the Pentel pen if you are voting in-person on election day,” Richer told The Associated Press in an email.

Richer said the county switched from Sharpies to Pentel pens “after many tests” because while both have quick-drying ink, the Pentel pens cause less bleed-through on ballot paper. Even though offset columns on the county’s ballots prevent bleeding ink from affecting the vote counting process, even for two-sided ballots, the bleed-through from Sharpies caused many poll observers and online critics to raise alarm in 2020.

Some social media users this week expressed confusion at why early voters in Maricopa County are permitted to use any blue or black pen, while Election Day voters are instructed to use the felt-tip pens only. The answer: All early ballots, whether submitted in-person, by mail or by drop box, are enclosed in envelopes and sent to central tabulation after processing, so they have sufficient time to dry before being counted, Richer said.

Petersen unveils inflation reduction plan, mirrors Lake’s

Senate President-Elect Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, unveiled a new plan to mitigate inflation on Tuesday, like the one gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake presented, but the measure will likely face heavy opposition. 

Petersen’s plan would be to eliminate rental and food taxes, reduce (or eliminate) occupational license fees and increase housing supply.  

“Government has done extremely well over the last few years by adding a record amount of revenue. Unfortunately, hardworking taxpayers are reeling during this period of runaway inflation and are having a tough time paying for the most basic necessities,” Petersen said in a written statement. “There are at least four actions we can make as a Legislature to counter the effects of rising costs and help our citizens who are living paycheck to paycheck.” 

Warren Petersen

Elements of his plan strongly resemble the economic plan published by Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, which also called for cutting food and rental tax. 

“Arizonans can’t afford to wait for a change of leadership in Washington – they need relief now. That’s why I’ve pledged to eliminate all taxes on groceries and rent in the State of Arizona, putting almost half a billion dollars back into the pockets of Arizona families,” Lake stated in her plan earlier this year. 

Governor-elect Hobbs opposed Lake’s plan at the time and said it would essentially defund law enforcement by taking away revenue that cities and towns use to fund public safety. 

Petersen’ plans won’t become law without Hobbs’ support. 

Lake’s ‘plan’ would do nothing to actually put money back in the pockets of working Arizonans. Instead, Lake’s plan would get rid of the tax revenue that funds law enforcement in Arizona’s cities and towns, defunding local police,” Hobbs said in a statement at the time, citing an opinion piece by Arizona Republic writer Laurie Roberts to that effect. 

The opinion piece cites Republican Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers as opposed to Lake’s idea. City and town officials have historically opposed similar measures. 

Arizona cities and towns get hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue each year. A large portion of that goes to police and firefighters. Not all cities tax rent or groceries, but most of Arizona’s 91 cities and towns do. 


A proposal to eliminate rental tax was introduced in the legislature last session by Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, but died on the Senate floor when Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, and the Democrats voted it down.  

The bill was opposed by the League of Arizona Cities and Towns. 

Boyer said on Tuesday that the measure – Senate Bill 1116 – was a “$202M ongoing hit to cities. Essentially, defunding the police given how much cities spend on public safety.” 

“Nothing justifies poor tax policy but the good news is cities are enjoying surpluses from wayfarer and expanding state shared revenue to 18%. However we can look at delayed implementation for a soft landing,” Petersen said in response. 

Petersen argued in his statement that homeowners don’t have to pay taxes on their mortgage payments and tenants shouldn’t have to pay a rental tax. 


Bolick introduced a bill to cut food taxes in 2019, but the bill was held in House rules and never made it to a floor vote. It was co-sponsored by Reps. Leo Biasucci, R-Lake Havasu City, Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, Kevin Payne, R-Peoria, Ben Toma, R-Peoria, and Frank Carroll, R-Sun City West. The bill was opposed by the East Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona and the Arizona State American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. 

Bolick’s bill would only have eliminated food tax on groceries, not meals in restaurants. Petersen doesn’t specify his plans but writes that food is “not a luxury” and that the tax hurts “the poorest of the poor.” 

In Arizona’s largest cities, there is no food tax, and statewide, families who use federal food subsidies do not pay food taxes. 


In a proposal that could enjoy some bipartisan support, Petersen writes that he wants to “increase the housing supply,” something that Democrats and Republicans have been saying loudly for at least the past year. The question is, how Petersen wants to go about it.  

A Housing Supply Study Committee has been meeting for the past few months and will discuss possible legislation to create more affordable housing in an executive session at their next meeting on Tuesday, according to the committee’s chair Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix. Republicans on the committee, including Kaiser, want to “deregulate zoning” on housing projects to make it easier to build more homes, however nothing concrete is on the table.  

Petersen writes that he wants to shorten the window of time it takes to get approval for land development and housing projects. “One way to accomplish this is through administrative approvals for all projects that meet all existing laws and requirements,” he said. 

Kaiser will chair the commerce committee next session and said that he and Petersen have spoken and that he is on board but didn’t get into specifics. 

When asked whether he will sponsor the bills to make these economic changes himself, Petersen said that he will defer to committee chairs first. 


Petersen’s last proposal is to “reduce or eliminate occupational license fees,” which many professionals must pay to stay in business. Petersen has battled occupational licenses in the past. He sponsored two bills that Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law, one allowing professionals moving to Arizona from other states to keep their existing licenses and not acquire new ones, and one requiring state agencies to post about the occupational licensing requirements, notifying professionals of their right to petition to repeal or modify the existing regulation. 

“To create new opportunities for Arizonans, we have to make sure our economy is one of the most competitive in the country to launch or relocate a business. To get there, I plan to identify and roll back any cumbersome and unnecessary regulations that get in the way of Arizona’s appeal to attract new businesses and jobs,” Lake said in her economic plan. 

Petersen noted that the state has full coffers, pointing to over taxation. Arizona has a surplus of more than $2 billion dollars this year.  

Finance Chair J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said in a text that he’s “generally supportive” of the concepts Petersen put forward but hasn’t gotten into the details. 

Hobbs has not yet commented on Petersen’s plan. Her support will be hard to win on the removal of food and rental taxes. City and town lobbyists also likely make their opinions known. 

Primaries 1-year away, races taking shape

A poll observer stretches outside a polling station on Election Day, early, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
A poll observer stretches outside a polling station on Election Day, early, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

With just less a year to go until the 2022 Arizona primary, most races have started to take shape.  

Legislative and congressional districts could change dramatically after redistricting, and some newcomers and incumbents alike are waiting to see what the new districts look like before they decide whether to jump into a race. Others are taking advantage of a state law that allows them to gather signatures from both their old and new districts. 

Statewide, only Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman and U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly are running for re-election to their current posts, leaving the races for governor, secretary of state, attorney general and treasurer wide open.  

It all adds up to a lengthy and expensive campaign season in a state that finally started its long-anticipated blue shift and an election cycle that historically would favor Republicans.  

That advantage is twofold: first, GOP voters more consistently turn out in non-presidential elections, and Democrats hold the White House and Congress. Typically, the president’s party does worse in midterm elections. 

Pollster Paul Bentz said 2022 is more likely to resemble 2010 than 2018. In 2010, Arizona Republicans had a 12-point turnout advantage, compared to seven points in 2018, when Democrats worked hard to mobilize voters and succeeded in flipping the U.S. House and electing Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Hoffman.  

“I do think Republicans will be more motivated to participate because (Joe) Biden won the election,” he said. “The only caveat to that is all of this election fraud discussion, and all of the behavior changes that we saw because the former president cast doubt on early voting in Arizona. That might impact what should traditionally be a very Republican year.” 

Multiple Republican lawmakers have warned that their voters have said they won’t participate in what they view as a rigged system, and Bentz said Georgia’s Senate runoffs bore out some of those fears. Democrats won both January elections with lower-than-usual Republican turnout after former President Donald Trump spent two months claiming the election system was rigged. 

“It should be a motivation for Republicans to try to wrap this audit up, because the longer the audit drags on, the less time they have to recover from it and restore integrity and Republican belief in the system enough to take advantage of what is traditionally a more Republican-friendly cycle,” Bentz said.  

State races 

The top of the ticket for statewide races pits five Republican candidates against three Democrats, with front-runners already emerging. Former TV anchor Kari Lake is in prime position to take the Republican nomination if she can keep her early grassroots momentum, and her likely opponent at this point is Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who continues to capitalize on her opposition to the Senate’s audit.  

Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake leaves the stage at the “Rally to Protect Our Elections” hosted by Turning Point Action at Arizona Federal Theatre in Phoenix on July 24, 2021. Lake, a former news anchor, is in prime position to take the Republican nomination if she can keep her early grassroots momentum. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/THE STAR NEWS NETWORK
Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake leaves the stage at the “Rally to Protect Our Elections” hosted by Turning Point Action at Arizona Federal Theatre in Phoenix on July 24, 2021. Lake, a former news anchor, is in prime position to take the Republican nomination if she can keep her early grassroots momentum. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/THE STAR NEWS NETWORK

Lake is running against former Congressman Matt Salmon, who lost the gubernatorial race to Janet Napolitano two decades ago; former regent Karrin Taylor Robson; State Treasurer Kimberly Yee, hoping to follow Gov. Doug Ducey’s footsteps to the governorship; and businessman Steve Gaynor, who lost his 2018 bid for secretary of state and could self-fundraise as much as $10 million.  

Hobbs is joined by former Nogales Mayor Marco Lopez and state Rep. Aaron Lieberman, who is expected to resign from his seat before next year to campaign full time.   

Depending on how long it lasts, the audit could determine the fate of secretary of state candidates, which could be a major swing for Democrats in the field. It’s a race between House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding and former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes. Fontes has name recognition, but Bolding has the advantage of not recently losing the county needed to win a statewide election as a Democrat.  

That winner will take on the victor between three lawmakers and an ad executive. Stop the Steal supporters Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, and Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, are locked in a two-person race to scoop up votes from hardcore audit supporters, while Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita of Scottsdale is distancing herself from the crowd that recently booed her off stage and is running on her extensive election integrity track record. Beau Lane is also in the mix, but hasn’t made much noise yet, outside of a video that claims people are spreading lies about the election – the 2016 election.  

The race to become the state’s top prosecutor hasn’t gotten a lot of attention yet, which could signal a problem candidates will face in 2022 – not enough voters care about down ballot races. That’s particularly problematic for Democrats, who historically are worse at turning out – and voting down-ballot – than Republicans.  

Kris Mayes, a former Republican from Prescott, seems like the favorite on the Democratic side against Rep. Diego Rodriguez, but progressives are skeptical, considering her Republican history. Mayes has a history of working across party lines – she was on Democratic Governor Napolitano’s staff before being appointed to the Arizona Corporation Commission. 

In this Dec. 14, 2020, file photo, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs addresses the members of Arizona's Electoral College in Phoenix. Hobbs on Wednesday, June 2, 2021, announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2022 while denouncing the Republican-controlled state Senate's ongoing audit of the 2020 presidential election. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)
In this Dec. 14, 2020, file photo, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs addresses the members of Arizona’s Electoral College in Phoenix. Hobbs on Wednesday, June 2, 2021, announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2022 while denouncing the Republican-controlled state Senate’s ongoing audit of the 2020 presidential election. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)

Meanwhile, the most recognition Rodriguez has received came in a loss to now-Supreme Court Justice Bill Montgomery in the 2016 race for Maricopa County attorney. Robert McWhirter, who finished the 2020 Democratic primary for county attorney in last place, is also running.  

So far, three Republicans are in the race and none have much name ID, though former congressional candidate Tiffany Shedd has campaign experience. Former Supreme Court Justice Andrew Gould was the first to jump in, followed by Shedd and Lacy Cooper, who formerly worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona. 

All three plan to run on the top Republican issue – the border, so it’ll be other issues that will separate them. Perennial losing candidate Rodney Glassman and Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Dawn Grove, who was just named as one of AZ Big Media’s most influential women, also entered the race.  

Yee’s gubernatorial run leaves open the treasurer’s race for the seventh consecutive election. So far on the Republican side, Rep. Regina Cobb of Kingman and Sen. David Livingston of Peoria are in the race and Corporation Commissioner Justin Olson, a former East Valley lawmaker, is expected to jump in any day. Cobb is entering her fourth year as chair of the budget-setting House Appropriations Committee, and Livingston has spent his past several years drafting complex financial legislation.  

No Democrats have yet entered the race, nor has a Democrat been elected treasurer since 1964. Sen. Tony Navarrete is the only Democrat expected to run this year. 

Hoffman is in prime position to remain as superintendent of public instruction. She will face the winner of a crowded field of mostly unknown Republicans plus former state schools superintendent and former attorney general Tom Horne. 

The five-person Corporation Commission, widely considered the state’s fourth branch of government, has two available seats next year and offers a chance for Democrats to seize a narrow majority.  

Olson, who was first appointed to fill former Republican Commissioner Doug Little’s seat in 2017, isn’t expected to run again. Democrat Sandra Kennedy is seeking re-election to her seat. 

Olson’s deputy policy adviser Nick Myers is running on a GOP slate with Mesa City Councilor Kevin Thompson. Ex-commissioner Little and public relations official Kim Owens are also seeking the Republican nomination.  

Kennedy will run on a slate with Tempe City Councilor and environmental activist Lauren Kuby as the Democrats in the race.  


It’s still too early to make any predictions about the balance of the next Legislature until new maps are drawn, Bentz said. And with a one-vote margin in each chamber, all eyes are on the Independent Redistricting Commission.  

Democrats fear the commission, vetted by Ducey appointees, will draw maps that favor Republicans. Republicans, who have spent the past decade insisting the current districts are gerrymandered in Democrats’ favor, say they think they’ll finally have “fair” districts.  

From left, Paul Boyer and Anthony Kern.
From left, Paul Boyer and Anthony Kern.

While many candidates, including roughly half the current Legislature, have filed to run, their districts might change. Republican voters anticipate a high-profile primary matchup between former lawmaker Anthony Kern and Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale. Kern is a Trump elector, short-lived audit volunteer, and outspoken figure in the “Stop the Steal” movement. He was photographed on the U.S. Capitol steps and video recorded in the doorway of the building after his fellow protesters breached multiple barriers and broke into the building on January 6. Boyer is the most vocal GOP critic of the audit and the first Republican legislator to publicly admit Biden won the election. 

But the two could end up in different districts, given that the northwest Valley has experienced substantial growth over the past decade and their districts will likely be geographically smaller. 

In other current swing districts, Democrats may get a leg up in Chandler as Rep. Jeff Weninger hits term limits and the current Legislative District 17 won’t have a Republican incumbent. Democratic consultants roundly criticized last year’s decision to run a so-called single shot campaign in the district, which already had a Democratic representative in Jennifer Pawlik.  

A north Phoenix race could also change depending on whether Lieberman serves his full term or resigns to focus on his gubernatorial campaign. Resigning would give his appointed replacement the advantage of incumbency.  


Several Republicans have announced their intent to take Kelly in Arizona’s fourth Senate election in as many cycles. While Attorney General Mark Brnovich appears to have a slight edge over other Republicans in what little polling is available so far, he may struggle to get the one endorsement that could matter the most in a GOP primary. 

Trump has repeatedly alleged that the 2020 election was stolen from him and has castigated Brnovich and Ducey for not overturning President Biden’s narrow win in Arizona.  

Ducey has said he is not running for Senate, but it hasn’t completely squelched speculation he might jump in. Florida Sen. Rick Scott, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, mused in a podcast interview in July that he might be able to get Ducey to run.  

Gov. Doug Ducey( AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)
Gov. Doug Ducey( AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)

“I think we have a shot with Doug Ducey,” Scott said. “I think there’s a chance he will run. He’s a very popular governor.”  

Also running for the GOP U.S. Senate nomination are Blake Masters, who is backed by billionaire Peter Thiel; former Arizona National Guard Leader Maj. Gen. Michael “Mick” McGuire, and businessman Jim Lamon, who launched his campaign with ads in New Jersey to attract Trump’s attention.  

The balance of power in Arizona’s congressional delegation may come down to where lines are drawn in southern Arizona. Ann Kirkpatrick is the only incumbent so far to announce she won’t run again, and the 2nd Congressional District flipped parties twice over the past decade. 

“I think southern Arizona in that District 2 general area, which has been a swing district in the past, is likely to be the one that most people are paying attention to because those lines will really make a difference on if that one stays Democrat or Republican,” Bentz said.  

  • Nate Brown contributed reporting.  

Push to change election laws triggers GOP infighting

Michelle Ugenti-Rita (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
In this undated photo, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, makes a point during a debate on the floor of the Arizona Senate. Ugenti-Rita has long been the leader in pushing election policy at the Legislature, but is at odds this year with fellow Republicans who pushed a record number of election-bills in response to their dissatisfaction with the 2020 presidential election. (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita had spent the past month heading off more than a dozen bills sponsored by her vice chair, and she was so close to succeeding.

Days before the deadline to hear bills in committee or let them die of neglect, the Scottsdale Republican and chair of the Senate Government Committee scheduled a single bill from Sen. Kelly Townsend, a simple two-sentence measure that would require that election equipment be made in America and all election data stay here.

Instead, she got all Townsend’s bills, in the form of a sweeping 13-page amendment that would ban felt markers at polling places, create new rules for Maricopa and Pima counties and give lawmakers carte blanche to demand that hundreds of thousands of ballots be recounted by hand.

Ugenti-Rita and the committee’s three Democrats killed the amendment. Townsend used her microphone in the committee room – and later her figurative microphone on social media sites — to complain about a fellow Republican blocking her bills and vow that the bills will be resurrected at some point. 

The showdown illustrated a point of contention among Republicans this year. Ugenti-Rita has for years led her caucus on election policy, pushing bills that earned the ire of voting rights advocates but that still pale in comparison to legislation introduced this year by others.

Ugenti-Rita and her House counterpart, Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, have reintroduced legislation from past years to remove some voters from the Permanent Early Voting List, add warning clauses to voter initiatives and limit future initiatives to a single subject.

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, addresses those protesting the closure of businesses April 22 at the state Capitol. With her is Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES
Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, addresses those protesting the closure of businesses April 22, 2020, at the state Capitol. With her is Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa. Townsend this year introduced several bills to address problems Republicans found with the 2020 presidential election. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES

Other Republicans have gone much further, with bills that would effectively end mail voting and permit lawmakers to toss out election results a legislative majority doesn’t like. The record 125 election-related bills introduced this year posed an unprecedented challenge for voting rights advocates who are used to battling against a familiar set of foes on a familiar set of election issues. 

“It feels like this session they are consciously trying a strategy of just throwing bills at the wall to see what sticks,” said Emily Kirkland, executive director of Progress Arizona. 

‘Wrong way’

There are always more bills addressing elections in odd years, as lawmakers and election officials seek to fine-tune legislation and prevent whatever issues – real or perceived – in the latest election from arising in future years. But this year, as a sizable chunk of the Republican majority in both legislative chambers refuses to publicly admit, if not believe, that President Joe Biden won Arizona, there are more bills than ever and some of them go further than anyone could have imagined.

“It’s a full-scale assault on democratic norms and institutions,” Kirkland said. “It’s a really urgent situation that feels like a five-alarm fire.”

Rep. Shawanna Bolick, R-Phoenix, made national news in late January when she introduced a bill that would allow the Legislature to revoke the secretary of state’s certification of election results at any time before the presidential inauguration, by a simple majority vote of the Legislature.

Shawnna Bolick
Shawnna Bolick

Republican lawmakers looked in vain for ways to replace Biden electors with President Donald Trump electors, only to be shot down by their own attorneys. Townsend even filed a resolution that would have the Legislature — which first met nearly a week after Congress certified Electoral College results and just over a week before Biden’s inauguration — belatedly appoint Trump’s electors. That resolution was never assigned to a committee.

While Townsend’s measure would have retroactively addressed one election, Bolick’s was a far-reaching plan to allow the Legislature to override voters at any point, for any reason. It also would have required jury trials in all election challenges, and would have barred county supervisors and county recorders from being eligible for office for 10 years if there is any disruption in a live video feed of ballot tabulation. 

In a statement after her proposal was widely panned, Bolick blamed media coverage for her bill’s poor reception. 

“The mainstream media is using this elections bill as click bait to generate misleading headlines,” Bolick said. “This bill would give the Arizona Legislature back the power it delegated to certify the electors.  It is a good, democratic check and balance.”

House Speaker Rusty Bowers declined to assign Bolick’s bill to a committee. Without a hearing by the end of the week, it’s theoretically dead – but parts of it could still come back as amendments to other bills.

Also dead without a hearing is a bill from Reps. Kevin Payne, R-Peoria, and Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, that would have repealed the 2007 law that created the Permanent Early Voting List. About 80% of Arizona voters are on the list and regularly vote by mail.

Payne acknowledged hours after he filed the bill that it wouldn’t pass and he didn’t want to waste his time with it. Ugenti-Rita, who again introduced legislation to remove some — but not all — voters from the PEVL, called the bill out as bad policy on her Twitter page. (She did not return multiple calls for comment on this story.) 

“Sharpiegate + legislative power grab + eliminating voting options = bad news for Arizona voters,” Ugenti-Rita tweeted over a picture of Blackman, Bolick and Alex Kolodin, her primary opponent turned GOP election attorney. “Each of these issues represent the wrong way to address election integrity, particularly voter confidence in our election system.”

Most bills dead

The high-profile nature of some election legislation this year drew more eyes to all bills. In 2019, the last time Ugenti-Rita ran her bill to kick roughly 200,000 voters who have skipped two consecutive election cycles off the PEVL, several hundred Arizonans registered their distaste of the bill in the Legislature’s Request to Speak system and the measure passed the Senate 16-14.

This year, well over 1,000 voters signed in against it, and it failed 15-15 in the Senate.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said she expects to see her office, Attorney General Mark Brnovich and Gov. Doug Ducey work together to try to prevent many election bills from even reaching the governor’s desk. So far, many of the bills appear dead — though so-called zombie bills that re-emerge are common late in the session. 

“Some of the things are really far-fetched and I imagine that legislators have introduced them to make a statement about something, but they won’t necessarily get a hearing,” Hobbs said.

Nationally, current and former secretaries of state described seeing an increase in election laws, some introduced by lawmakers who have never been involved in elections before. Trey Grayson, the former Republican Secretary of State of Kentucky, said this year’s bills, in Arizona and across the country, reflect an escalation of an existing theme of lawmakers trying to interject in election law. 

“In general, one of the things we do see in election administration is legislators, who aren’t necessarily on the relevant committees, often introduce election bills,” he said. “They all run for office, and so they have opinions that they think are fairly well informed — and sometimes they are from their own experience. It is an area where we often see outsider bills introduced.” 



Rally cry to decertify election grows louder

Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, speaks before the Senate Finance Committee on March 8, 2017. Finchem is one of a handful of lawmakers and many President Trump supporters calling for the decertification of the 2020 election in Arizona. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR

Supporters of Donald Trump are peppering Gov. Doug Ducey with demands that he decertify the election even though he says there’s no legal authority for him to do that.

Ducey press aide C.J. Karamargin reported that the governor got about 300 emails each day on Saturday and Sunday calling for him to act.

“It is more than we receive on vaccines, masks, border issues, refugees,” he said. “This tops the level of constituent interest those issues have.”

And those demands come despite the governor’s statements, repeated most recently Friday following the release of findings from the Senate-ordered audit of the 2020 Maricopa County returns, that there is no way to do what they are demanding.

The move comes on the heels of a recount of Maricopa County ballots which showed that the results were accurate and the Democrat outpolled the incumbent Republican. In fact, the hand count actually increased Biden’s lead by a bit.

But Trump supporters are hanging on other conclusions by Doug Logan, the CEO of Cyber Ninjas, that there are discrepancies between other numbers the county reported and what the auditors were able to find. These range from 23,344 mail-in ballots received from someone at a prior address to 9,041 more ballots returned from voters than were received.

And, along with other questions raised, those raising objections point out that there are enough of these questionable votes to more than overcome the 45,109 margin of victory by Biden in the state’s largest county — and, by extension, overturning the 10,457 edge the Democrat had statewide.

Then there are questions of whether election files were deleted.

County officials provided a point-by-point rebuttal of the findings.

But this clearly isn’t over. And the main thrust has been to decertify the election.

Among the loudest voices is Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, who is running for secretary of state.

“We’ve got false numbers,” Finchem told Steve Bannon, a former Trump aide, in a televised interview. And that, he said, allows Arizona to “reclaim” its 11 electors.

“There is no law that allows for decertification,” Karamargin said. “It’s simply not possible.”

Finchem, however, remains unconvinced

“I don’t think that Ducey knows what this document means,” Finchem said, holding up a pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution. And it starts, he said, with the Tenth Amendment which says that powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states or the people.

“At the same time, there is a legal doctrine that says a right of action cannot arise out of fraud,” Finchem said. “Well, they signed a fraudulent document based on bad numbers,” he said, meaning the certification of the election signed Nov. 30 by Ducey, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

Nor is he swayed by the hand count which supports the official count, saying that is irrelevant if there were counterfeit ballots.

“And that’s exactly what happened here,” Finchem said.

Sonny Borrelli

He is not alone.

Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, is echoing the same sentiment.

And Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, produced a memo from Matt DePerno, a Michigan attorney running for attorney general there, who said that the legislature has the authority to recall state electors or decertify a national election “upon proof of fraud.”

“Importantly, this does not require proof of all of the fraud,” said DePerno, whose candidacy was just endorsed by Trump.

Others, including Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, who hired Cyber Ninjas to review the election results, aren’t buying it.

“There’s really nothing in the Constitution that says we can decertify,” she said, though Fann conceded that won’t stop any legislator from proposing such a resolution.

“I mean, look at the legislation we do sometimes,” she noted.

But, legal issues aside, Fann said this just isn’t going to happen. And it starts with the fact that it would take 31 votes in the House and 16 in the Senate to approve such a measure — the exact bare margin that Republicans have in each chamber.

“And you and I both know we don’t have 31 and 16 votes for anything right now,” she said, with several Republican lawmakers already having disassociated themselves from the whole audit. That includes Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, who chairs the Government Committee, disavowing the whole audit after saying that Fann “botched” it.

Karen Fann

Even among GOP lawmakers, Fann said some are likely to balk at such a move until “they are 100% sure that we have information that would have changed the results.” She said the only way that could happen is if Attorney General Mark Brnovich, to whom she has sent the audit report, verifying the audit report.

And even that might not be enough.

“There’s going to have to be a jury that rules or a court that rules,” and comes up with a finding that there were votes cast that affected the outcome of the election.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, reached a similar conclusion last year when he denied permission for Finchem to have a special hearing of his Committee on Federal Relations to see if the Republican-controlled House could overrule the public vote and choose its own electors to send to Washington, presumably supporting Trump. He said Arizona law is clear and that the electors are selected by the certified voter count, what occurred Nov. 30.

“What happened on the 30th was the culmination of a process,” Karamargin said. “And that process saw election results being certified in each of Arizona’s 15 counties,” many of which Karamargin pointed out are Republican counties.

There was a proposal earlier this year by Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, to allow the legislature to override the popular vote and choose electors. But it failed to even get out of a single committee.

– –

The push to decertify Arizona’s election results actually is part of a broader national strategy.

Denying Arizona’s 11 electoral votes to Biden, by itself, would not change the outcome of the November race. But Trump supporters are pushing similar audits — and decertification maneuvers — in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, both states that went for Biden.

The aim is to reduce his electoral margin below the required 270, a move that would throw the vote for president into the U.S. House.

What makes that critical is that the vote in the Democrat-controlled House would not be by individual members.

Instead, each state delegation gets one vote. And that would give Republicans 26 votes

Potentially more interesting is that the Senate gets to select the vice president, with each senator getting one vote. With a 50-50 tie — and presumably Vice President Harris unable to cast the breaker — that leaves a deadlock if there is no deal to provide a majority to either.



Rep. Bolick to stay on ballot

Shawnna Bolick
Shawnna Bolick

In a brief order, the state’s high court said that Republican Shawnna Bolick violated state law when she did not disclose her real home address on petition sheets she personally circulated and submitted to the secretary of state. That, according to the unsigned order, invalidates 290 of the signatures she gathered on those sheets.

But the justices said the state law requiring an actual home address does not apply when candidates seek to gather signatures electronically through an online portal. And they concluded there were enough of those valid signatures to put her name on the ballot.

Bolick is the wife of Supreme Court justice Clint Bolick.

The high court — with her husband abstaining from the case — also concluded that her decision to list a UPS store on Bell Road elsewhere on nominating papers was not fatal to her candidacy. They said Bolick “substantially complied” with the legal requirements and that the error “was unlikely to have misled or confused voters about the candidate’s ability to run as a resident of Legislative District 20.”

Clint Bolick
Clint Bolick

In issuing the order, the justices effectively rejected Bolick’s legal claim that the fact that she is married to Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick entitles her to list a mailing service on all of her nominating papers instead of where she actually lives.

That is at least a partial victory for Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the state’s top elected Democrat.

In filings with the state’s high court, Hobbs acknowledged that the law allows judges, prosecutors, police officers and public defenders — and their families — to remove their addresses from certain public documents. But Hobbs said that is not the case when these people offer themselves for public office.

The underlying case involved a bid by Judith Lohr to have Bolick’s name removed from the ballot.

That would have had major implications.

Taking her name off the ballot would have left Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, as the only Republican seeking the two seats. That, in turn, would have improved the chances that one of the two Democrats could get elected, absent a last-minute bid by a write-in candidate.

And if that happened — everything else being equal — the Republicans would lose their 31-29 edge in

the House.

While Hobbs argued for a strict interpretation of the requirement of candidates to disclose addresses, Attorney General Mark Brnovich, married to a federal judge, took the opposite stance.

In his own legal filings, Brnovich, a Republican like Bolick, warned the justices that if they accept Hobbs’ view of the law, that affects every judge who seeks re-election — by definition, including the justices themselves who stand for retention every six years — as well as any county attorney or sheriff who wants another term in office, as well as law enforcement officers who want to run for office.

The law also covers domestic violence victims, but with slightly different provisions.

Brnovich said there are good reasons to shield addresses

“It is no secret that judges, prosecutors, and victims of domestic violence live in constant threat of retaliation from violent criminals,” he wrote. “It defies reason that when the legislature enacted the Secured Registrant Law they intended to leave open a gaping loophole which demands this private information be publicly disclosed through the candidate nominating laws.”

Hobbs is not disputing the safety issues. But she told the justices that’s not how the laws actually read.

“While there may be valid policy reasons to, consistent with the attorney general’s position, consider a process to expand the protections of (the law) to include candidate filings, that policy debate must be had at the legislature, not in an abbreviated, whirlwind proceeding before this court,” she wrote.

Hobbs also disputed Brnovich’s contention that her interpretation could keep domestic violence victims from running for office.

In those cases, she said, the program assigns them a substitute address, which Arizona law makes their “lawful address of record” for all legal purposes.

For others, like judges and police officers, Hobbs said the law protects only certain identifying information, like records in the county assessor’s office, information held by the Department of Transportation, and voter registration records. What it does not include, she said, are candidate filings.

The justices partly agreed, saying addresses are required when candidates circulate their own paper nominating petitions. But they said there’s no requirement to have home addresses on other nominating papers, including those not circulated by the candidates themselves.

This isn’t the first time Hobbs and Brnovich have been on opposite sides of legal disputes.

Hobbs has sided with the Arizona Board of Regents in its contention that Brnovich has no legal authority to sue the board over how its tuition is set. And Hobbs sided with those who sought to let initiative circulators gather signatures using an existing online portal available for candidate nominating petitions, a bid that Brnovich opposed.

Republicans rail against all-mail elections, but they vote by mail

In this March 10, 2020, file photo, a King County Election worker collects ballots from a drop box in Seattle for the primary election in Washington State, where elections are all mail. In Arizona, where voters can ask for a mail-in ballot, Democrats and some Republican election officials are calling for an all mail election, at least for this year as the coronavirus causes anxiety for face-to-face contact at the least and sickness and death at the worst. PHOTO BY JOHN FROSCHAUER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
In this March 10, 2020, file photo, a King County Election worker collects ballots from a drop box in Seattle for the primary election in Washington State, where elections are all mail. In Arizona, where voters can ask for a mail-in ballot, Democrats and some Republican election officials are calling for an all mail election, at least for this year as the coronavirus causes anxiety for face-to-face contact at the least and sickness and death at the worst. PHOTO BY JOHN FROSCHAUER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Saying it is ripe for fraud, many Arizona Republican lawmakers oppose the idea of sending mail ballots to all voters during the COVID-19 crisis, but 79% of the GOP caucus opts for the U.S. Postal Service to deliver their vote.

According to public records, 72 legislators are currently registered onto the Permanent Early Voting List, or PEVL — 37 Republicans and 35 Democrats (one Republican’s voting record is sealed).

Lawmakers like Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, and others have argued against election officials mailing all registered voters a ballot, even temporarily, saying either that it leads to voter fraud, or it disenfranchises voters by limiting their methods of voting.

Advocates for the switch argue that because there’s a pandemic that has already resulted in 27,000 deaths nationwide and 150 in Arizona, policymakers should send ballots to those who haven’t signed up for the PEVL to protect their health and safety while voting.

Election officials have also pointed out even if Arizona switches to an “all mail” election, they would still operate polling places to ensure everyone can vote.

Yavapai County Recorder Leslie Hoffman, a Republican, said polls in some precincts would still have to remain open for drop offs and ballot replacements.

Arizona already allows people to sign up for a mail ballot up to 11 days before an election, but Hoffman and others said that if you leave it up to voters to sign up, you’ll still have lines at the polls. April 15 was the unofficial deadline for the counties to plan for mail voting for the August primary, as election officials need to procure proper election materials. If the state wants to make the switch before the November election, policymakers will need to act by June 15, election officials say.

Some of the most ardent critics of universal voting by mail already receive their ballots in the mail, according to records from the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office.

Senate President Karen Fann, who has pledged that the Senate won’t take up any efforts to send ballots to all voters, gets her ballot in the mail.

Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, who tweeted about how mail ballots are insecure, citing her husband’s alleged find of dozens of early ballots in 2019, apparently isn’t worried about hers getting lost on a rural highway – she gets her ballot in the mail. 

Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, who recently shared a Breitbart story about 16 million mail ballots going missing and warned that mail voting “invites” voter fraud and could lead to millions of ineligible voters casting votes, votes by mail. And so does Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa, who warned back in 2019 that mail ballots are a progressive idea that leads to fraud

Petersen, who warned recently that universal mail voting would lead to “universal ballot harvesting,” gets his ballot via mail and encouraged voters to use mail ballots to elect him back in 2016.  Ballot harvesting is a practice in which a voter with a mail-in ballot gives it to someone else to deliver to a polling station. Some political and community groups have made it a practice to go door to door, especially in neighborhoods where they thought sentiment would run in their direction, offering to take unmailed ballots to polling places. 

Arizona has outlawed the practice, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the ban on ballot harvesting unconstitutional. 

Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley,  who warned that “forcing” voters to vote by mail would lead to more ballot harvesting, also gets a mail ballot. Grantham, who told Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes that we should “stick to the constitution and rule of law” and not send ballots to all voters and that mail ballots make it “easier to cheat”, previously urged mail voters to support him and he gets his ballot in the mail. 

Rep. Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City, who repeated President Donald Trump’s claim that mail ballots lead to corruption, votes by mail. 

And then there’s Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, who called mail voting a “horrendously bad election integrity killing idea,” is living his ideals. He announced recently that he decided he will no longer vote by mail, and removed himself from the PEVL.

Though there are 90 total lawmakers in the state, only 89 of them appeared on the Secretary of State’s database, likely because one petitioned the court to keep her voting file secret. There may not be any way to find out if Bolick – who has been one of the harshest critics of all voters receiving their ballot through mail, and who penned two op-eds about how voting by mail is rife for fraud, which state election officials contend was riddled with inaccuracies – votes by mail herself.

That’s likely because she is married to Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick.

State statute says any voter registered at the same residence as an “eligible person” may request that the general public be prohibited from accessing their personal information, such as their address, voting history and registration. Justices, judges (current or former), peace officers, and others are

A spokeswoman for the court confirmed that that information is not a public record and therefore cannot be disclosed.

Bolick did not return a call for comment and Clint Bolick declined to comment on how he submits his ballot.

This battle extends beyond the Legislature to Gov. Doug Ducey, who on April 14 after a press conference on his latest actions in response to the coronavirus crisis, made it clear he’s not in favor of universal mail-in voting either.

“We’re not going to disenfranchise anyone from voting on Election Day,” said Ducey, who’s on PEVL. “We’re going to have more availability to vote, not less.”

Several lawmakers weighing resignation

The historic Arizona Capitol building. Arizona legislators have introduced several bills this year to allow the Legislature to have greater control over state agencies and other elected bodies. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR
The historic Arizona Capitol building. Arizona legislators have introduced several bills this year to allow the Legislature to have greater control over state agencies and other elected bodies. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR

Competitive races are already filling the entire 2022 ballot with roughly a year to go before the primary election on August 2, and several state lawmakers are planning to resign from their $24,000 a year jobs to focus on full-time campaigning. 

There are at least 13 legislators who are either running for higher office or have been rumored to do so and half of them are apparently planning to call it quits from the Legislature. Most of them are Democrats.  

On the top of the ticket is Rep. Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley, who is seeking the governor nomination. He is planning to resign before the year is out, but sources within Legislative District 28 say there’s a push for him to resign immediately and some within the district are already seeking his replacement.  

Shawnna Bolick
Shawnna Bolick

Rep. Shawanna Bolick’s campaign put to rest rumors she was going to jump ship to focus on a challenging four-way primary with two other lawmakers and an advertising executive for secretary of state.  

“She has no intention of resigning a position that ensures the work of the people gets done and as Chair of Ways and Means she plans on continuing to put the interests of the taxpayer over special interest lobbyists,” campaign spokesman George Khalaf said.  

And it’s the same with Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, the House Appropriations Committee chair who is seeking the GOP nomination for state treasurer.  

Her spokesman Ryan O’Daniel said Cobb is fully capable of multitasking as a lawmaker and a candidate for statewide office. 

“Quit? No chance,” O’Daniel said. “She has a record of fighting for the taxpayer, small business owners, and families, and will continue to do so as Appropriations chair because that’s why the hardworking people in Mohave and La Paz County sent her to the Capitol.”  

O’Daniel added that she isn’t running for treasurer to “add to her resume.” 

But a trio of Democratic lawmakers ready to battle it out for the open congressional seat in southern Arizona are all likely to resign, according to multiple Democratic lawmakers. 

Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, would not confirm or deny the rumors. Neither would Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson. Neither Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, nor his campaign provided comment.  

Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, is also rumored to resign while he is seeking the nomination to take on Congressman Tom O’Halleran in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District, or whatever it becomes after redistricting.  

State lawmakers are not required to resign-to-run as they were in the past. 

Geoff Esposito, a Democratic lobbyist and consultant, said resigning and campaigning full time is the right decision for a candidate who is not viewed as an early front runner and needs to raise a lot of money.  

“For someone like Lieberman, or some of these others, they’re having to play catch up on opponents who have a larger war chest,” he said.  

It doesn’t apply to candidates who are running with clean elections money, Esposito noted.  

Regina Cobb
Regina Cobb

Plus, when Democrats aren’t in the majority, the chances of them making a difference legislatively are always slim, especially when politics is as polarized as it is.  

Esposito said that could weigh into the decision to tap out.  

“I think somebody described this coming legislative session as second semester of senior year,” he said, adding that roughly half of the Democratic caucus potentially not sticking around the Legislature after next year. 

That same reason could be an argument for Republicans to stay in their elected positions and campaign while building on their experience – especially if races are wide open with no dominant front runner or prolific fundraiser in these down ballot races.  

Esposito also said that when lawmakers resign, it could potentially be an advantage for whomever gets the appointment if they get a year of experience to use on keeping the seat during the 2022 election.  

How well someone utilizes that incumbency advantage and the relationships that they’d be able to build at the Capitol to come back there are important, he said.  

“I think we’ve seen instances of both being an advantage for somebody in a future primary and we’ve seen it fall flat. As much as legislators like to believe nobody really knows who they are or cares – especially if you’re appointed, voters don’t really feel a loyalty to you,” Esposito said.  

“Where the advantage comes in is if you’re able to turn that into institutional support, build the relationships with the people who play in those races, and show that you care about progressive values, and are willing to fight the good fight.” 

What’s really key in the district Lieberman is leaving where Democrats flipped a House seat in 2018 and a Senate seat in 2020, is someone who can represent not just Democrats but many Republicans and independents as well. And with redistricting, whatever LD28 becomes will be smaller than what it is currently and the entire makeup could be changed by the next election.  

A 4-1 split in favor of Republicans on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors will decide who will be appointed to any vacancy from a district within the county lines, so the chances of a super progressive compared to someone more moderate could also play into that future decision. Two Republican supervisors live in LD28, too. 


Shawnna Bolick: A 2008 political awakening

Shawnna Bolick
Shawnna Bolick

Rep. Shawnna Bolick could have been a journalist. Or a lawyer. Or a doctor. Instead, she chose to pursue a career in politics, but she’s not the only one in her family in Arizona government.

There’s a Bolick in all three branches, a fact House Speaker Rusty Bowers told Bolick is “scary.” The Phoenix Republican is in the Legislature, her husband, Justice Clint Bolick, is on the Supreme Court, and their son, Ryne, is the current vice president of the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family.

Bolick said growing up she was the black sheep of her family. She was the only registered Republican of her Roman Catholic family in Pennsylvania who did not talk politics or religion in the household, something that remains true today, but maybe not by choice.

She’s also an avid traveler and a published author, but nothing competes with the challenges of politics.

You had two unsuccessful runs for the Lege, but got elected on your third try. What was different that time around?

I didn’t do much different. I focused on doors and meeting people. I set it straight for my kids that persistence pays off and if you want something you keep working for it. I got kicked twice (lost by 654 votes in the 2010 primary, and 2,585 votes in the 2014 election) and I think I won by 3,000 votes this last time. (Actual number is 1,869). I think I earned my way here and worked hard. Focused on precincts and looked at old data

What were your expectations going into your first legislative session?

With the numbers we have you couldn’t really move the needle too far on anything so I didn’t expect us to do a whole heck of a lot. We are kind of on auto pilot for the next year as a Republican.

You’ve worked for Rick Santorum and Rick Perry and have met countless other politicians, including George W. Bush. Are there any politicians that you admire?

Not one really stuck out, but I love the fact that [Rudy] Giuliani fought for school choice in New York. It’s the biggest public school system and he fought for it. I don’t agree with him on a lot of other issues, but he was a great mayor; a strong leader. I worked with two politicians who are both named Rick; I don’t know what that says about me.

Did you ever interact with W?

I met him on Election Night. I have a picture of myself, my husband and him in March of 2001 over in the old executive office building. And I had a foot surgery the day before so there’s a picture of me with a cast on … I never really interacted with him. We would chit chat, and Election Night was just celebratory.

Do you remember the exact moment where you knew you wanted to pursue a career in politics?

Well, I didn’t like [President Barack] Obama’s policies. And that’s actually when I started to get engaged. My kids were born in 2002 and 2004 and I needed to take some time away to focus on family after my kids were born. I was a stay-at-home mom, but I also had a job. I stayed up late doing research for groups I worked for. I didn’t want to turn my mind off because that would not be the best solution for myself or my kids. In 2008, watching that election I definitely got more lit up about getting involved again and now, here I am. I worked extremely hard to get here and last year on the campaign trail I probably personally went to about 18,000 houses myself, so I’m working very hard already. LD20 is purple at this point, and is trying to swing outside of the Republican realm. When it was drawn it was pretty red. Arizona is a gem and I don’t want to see it turn too far to the middle – or purple.

What are the challenges of you being in the Legislature and your husband, Justice Clint Bolick, being on the Supreme Court?

We don’t talk much, let’s just say that. Our schedules don’t match up. I can’t even ask him for advice, which stinks because some issues might go to him … I think I did pretty good this session on my own without having a pro bono attorney help me.

Do either of your kids want to get into politics?

We really hope [our son] doesn’t, but he is a great debater. He’s got great logic and facts behind him whenever he debates an issue. He’s a lot like I was as a teenager. We went to see U2 at the Rose Bowl last year, and he saw some lady with a big Bernie Sanders and Socialism sign and he went over to have a conversation and asked if she truly knew what socialism was and gave her some examples on what could happen and explained what the Libertarian Party was, so it was kind of funny. I like to engage my kids as much as possible. My daughter [Kali] is in ninth grade now, so she’s just starting to think about different issues and where she stands. Her views will evolve like my son’s have. I just hope my son stays on the engineering track; and my daughter wants to go to medical school. We are hoping they both stay local and at least one goes to ASU’s Barrett School.

So you are also a published author.

Oh yeah, I wrote a book in 2004. It took me a couple of years to write it. …I traveled all over Arizona with my kids. …And before my son was born, I started researching places I would want to go with him anything from indoor mall play areas to a museum. It was a very research, detail-oriented project and I didn’t realize I was doing a book when I started. I was creating a binder of things to do and had it organized for around the state. It was published in 2004, and I did a small book tour.

Which was more challenging – writing a book or working in politics?

Definitely being in politics. It’s more time consuming.

Some reform-minded Dems accept dark money


A handful of Arizona Democrats running to replace incumbent Republicans in swing districts have high-minded aspirations of expanding the state’s Clean Elections program and limiting money in politics.

But before they can change government, they have to make it into government. And for candidates running in tough races, that means using traditional financing and accepting that the dark money they oppose on principle is going to be used in their campaigns.

In the Scottsdale-based Legislative District 23, Democratic Senate candidate Seth Blattman lists government reform as one of his three top priorities, up there with education and improving the state’s economy. And if he only had one term in office to get everything done, he said he would focus on the government reform measures, including expanding Clean Elections and strengthening government ethics laws – he said he believes systemic change to government will be the only way to ensure that education funding continues without Democrats in power.

As a candidate, Blattman is running with traditional financing, not Clean Elections funding, and is willing to accept campaign contributions from corporations and special interest groups. It’s a matter of practicality, he said.

“There’s no secret that the more money you have, the more you can spend on campaigning and getting your message out there,” Blattman said. “So, to play by a separate set of rules, handicapping your own self, would be self-defeating in the end. The goal is to get elected so we can actually make some substantial reforms to the system.”

Seth Blattmen
Seth Blattmen

To that end, he’s not too bothered when he sees outside groups, including ones that aren’t required to disclose their donors, intercede in the LD23 Senate race. One such group, Progress Arizona, has spent nearly $10,000 attacking incumbent Republican Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita so far this cycle, according to campaign finance records filed with the Secretary of State’s Office.

“As a principle, you know I’m against outside groups spending money on these races,” Blattman said. “In my particular race though, obviously I’m looking to win so I’m not upset when I see them advertising negative videos against Michelle Ugenti-Rita.”

Candidates from both parties running across the state have been the beneficiaries of hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside spending, from state and national political action committees that do disclose their funding sources and from dark money groups that do not, but only one party has made it its mission to do away with dark money.

So far, the biggest Democratic outside spenders in Arizona legislative races have been Progress Arizona, a left-wing advocacy group that does not disclose its donors, and Forward Majority Action Arizona, the state-level branch of a political action committee whose national funders can be found in federal campaign finance records.

Retired Army Col. Felicia French, the Democrat running for the state Senate in northern Arizona’s Legislative District 6, and her Republican opponent, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Wendy Rogers, are in the race that has drawn the most outside spending so far. Republican groups have spent more than $90,000 to attack French, who came within 600 votes of winning a spot in the state House in 2018.

Rogers, meanwhile, has been the target of more than $91,000 in critical outside spending, the vast majority of which came from conservative groups during her bitter primary battle with Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake. Campaign finance records filed with the Secretary of State’s Office reflect roughly $5,000 spent against her by Forward Majority Action, but money Progress Arizona has spent since the primary on Facebook ads and websites set up to attack the Rogers campaign has not been reported.

French said she dislikes negative campaigning and outside spending in the race, but she has no control over what PACs and independent expenditure groups can do. Candidates are legally barred from coordinating with independent expenditure groups.

Felicia French
Felicia French

“Obviously I don’t have control if it’s from my party or somebody else just because they want to bring to light negative aspects about my opponent,” French said. “But I really don’t like it, of course, when it’s against me because none of it’s been true.”

If she wins election and gets to work on campaign finance legislation, French said she ideally would love to see mandatory Clean Elections funding for every candidate. Right now, candidates in contested races can’t afford to run with Clean Elections funding because their opponents are easily able to raise far more than the $18,121 for the primary and $27,182 for the general given to Clean Elections candidates.

“You’re riding a regular single speed bicycle while your opponent has a mini motorcycle or scooter,” French said. “There’s no way you can do that.”

She also wants greater transparency and disclosure of where campaign contributions come from and how they’re spent. French and her campaign treasurer include a detailed memo line with every campaign transaction that includes check numbers, store names and descriptions of items purchased for the campaign. None of that is required by law, but French described it as fastidiousness left over from her 32 years in the Army.

Overall, Democrats running in swing districts described an indifference to outside spending intended to help them or hurt their Republican opponents. Legislative District 17 Senate candidate Ajlan Kurdoglu, who regularly criticizes Republican incumbent Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, as being beholden to special interests and dark money, said he appreciated the support his own campaign has received from outside groups spending to help him or hurt Mesnard.

“Money in politics has gotten out of hand,” Kurdoglu said via text. “Unfortunately, the current majority in the AZ State Legislature neglected to take action to deal with this issue. Actually, they made it even more serious with their action. When I am in the Senate, with a Democratic majority I will work with everyone to solve this problem.”

J.D. Mesnard
J.D. Mesnard

So far, Forward Majority Action Arizona and Progress Arizona have spent more than $21,000 attacking Mesnard and Forward Majority and Save Our Schools Arizona have spent $11,000 to advocate for Kurdoglu’s election.

Mesnard said he accepts that he and legislative Democrats have different opinions on campaign finance, but he gets frustrated when people show selective outrage over money in politics

“When it’s benefiting their opponent, they’re all upset,” Mesnard said. “When they’re benefiting, they’re surprisingly muted — or maybe not really surprisingly, but they’re muted.”

In Legislative District 20, where outside groups aligned with Democrats have spent more than $50,000 attacking incumbent Republican Reps. Shawnna Bolick and Anthony Kern, Democratic candidate Judy Schwiebert said she’s only paying attention to her own campaign, not what else is happening in the race.

“I don’t know what other people are doing,” she said. “I’m trying to keep my head down and run my race, which is all about listening and working together to make sure that we’re getting things done.”





Tempers flare in House as committees hear controversial bills

Republicans GOP Democrats politics parties

Long-simmering tensions boiled over in the House Wednesday, as Democratic lawmakers and opponents of GOP-sponsored bills to tighten voting rules and let businesses avoid Proposition 208’s surcharge accused Republican committee chairman of trying to silence them.

Critics slammed this as part of a larger, years-long pattern of the Republican majority disrespecting and trying to silence members of the public, particularly women and people of color, who come to the Legislature to oppose their proposals.

 At a news conference on Thursday Francisca Gil, with Our Voice Our Vote Arizona, talked about waiting almost seven hours to testify against a voting bill in 2020 and not being allowed to speak. Gil called their tactics “evil” and said things have gotten worse this year, suggesting this is connected to Republican losses in the last election, which saw President Biden narrowly carry the state and the election of a second Democratic U.S. senator.

“If they are not listening to Arizonans, who are they listening to?” she asked. “If they are not listening to the well being of Arizona they should not be holding seats in the Arizona Legislature.”

The head of the House Government and Elections Committee, who came in for criticism after Wednesday’s meeting when he tried to cut off a Democratic lawmaker’s explanation of her vote and at one point tried to have her recorded as not voting, responded that he allows robust debate in his committee and that people need to separate policy making from “the grandstanding which often happens in the media and on Twitter.”

John Kavanagh
John Kavanagh

“We debate issues vigorously, we challenge each other and that’s how we get to the truth,” Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said Thursday. “And after all the politics and the Twitter is done, we go back the next day and go back to doing the same type of debate as if nothing happened.”

Even before Wednesday, Government and Elections had already been one of the House’s most rancorous committees, as Republicans this year are pushing numerous laws that they say will safeguard against voter fraud, but Democrats say will make it harder to vote. The public testimony on SB1713, which as amended would require early voters to include their date of birth and either an Arizona driver’s license or voter registration number on the affidavit accompanying their ballot, started as Republicans quizzed at length Jeff Clark, the head of the Arizona State Association of Letter Carriers, with some asking why letter carriers would oppose a voter identification law and who his union endorsed in the last presidential election.

A little later, Kavanagh said only a few more people would be allowed to testify before the committee voted, prompting Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, to protest that her caucus had legitimate questions about the bills and that the only people being “dilatory” were the Republicans who questioned Clark and that Democrats “sat silently and patiently as you interrogated a hardworking letter carrier who made sure we had a … safe election during a pandemic.” As the committee voted, the Democrats read testimony from some of the opponents of the bill who hadn’t been given time to speak.

When it was Salman’s turn, she criticized Kavanagh for limiting public testimony and accused him of violating the equality of members. Kavanagh tried to gavel her down repeatedly, saying she should confine her remarks to the pros and cons of the bill.

“I said explain your vote, Kavanagh said. “You are not explaining your vote. You are talking about procedural issues not germane to a vote explanation.”

After a bit more back-and-forth, Kavanagh said he would record Salman as not voting, and Salman and Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, accused Kavanagh of committing a felony by trying to vote for another member.

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

“This bill in my opinion … would have the effect that Jim Crow restrictions had that this nation has seen previously, and Mr. Chair, I was well within my rights to point out all the people who were not allowed to testify in opposition to this bill,” Salman said. 

Meanwhile, House Ways and Means was discussing SB1783, a bill to let some taxpayers choose between paying the individual income tax, which would potentially subject them to Proposition 208’s 3.5% surcharge if they make enough, or a new flat 4.5% small business income tax. This would, it is estimated, decrease the amount collected by the new voter-approved education funding surcharge by $263 million to $378 million yearly, according to an analysis prepared by Joint Legislative Budget Committee staff.

However, committee Chairwoman Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, repeatedly tried to prevent the Democrats from bringing up Prop 208 as they asked questions about the bill, saying it was irrelevant since the bill didn’t mention Prop 208. She also cut off public testimony, leading Rep. Andrés Cano, D-Tucson, to accuse her of deviating from her previous promise to let three supporters and three opponents of the bill testify.

“Instead, we say, ‘don’t talk about Prop 208’ when the fiscal impact note specifically addresses this because the impact of the bill is going to mean $300 million at a minimum in a direct cut to our services,” Cano said. “What are you scared of by limiting the public? Why can’t you listen?” 

Bolick accused Cano of acting like a preschooler, while the Republicans accused the Democrats on the committee of being rude to Bolick.

“Nothing we’ve been doing here has been respectful,” said Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, as she voted for the bill. “I’m saddened by your demeanor.”

House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, lodged a protest on the House floor Wednesday, saying what he witnessed Wednesday was one of the worst displays he had seen in his seven years in the Legislature.

“And I imagine every single person down here will have a different lens on what they see, which I respect, but what I can’t respect is what happened today,” Bolding said. “If you cannot handle the content and the speech that members are using when they’re discussing bills, don’t run the bills. We have bills that are attacking reproductive justice, bills that are attacking voting rights, bills that are attacking education. These are big topics we deserve to debate.”

Bolding said disagreement is healthy and to be expected but that the Republicans shouldn’t use their power to limit Democrats and the public’s ability to weigh in.

“What one member calls voter suppression, another may call security, and we have the ability to voice that, but to (silence) a member, that’s something we should never be doing,” Bolding said. “To tell the public ‘you can’t speak’ because they don’t like what you have to say, that’s something you should never be doing. We were all sent here to represent our constituents, our values, to use our voice. As members of the minority, our voice is our vote, and we have to have the ability to use it.”

Representatives of progressive groups that often testify in front of the Legislature gathered outside the House Thursday to say Wednesday’s actions were part of a years-long pattern of GOP chairmen limiting both public testimony and the speech of Democratic committee members and trying to silence members of the public they disagree with, particularly women and people of color. 

“Yesterday’s events were … not the first time the public and members of the Legislature have watched as … (Kavanagh) belittled, disrespected and conducted committee meetings in authoritarian behavior styles,” said Alicia Contreras, the executive director of Corazón Arizona. “He never is shy about shouting and speaking over folks due to their race, gender or political stance, especially women, which we watched yesterday in horror.”

Kavanagh defended his conduct of the meeting, saying part of his job as chairman is to move through bills in a reasonable amount of time and that Salman should have stuck to the bill itself in her explanation.

“You know what I have a pattern of?” he said. “I let people have vigorous debate, and if someone says a ‘to the point,’ we stop the conversation and address the point. We don’t wait 10 minutes and let people forget what the point was. Everyone is ‘to the point’ debating and arguing, because it’s through vigorous debate that you arrive at the truth, and they (the Democrats) are just as quick to go ‘to the point’ as I am or another Republican is.”

The Breakdown: Runnin’ dirty

Clean Elections Commission logo620Thousands of Arizona women could have to choose between paying more for health care or driving long distances to receive it after Planned Parenthood withdrew from a federal funding program.

A Supreme Court justice raised eyebrows when Gov. Ducey tweeted a photo of him at a conservative conference.

And Democrats are running dirty, ditching Clean Elections funding to maintain access to the party’s list of voters in 2020.


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


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

Timeshare bill passes out of House committee


State lawmakers are weighing whether it shouldn’t have to be necessary for someone to die to get out of a timeshare contract.

But it won’t do any good for those already stuck in such deals.

Legislation approved Monday by the House Committee on Regulatory Affairs would give people who sign these deals 14 days to have second thoughts. That’s twice as long as now required.

But HB 2639 also would allow buyers to opt out within 14 days of actually using their timeshare and be entitled to a 90 percent refund.

Potentially most significant, those who would buy a timeshare in the future and have had it for at least a decade could simply walk away without being on the legal hook for annual maintenance fees that could continue for the rest of their lives and beyond.

Despite the 7-0 vote Monday by the House Committee on Regulatory Affairs it remains unclear if the provisions will ever become law. Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, who chairs the panel, said he will seek to strip out many of the provisions when it now goes to the full House, instead reducing it to additional requirements for what information needs to be given to buyers.

The star witness for the proposal by Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, was Gloria Johnson who told lawmakers about her experience buying a timeshare in 1980.

Now, she said, the option of having a week at a resort makes little sense. Yet she is stuck making annual maintenance payments of more than $1,000.

Johnson said she was told she can leave the timeshare to her children.

“My children don’t want them, my children can’t afford to pay the maintenance fee,” she said.

“There is no way out of this,” Johnson said. “You own this for life and you own it beyond your life.”

Johnson said she realizes that nothing the Legislature adopts now can alter the contract she signed nearly four decades ago. But she told lawmakers they should protect others going forward.

Amanda Rusing who lobbies for the Attorney General’s Office said her agency crafted the measure to deal with specific complaints by timeshare buyers and owners. She said it starts with providing more than just seven days for buyers to consider what they’ve done.

“People aren’t even home from their vacations and sobered up by the time they’re completely locked in to these contracts,” Rusing said. “What we wanted to do is give people a more meaningful opportunity to think about that contract that they signed.”

She also said it’s important for people to be able to get out of a contract once they’ve actually had the opportunity to use the unit that they’ve bought for one week a year.

“By the time they use it, they’re stuck in that contract,” Rusing said.

“They thought they were buying the opportunity to use a beach-front villa,” she explained. “And what they end up with is a condo where, if you hang your head out the window on a sunny day, you can kind of see the ocean.”

And as far as getting out, Rusing said good luck.

She said people are so desperate that they advertise their time share for as little as a penny, only to find no one who wants to assume the future liability. And that, in turn, has created what she said, are some scam artists who claim to be able to free people from their timeshares, often for an up-front fee.

Monday’s vote came over the objections of Don Isaacson who lobbies for the American Resort Development Association.

“This bill goes too far,” he said, saying no state allows someone to simply give back a unit after 10 years and walk away. Isaacson said there’s a good reason for that, as when someone stops paying an assessment, then the financial burden falls on everyone else.

But the bottom line, said Isaacson, is that the state should not step in to protect people who didn’t bother to understand the nature of the deal.

“You are buying real estate, you are buying it as an adult,” he said.

“You read the documents,” said Isaacson. “And unless there is fraud, you are bound to that particular purchase.”

Grantham agreed.

“It’s very difficult to legislate good decision making,” he said, whether buying a car or a timeshare.

Rep. Amish Shah, D-Phoenix, said he was concerned that the only option for someone to get out appears to be bankruptcy or death. He told Isaacson there needs to be some kind of option for an exit strategy for those no longer interested.

Isaacson said some new timeshares run by resorts do have such options in their contracts.

“But I think it would be a mistake to mandate that,” he said.

Anyway, Isaacson argued that too much is being made of the issue. He said the 250 complaints a year to the Attorney General’s Office pale in comparison to the 600,000 timeshare units owned in Arizona.


Toma, Kavanagh, Kern gunning for House majority leader


A trio of Republicans are jostling to lead the GOP House majority next year – should a GOP House majority still exist, that is. 

With Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Mesa, the position’s current occupant, moving to the Senate, the majority leader job is wide open, and Representatives Anthony Kern, John Kavanagh and Ben Toma all want a shot.  

Getting the job will require victories in their general election races, victory for the House GOP and a vote from fellow members of the Republican caucus. But success means an opportunity to mold the party’s ideology and broker agreements between warring factions within the party and across the aisle. 

If Republicans maintain their tenuous 31-29 majority, slim margins make the position especially important, said Kavanagh. He touted his relationships with other lawmakers, his oratory and his organizational capabilities – skills he’s honed in a 14-year tenure. 

“I’ve been in every possible legislative situation – other than being in the minority,” Kavanagh said. “Republicans need to put their best image forward, a lot of outreach to the media, at events, newspaper columns.” 

John Kavanagh
John Kavanagh

Kern, a Glendale Republican who serves as chair of the House Rules Committee, has twice failed at earning a spot in House GOP leadership – he’s hoping “the third time’s the charm.” 

“I just keep losing by one vote, I don’t know why,” he said, referencing his 2016 bid as a freshman to become whip and his 2018 run for majority leader. 

Kern said he sent letters to fellow Republicans asking for their vote, and has started giving likely incoming freshmen his elevator pitch, which includes conservative policy, caucus unity and supporting the agenda of House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa. 

“I thought Rusty did a good job,” he said. 

Bowers himself is facing a challenge from Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, who’s running to boost the role of the caucus’ most conservative members. 

His candidacy was borne out of frustration by Liberty Caucus-affiliated Republicans in the House who lamented the adjournment of the legislative session, who decried the governor’s stay-at-home order and in general who viewed the party’s establishment-wing as aloof and uncommunicative. 

Anthony Kern
Anthony Kern

None of the three majority leader candidates have announced their support of either pick for speaker – even Kern, despite his stated support of Bowers. Kavanagh described himself as “running independently,” while Toma declined to answer. 

Toma, a Republican from Peoria, said the majority leader job would be especially important if Republicans continue to hold a slim majority in the House. 

“There are times when as a majority leader you have to take a hit for the majority, and that’s something I’m willing to do,” he said. 

Toma, who generally eschews fiery floor speeches in favor of policy work, is a dedicated conservative, but earned goodwill with Democrats for his desire to pass sentencing reform legislation. 

He’s the preferred majority leader of Rep. Regina Cobb, the House Appropriations chair and a Bowers supporter.  

“Toma is the guy I think would be best suited for the position,” said Cobb, of Kingman. “I think that he’s able to work with all kinds of personalities and that’s what the majority leader needs to be. His temperament is even keel. He’s not antagonistic.” 

 If Democrats take the House, this all may be moot. Though the longstanding minority has no shortage of feuding factions with differing ideological visions, the leadership contest is still opaque. Moderate House Democrats have congealed around Rep. Diego Espinoza, D-Tolleson, as a candidate for speaker or minority leader, but neither he nor current House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez are willing to discuss their ambitions publicly. 

Ben Toma
Ben Toma

And the pool of applicants for leader of a loyal Republican opposition under a Democratic majority is shallow.

Toma said he’s “probably not” interested in the leadership job unless Republicans are in charge. Kern, on the other hand, didn’t want to acknowledge that a Democratic majority is even possible.  

“I promise you they’re not gonna win,” he said, before adding that if Republicans want him to lead in the minority, he would consider it. 

Kern, incidentally, holds one of the seats that Democrats covet most dearly. He and Rep. Shawna Bolick, R-Phoenix, must fend off a challenge from Judy Schwiebert, a teacher who Democrats hope can carry the district. 

Kavanagh said he’d likely want to run for assistant minority leader if Democrats took over – especially if he can help orchestrate a reversion to the mean two years later. 

He expects that Republicans will storm back to power in the midterms, buoyed by a favorable district map and a response to Biden from the right. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has made creating the conditions for a map that benefits Republicans a priority, stacking the committee that vets Independent Redistricting Commission members with Republicans and right-leaning independents.

“I think that will make the next two years even more critical that Republicans put their best feet forward,” he said. “I think we would have a good chance of taking back the chamber.”

Ugenti-Rita defends seat against spectrum of detractors

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, shares a laugh at the Arizona Technology Innovation Summit at The Duce on March 20, 2019. Detractors of the 10-year incumbent include both sides of the abortion divide and fellow Republican lawmakers as she defends her seat against a well-financed primary opponent. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Bright yellow signs blasting Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita as “ethically compromised” litter roads in Scottsdale, where the 10-year incumbent seeks to fend off a primary challenge from a well-funded opponent.

It’s the most intense primary yet for Ugenti-Rita, one of the Senate’s most conservative Republicans, who swept into office in 2010 as a first-time candidate riding a Tea Party wave of activism. From that first race on, Ugenti-Rita has been a maverick unafraid of upsetting her own party — a stance that wins plaudits from constituents when it results in wins like an early repeal of a controversial vehicle license tax, but that also generates conflict at the Capitol, where legislative leaders prize “team players” above all else.

As she seeks to defend her Senate seat, Ugenti-Rita must deal with a social conservative lobby that doesn’t think she takes a sufficiently strong stance against abortion, skeptics of the #MeToo movement angry about Ugenti-Rita’s role in expelling a colleague she said sexually harassed her and voters troubled by sexual harassment allegations against Ugenti-Rita herself.

While rumors that Ugenti-Rita and her husband, former Governor’s Office staffer Brian Townsend, sexually harassed a lobbyist have circulated the Capitol for years and appeared in campaign materials from her 2018 primary opponent, the lobbyist’s sworn court deposition made public earlier this year put those claims in stark, occasionally graphic terms.

Alex Kolodin
Alex Kolodin

Ugenti-Rita’s primary opponent, Scottsdale attorney Alex Kolodin, is all too happy for voters to continue thinking of Ugenti-Rita laying on a bar for body shots and having her now-husband solicit a threesome, as the lobbyist alleged in her deposition. In campaign mailers, social media ads and sly asides during interviews, Kolodin calls out Ugenti-Rita’s “issues with lobbyists” and describes the incumbent as “scandal-plagued.”

“Everybody who is familiar with politics in Scottsdale, the people who are really actively involved, know the backstory and know the scandal,” Kolodin said. “It’s become a known thing among the electorate. I want to be represented by somebody who makes me proud as a constituent, and that’s certainly one of the reasons that I wanted to run.”

Ugenti-Rita has assiduously refused to acknowledge the allegations against her, ignoring questions from reporters and avoiding forums and debates where they could arise. Her Senate colleagues closed ranks around her in February, after the Arizona Capitol Times and other media organizations obtained copies of the court filings.

She is currently embroiled in a defamation lawsuit against former lawmaker Don Shooter, who was expelled from the state House after Ugenti-Rita and several other women complained that he harassed them. And if Kolodin continues discussing sexual harassment allegations leveled at Ugenti-Rita, she may sue him as well, her lawyer said in a letter sent to Kolodin last week.

“I am well aware that the days of civility for most people in political campaigns are well behind us in America, but that does not give you a license to harm Ms. Ugenti-Rita’s reputation with false and defamatory statements about her,” attorney Mark Goldman wrote. “I hope that you will rise above your current obvious inclination to defame Ms. Ugenti-Rita. Do you really want this type or conduct to be part of your political legacy in Arizona?”

Shooter, meanwhile, is invested in making sure Ugenti-Rita loses, and has offered Kolodin campaign advice — though he said Kolodin doesn’t need and hasn’t asked for his help.

“He’s not a stupid man,” Shooter said. “He’s not listening to me.”

Ugenti-Rita still maintains broad support among members of Arizona’s conservative political establishment. One of her seatmates, Republican Rep. Jay Lawrence of Scottsdale, repeatedly refers to himself, Ugenti-Rita, Rep. John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills and Congressman Dave Schweikert as the “LD23 Dream Team.”

Her hard-line stances against tax increases and laser focus on election legislation earn praise from conservatives. More recently, her stalwart opposition to Gov. Doug Ducey’s assumption of power during the COVID-19 pandemic — including drafting legislation to immediately overthrow his state of emergency and protesting attempts to end the legislative session — won admiration from the conservative wing of the party.

And while Kolodin appears on first glance to have outraised Ugenti-Rita in the last two quarters, nearly all of the $135,000 he collected by July 1 comes from loans he gave his campaign. Ugenti-Rita brought in just over $88,000, all of which came from contributions from individuals and political action committees.

Influential Republican groups have split on endorsements in the race, with the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and the Free Enterprise Club picking Ugenti-Rita and the Center for Arizona Policy siding with Kolodin. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry endorsed neither.

Following the Center for Arizona Policy’s snub of Ugenti-Rita, freshman Republican Reps. Shawnna Bolick and Walt Blackman announced their own endorsements of Kolodin. Bolick’s teenage son, Ryne, is also managing Kolodin’s campaign.

Their endorsements mark a new area in which Ugenti-Rita has had to go on the defensive: while supporters of abortion rights have long criticized her record, she’s now targeted by abortion rights opponents as being too “pro-choice.”

The main issue the Center for Arizona Policy and Kolodin cited was Ugenti-Rita’s support of the Equal Rights Amendment. Over the past several years, she and two other Republican women, Sens. Heather Carter of Cave Creek and Kate Brophy McGee of Phoenix, have voted for and sponsored resolutions to ratify the constitutional amendment, which guarantees equal rights regardless of sex.

Cathi Herrod
Cathi Herrod

Critics of the amendment portray it as enshrining the right to obtain an abortion in the Constitution, and supporting it earned Ugenti-Rita, Carter and Brophy McGee the ire of the Center for Arizona Policy and its influential leader, Cathi Herrod. Ugenti-Rita and the center also tangled over a CAP-backed bill to provide state funding for centers meant to dissuade women from obtaining abortions, as Ugenti-Rita questioned the need for aspects of the bill.

Blackman said his support for Kolodin stems from his belief that Kolodin will try to outright ban abortion instead of continuing to regulate it, as Republican majorities have done for the past several decades. Arizona still has an abortion ban on the books – it just can’t be enforced because of Roe v Wade.

“We need legislators that are going to fight [for] this cause, and I endorsed him because that’s what he wants to do. He wants to end this epidemic,” Blackman said.

The winner of the August 4 Republican primary will face Democrat Seth Blattman, an ASU graduate and political newcomer who runs his family’s furniture manufacturing company.