Bill to give lawmakers say on energy policy likely dead

Solar panels and wind turbine against blue sky

A controversial bill to prohibit Arizona’s utility regulators from setting state energy policy appears dead after a Republican senator decided he cannot support it. 

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, told the Arizona Capitol Times on Thursday that he still has too many outstanding questions about SB1175, which would allow only the Legislature to set energy policy. The House and Senate just don’t have the same expertise as the Arizona Corporation Commission, Boyer said.

“They have 200 staffers devoted just to energy policy at Corp Comm,” Boyer said. “We have two, one in the House and one in the Senate. So, I’m hesitant to have this major shift.” 

Because all legislative Democrats oppose SB1175 — and an identical bill, HB2248, that passed the state House on a party-line vote last week — a single Republican’s concerns spell defeat for the bill. Boyer said he told Senate sponsor Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, that he would not vote for her bill if she brought it to the floor. Kerr did not immediately return a phone call. 

The bill’s death is a rebuke to Gov. Doug Ducey, who has pushed for the Legislature to take control of energy policy. On Jan. 15, just a few days into the legislative session, Ducey signalled his support during a public interview at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce. 

“I want to see the corporation commission setting rates and the Legislature setting energy policy and I hope that will be straightened out in this session,” Ducey said.

Both the governor and Republican lawmakers opposed the more stringent clean energy rules the Corporation Commission adopted in November. The rules, approved by three Republican commissioners and one Democrat, included a mandate that electric utilities be emission-free by 2050. 

In response, Kerr and Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, filed their twin bills to retroactively prohibit the Arizona Corporation Commission from regulating electricity generation retroactive to June 30, 2020 — shortly before the commission created its draft rules. 

Kerr, Griffin, House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Senate President Karen Fann sent the corporation commission a letter in February decrying the new rules as “rushed” and “based on personal legacies and political agendas.” 

“This forced the public to accept a final decision during an election year, apparently when the Commission thought no one was watching, in order to eke out a series of political and financial wins for industry insiders and outgoing commissioners,” the lawmakers wrote, in a slightly veiled reference to former commission chairman Bob Burns.

Burns said it’s good news the bills, which he believes to be unconstitutional, won’t make their way to Ducey’s desk. He previously wrote a scathing response to the letter from Fann, Bowers, Griffin and Kerr. 

“It is almost beyond belief that you as members of the Legislature, who have introduced and are moving blatantly unconstitutional bills, would accuse the commission of some misbehavior,” Burns wrote.

Essentially, Burns told lawmakers to stay in their lane, and argued that if lawmakers start getting involved in Corporation Commission  business such as determining energy companies’ portfolios, Arizona Public Service  would simply buy lawmakers as it has tried to buy commissioners when it poured more than $10 million into the 2014 campaigns of former commissioners Tom Forese and Doug Little. 

Burns argued that the commission is the appropriate venue to decide these issues, not only because that’s what the commission is constitutionally charged with doing, but also because commissioners are full-time professional regulators who are laser focused on utility issues – “no 100-day session, no distraction of hundreds of other important issues.”

APS, after pressure from Democratic Commissioner Anna Tovar, came out in opposition to the legislation on March 9. Burns said the Commission can now vote uninterrupted on the final plan next month, when it’s expected to pass 3-2. 

Sandy Bahr, chapter director for the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, was lobbying against the two measures and welcomed the news that Boyer opposed the bills. 

“These bills are bad public policy, not to mention have constitutional issues,” she said. “We appreciate that Senator Boyer recognizes the problems with them. They’re bad for the economy, bad for clean energy — which is a key part of our economy — and obviously will affect the work at the Corporation Commission to try to reduce carbon emissions and really make our state a leader in this area.”

Sen. Kirsten Engel, the Tucson Democrat who has led opposition in the Senate, agreed with Boyer that the Legislature lacks the expertise or attention to handle energy policy. 

“We’re balancing too many different issues at the same time. Education, tax policy, insurance measures, just about everything,” she said. “I don’t trust the legislature to do an adequate job on this. It’s complicated, and we have too much on our plates.”

Engel  said she was grateful to hear the bills are likely dead, but she won’t fully relax until the legislative session is over and she’s sure they’re really dead.

“At the Arizona Legislature, you always have to be worried that some of these bills might come back, that they might pop up in the budget or some other way,” she said. 

County supervisors choose Sine Kerr to fill vacant Senate seat in LD13

Sine Kerr
Sine Kerr

Republican Sine Kerr was appointed Jan. 4 by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to replace former state Sen. Steve Montenegro in Legislative District 13.

Montenegro resigned Dec. 15 to focus on his candidacy for Congressional District 8. The appointment was made during a special  meeting of the board of supervisors, ensuring that the seat is filled by the start of the legislative session on Jan. 8.

“I’m ready to push up my sleeves to work hard for the people of LD13,” she said following the appointment.

She will be sworn in at 11 a.m. on Jan. 8 in the office of Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler.

Kerr, of Buckeye, was one of three nominees chosen by the LD13 precinct committeemen during a Dec. 28 meeting to fill the seat. Royce Jenkins and Goodyear City Councilwoman Joanne Osborne, who had previously filed to run for the House in LD13, were also nominated.

A self-described conservative Republican, Kerr and her husband run a dairy business and she serves on the Arizona Farm Bureau’s Board of Directors, the Buckeye Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Maricopa County Air Quality Hearing Board.

She had filed to run for election in the House, and told the Arizona Capitol Times that she would decide “soon” whether to run for election in the Senate or continue with her House campaign.

Don Shooter supporters work to get him on ballot for Senate

Rep. Don Shooter asks colleagues Thursday not to expel him from the House on the heels of a report saying he is guilty of multiple counts of sexual harassment. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Rep. Don Shooter asks colleagues Feb. 1 not to expel him from the House on the heels of a report saying he is guilty of multiple counts of sexual harassment. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Asked earlier this month if he’d run for office again following his historic expulsion from the Arizona House of Representatives, former legislator Don Shooter said, “Hell no.

Now Shooter claims he’s willing to serve, but only if a small band of Yuma Republicans can gather enough petitions for the disgraced politician to qualify for the ballot. Shooter was voted out of the Legislature in February after a House investigation found he serially sexually harassed colleagues and lobbyists.

Sally Kizer, who chairs the Colorado River Tea Party, said Shooter reached out to her last week and asked her to circulate his nominating petitions. Shooter used to be first vice chair of her tea party organization, Kizer said, and she and others are gathering signatures for his potential candidacy. Petitions are due May 30.

Shooter told the Arizona Capitol Times that he was first approached by a handful of loyalists who wanted to collect petitions for him. He then reached out to more supporters who wanted to help, Shooter said, adding he’s comfortable with a late push to get his name on the ballot.

“You gotta remember that I was drafted the first go around, and these are only my core supporters I’m sure,” Shooter said, referring to his first legislative campaign in 2010. “They said, ‘Aren’t you gonna run,’ and I said, ‘Well, I didn’t plan on it.’”

Shooter claimed not to care whether they accomplish their goal.  But when they offered to gather signatures for him, Shooter said he told them, “If you get the petitions, I guess I’ll run… If people want me to work and serve, I’ll go.”

Shooter would not say how many signatures he’d already gathered prior to his expulsion from the House, or speculate on the odds he’ll gather the 474 petitions necessary to qualify for the Republican primary in Legislative District 13.

“I don’t know, but we’re going to find out,” he said. “Then we’ll find out if the voters really care about the stuff that’s happened or if they care about having an effective legislature.”

If he qualifies, Shooter would be a candidate for the district’s state Senate seat, which he held from 2013 to 2017 before serving in the House.

Constantin Querard, Shooter’s former consultant who now represents incumbent LD13 Sen. Sine Kerr, said his recollection is that Shooter had somewhere between 400 and 500 signatures collected last year — a candidate would be well served to submit at least 700 to make up for invalid signatures, he added.

Shooter spoke dismissively of the conclusions of a House investigation into multiple claims of sexual harassment made against the former representative and senator, sparked by claims from a fellow lawmaker.

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, first named Shooter as one of the men in the Legislature who had harassed her. She told KTVK (Channel 3) political reporter Dennis Welch that Shooter asked about her chest in her office and came uninvited to her room with beer at a work conference, where she didn’t answer the door.

After Ugenti-Rita came forward, eight other women told stories of inappropriate, sexually charged comments and unwanted touching. An independent investigation produced a report detailing his repeated violation of a House harassment policy by creating a hostile work environment for female colleagues, other lawmakers, lobbyists and an intern at the Arizona Legislature.

Shooter alleges in a notice of claim that the speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives and staff members in Gov. Doug Ducey’s office conspired to remove him from office in an effort  to prevent him from uncovering “serious issues of malfeasance in state government contracts.”

Some voters would hold Shooter’s expulsion and the allegations that led to it against him, Querard said. But other voters may view the allegations as “fake news” and a “political hit job,” he said, meaning Shooter could be a factor in the race.

“I would take him very seriously in a primary,” Querard said.

Perhaps, Shooter said, there are voters who remember him more as he described himself: an effective legislator.

“I’m a Kentucky hillbilly. I have never suffered from ambition. I haven’t,” Shooter said. “But I’m willing to serve, if people want me to, because I think I was a decent legislator.”

Besides, he quipped, “I got nothing to lose. What are you going to do, fire me? You’re going to kill me twice?”

Ducey signs ‘historic’ Colorado River drought plan legislation

Gov. Doug Ducey and Secretary of State Katie Holmes display legislation Ducey signed for Arizona''s Drought Contingency Plan. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey and Secretary of State Katie Holmes display legislation Ducey signed for Arizona”s Drought Contingency Plan. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

In the culmination of extensive talks that brought together water users from all corners of the state, the Arizona Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey signed off on a multi-state drought plan Thursday.

The governor and lawmakers celebrated passage of the Drought Contingency Plan bills as a “historic” moment that showed the state could work together to head off drastic water shortfalls on the Colorado River.

Ducey signed the two bills from a room in the historic Capitol building where nearly 40 years ago Gov. Bruce Babbitt signed the Groundwater Management Act. The governor signed the bills with Secretary of State Katie Hobbs beside him and flanked by Republican and Democratic lawmakers and various water users and water leaders that helped forge the drought plan deal.

“We did it by bringing everyone to the table, putting party labels aside and placing Arizona first,” he said. “The Drought Contingency Plan is a historic, bipartisan achievement.”

The bills Ducey signed easily cleared both chambers of the Legislature. Only a few Democrats voted against the bills in the Senate, saying the drought plan doesn’t adequately address the issues of water scarcity and conservation. Lawmakers in the House unanimously passed both bills.

Not since lawmakers passed a slew of reforms last year to reduce opioid addiction and overdose deaths has the Legislature been so united on a single issue.

Ducey and lawmakers from both parties stressed the vote on the DCP is not the end of water policy talks. Instead, it is just the beginning of talks about the state’s long-term water future and water conservation efforts.

“We got here, ladies and gentlemen,” said Rep. Rosanna Gabaldón. “We’re making a good step in the right direction and it doesn’t end today.”

Democrats also warned that climate change cannot be ignored as a factor in declining water levels in the Colorado River.

“It is absurd and careless to think that a 19-year megadrought that we find ourselves in today has nothing to do with climate change,” said Rep. Kirsten Engel. “In fact, it has everything to do with climate change.”

Ducey promised Arizona isn’t done on water reform, but it’s too soon to tell specifically what that will look like, he said. But Ducey specified that he wants the next steps on water to be a collaborative process with plenty of discussion from numerous groups, similar to the DCP process.

“To speak specifically and exactly about what the next step is going to look like in Arizona’s water future would be irresponsible because there’s a lot of good ideas,” he said.

Ducey also said he took to heart comments legislative leaders made about increased conservation efforts and creating a culture of conservation in Arizona that teaches everyday citizens to use less water.

The governor also acknowledged some lawmakers’ concerns about climate change, saying the state needs to plan for changing weather patterns.

“It’s certainly something that’s important to policymakers behind us and it’s certainly something that will become part of this discussion,” he said.

In passing a bill by Senate Majority Leader Karen Fann, the Legislature approved plans for Arizona to sign onto a DCP — an implementation plan for seven Colorado River Basin states to leave more water in the river as Lake Mead, one of the river’s reservoirs falls to perilously low levels.

Lawmakers also voted Thursday on another Fann bill that makes tweaks to state law so Arizona can implement an Arizona-specific drought plan that limits the state’s waters users from using Colorado River water.

That bill also allocates $39 million — $9 million for groundwater infrastructure in Pinal County and $30 million to compensate water users that will face cutbacks.

Tucked in the legislation is also a clause that leaves the door open for the Legislature to allocate more funding to Pinal farmers down the line if a promised allocation of $20 million from the federal government is held up.

By 2023, Pinal farmers will have to replace water from Central Arizona Project with groundwater as a result of water cutbacks. But Pinal farmers fear federal dollars for groundwater infrastructure may not come in until 2021 or later, which wouldn’t give them enough time to prepare for when the CAP spigot cuts off in 2023.

Pinal farmers have requested that if such a situation occurs, the state fronts the money to be repaid by the federal government at a later date.

Republican Rep. Sine Kerr implored lawmakers not to forget about Pinal after passage of the drought plan.

“While DCP is done on paper, it’s still our responsibility to finish what we say we’ll do,” she said. “That’s crucial for Pinal County families and agriculture. I implore you to not leave these families in Pinal County hanging after we pass DCP.”

Under the legislation, the state will allocate $7 million to Pinal farmers in the current budget cycle and $2 million in FY ‘20. The $30 million appropriation also will occur in FY ‘20.Because the water bills are “emergency” measures, they will require two-thirds votes in both chambers.

The legislation lawmakers voted on Thursday was the result of a series of drought-planning talks among approximately 40 people representing water users, government interests, farmers, developers and municipalities. Ted Cooke, Director of Central Arizona Project and Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, led the drought-planning charge.

Drought Contingency Plan details:

Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan: An agreement between Arizona, California and Nevada to conserve water in Lake Mead — a reservoir on the Colorado River.

Upper Basin Drought Contingency Plan: An agreement between Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico to conserve water in Lake Powell. The seven states will also have to agree to a companion agreement, in which they pledge to implement the drought plans in good faith.

Arizona drought plan by the numbers:

As a result of the Drought Contingency Plan, Arizona is implementing its own drought plan and the state and other entities are compensating some water users that will face substantial cutbacks.


  • $60 million from CAP to compensate the Gila River Indian Community for leaving water in Lake Mead
  • $30 million from the state to compensate the Colorado River Indian Tribes for leaving water in the lake
  • $9 million from the state to Pinal County farmers for groundwater infrastructure
  • $8 million from non-governmental entities like the Walton Family Foundation and others to Colorado River water users to leave water in the lake
  • $20-$25 million from the federal government to Pinal County farmers for groundwater infrastructure
  • $5 million from CAP to Pinal County farmers for groundwater infrastructure
  • Approximately $1.2 million per year for Pinal County farmers from a repurposed groundwater withdrawal fee

Ethics committee might investigate Navarrete

State Sen. Tony Navarrete, who has yet to resign several days after he was charged with multiple felony child sex crimes, now faces a potential Senate ethics investigation and additional allegations of sexual harassment. 

On Monday, Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, asked the Senate ethics committee to investigate the charges against Navarrete, as well as his past support of legislation to teach age-appropriate sex education to younger children. He was charged Friday with seven different felony counts of child sex crimes, allegedly committed over the course of several years with two teenage boys.  

Senate President Karen Fann and Democratic leader Rebecca Rios also issued a joint statement again calling on Navarrete to resign his state Senate seat.  

“The circumstances and serious nature of the felony charges faced by Senator Navarrete provide an untenable distraction from his role as an elected official and public servant for District 30,” they said. “The Senator also now faces a Senate ethics complaint, and no one benefits from any further delay in his ultimate resignation.” 

Townsend said that as a mother, she’s not willing to wait for Navarrete to resign. The probable cause statement released by police includes the summary of a taped call one of the boys had with Navarrete in which he admitted and apologized for the abuse, and Townsend said that’s more than enough proof to remove him from the Legislature.  

“I don’t think someone with these types of accusations and taped confession deserves a single day longer in the Arizona Legislature, and I hope that we move swiftly to get this taken care of,” she said during a news conference. 

Under Senate rules, ethics committee chair Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, will receive the complaint and decide within the next few days whether to move forward with an investigation. The ethics committee can meet and conduct an investigation while the Legislature is out of session, but any action, such as expulsion, would have to wait until the Legislature is back in session.  

“Senator Navarrete is facing serious felony charges,” Kerr said in a statement. “He should resign from the Senate. In the meantime, the Senate Ethics Committee will follow its process.” 

An ethics committee investigation would be made difficult because of the ongoing criminal investigation, said Sen. T.J. Shope, a Coolidge Republican who chaired the House ethics committee when it investigated former Rep. David Stringer over Stringer’s past alleged sex crimes against minors. The Stringer investigation revolved around a closed case from decades earlier.  

“Anything the Senate does right now could conflict with a criminal investigation,” Shope said. “That makes it quite a bit different, really.” 

Townsend said she doesn’t expect Gov. Doug Ducey to call the Legislature back into special session immediately to vote to expel Navarrete, but she hopes he does if the ethics committee recommends it.  

Her complaint includes a request to investigate whether there have been any other allegations, including sexual harassment of a co-worker or subordinate, and what was done to rectify the situation.  

Over the weekend, political organizer and former progressive state House candidate Gilbert Romero shared publicly that he had been sexually harassed several times by Navarrete, describing “behaviors that made me feel extremely unsafe, uncomfortable, objectified and embarrassed in public in front of others.” 

In his statement and in a subsequent interview with the Arizona Capitol Times, Romero said he wasn’t ready to share the details of his interactions with Navarrete, but that he and other friends were harassed. When he tried to talk to others about the harassment, he said, they downplayed it.  

Romero said he didn’t push the issue at the time, but he felt he had to speak up this weekend after learning that Navarrete didn’t prey only on adult men. 

“I wasn’t on a crusade to ruin careers,” he said. “I wasn’t on a crusade to ruin anything.” 

Navarrete was openly gay and a member of the Legislature’s LGBTQ caucus. National conservative media and state Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, have repeatedly claimed that Navarrete’s sexuality is somehow connected to his alleged crimes, and Romero said he also felt the need to speak up as a gay man.  

“As a proud gay man myself, I am no stranger to unfair, ungrounded and just false assumptions of being a pedophile,” he said. “As a gay man, I wanted to show others that his victims weren’t just allegedly children. They were other men too.” 

Another portion of Townsend’s complaint questions whether Navarrete “used state resources to advance the effort to expose minors under the age of 12 to sexual content, to include such content in the public school system.”  

Conservative parents, lawmakers and activists have spent the past several years attacking Democratic politicians over sex education, especially after a bipartisan group in 2019 succeeded in repealing a 1991 law that prohibited teaching about homosexuality while educating students on AIDS and HIV. The AIDS and HIV instruction was a federal mandate, but Republicans at the time wanted to avoid doing anything to promote a “homosexual lifestyle.”  

Since the 2019 repeal, Republican lawmakers have introduced a series of restrictive sex education bills. Navarrete has spoken passionately against many of them, while simultaneously supporting Democratic sex ed bills, including one he sponsored this year to mandate “medically accurate” and “age-appropriate” sex education for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. 

Proponents of those bills say they’re intended to help younger children learn about concepts such as “safe touch,” helping them set boundaries and recognize whether they’re being abused. Opponents of the legislation view it as sexualizing young children, and Townsend cited those parents in explaining that part of the complaint.  

“They’re concerned about this effort on his part to put sexuality and those types of things in the early grades of school,” she said. Those who are concerned with the motivations of those people pushing this at such a young age of innocence, it has just deepened their concern and they want to make that statement that sexual exploitation of a child is not tolerated.”  

While pressure mounts for Navarrete to resign, there may be legal tactics at play in Navarrete’s delay the resignation or refuse, according to attorney Kory Langhofer.   

Langhofer, a prominent GOP attorney, represented former Maricopa County assessor Paul Petersen when he appealed his 2019 suspension from his elected post over criminal child trafficking charges.  

More often than not, public officials who are accused of a crime don’t resign immediately, he said.  

“When a public official is accused of a crime, they expect they’ll have a chance of successfully defending themselves,” he said. “And so, they don’t want to give up their office before their guilt is determined, and they’re also worried that resigning is generally perceived as an implicit admission of wrongdoing.”  

Some public officials wait until there’s a conviction, while others wait at least a few months. Petersen resigned in January 2020, three months after he was charged but before his conviction later that year. Former lawmaker Ben Arredondo, a Democrat convicted of fraud in 2012, resigned his seat as part of a plea agreement.  

-Staff writer Kyra Haas contributed reporting 

Editor’s note: A previous headline for this story erroneously reported the ethics committee would investigate Tony Navarrete, when actually, the decision to investigate has not been made. 

Ethics panel decides to probe allegations against Wendy Rogers

Wendy Rogers
Wendy Rogers

The Senate Ethics Committee decided this evening to launch a formal investigation into a complaint filed against freshman Sen. Wendy Rogers.

The unanimous vote by three Republicans and two Democrats followed more than an hour of closed-door discussions in executive session, in which the members received legal advice. 

The decision authorizes committee chairman Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye to lead the investigation, issue subpoenas or retain outside attorneys to represent the committee. Rogers must have a hearing before the committee within 20 days.

Rogers, in a written response to the committee, dismissed Polloni’s complaint as untrue, and said he didn’t follow Senate rules in submitting it. 

Merely days into the legislative session, Michael Polloni, Rogers’ former assistant, filed a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee on Jan. 21, alleging the senator forced him to resign following an altercation with her.

In his complaint, Polloni outlined a pattern of verbal abuse that began shortly after he was hired on Dec. 7 last year and escalated after he took a required sick leave after contracting Covid on Jan. 3.

He alleged that Rogers told him to lose weight so he’d look better behind the desk when people came into her office and that she made inappropriate comments about his sister’s sexuality and his aunt’s political beliefs. She also repeatedly asked him to do campaign work, including contacting campaign donors, on state time, he said. 

Polloni said Rogers’ behavior toward him worsened after he became ill. 

“When I had COVID-19, Senator Rogers demanded that I should be working and when I told her that I couldn’t work she got upset,” the complaint said.

Rogers expressed doubt as to whether he was really sick, according to the complaint. And when he told her he was cleared to return to work, she asked him whether he had spent the previous two weeks doing nothing, Polloni said. 

The next day, Polloni learned that Rogers moved his personal belongings into drawers and broke an Eagle Scout award. She pulled him into her office for a conversation and proceeded to yell at him, standing so close that he could feel her spittle on his face, according to the complaint. 

During that conversation, Polloni said he opened the door to call for another assistant because he felt unsafe, but Rogers slammed the door and could have broken his hand if he hadn’t moved it. She eventually let him call for the majority staffer who supervisors assistants, and Polloni began writing up his account of what happened, he said. 

Within a matter of hours, he was summoned downstairs and given the choice to resign or be fired. Because a firing would prevent him from ever working for the state again, Polloni opted to resign, he said. 

Along with the Senate ethics complaint, Polloni filed a federal workplace discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He is also considering filing a police report.

Rogers denied the allegations. 

“I believe the allegation by the Complainant alleging I created a hostile work environment is not true; therefore, the alleged, untrue allegations do not constitute improper conduct that adversely reflects upon the Senate. This alleged personnel matter is not a matter of Senate ethics,” she wrote.

The Ethics Committee will next meet after the Senate floor session on Thursday, Feb. 11.

Group booted from legislative panel files ethics complaint


Protesters escorted out of a Senate hearing last week announced on Tuesday they will be filing  an ethics complaint against the committee chair who ordered their removal.

The complaint from Living United for Change in Arizona alleges that Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, committed a “gross violation” of Senate rules when he stopped the testimony of the group’s lobbyist and ordered chanting protesters out of a Senate Judiciary hearing last week.

The Senate has not yet received a copy of the complaint, Senate Ethics Committee Chair Sine Kerr and a GOP spokesman said.

At issue is a heated hearing Feb. 13 over a piece of legislation that would enshrine part of the controversial 2010 immigration law SB1070 in the Arizona constitution. A LUCHA lobbyist, Hugo Polanco, referred twice to the measure as “racist,” and Farnsworth informed him that he was done speaking after the second time.

Polanco continued trying to speak, and LUCHA directors Alejandra Gomez and Tomas Robles followed him to the microphone to begin their own testimony. Farnsworth said he was done accepting testimony, and asked his vice chairman to move the bill.

LUCHA members then began chanting “let the people speak,” and Farnsworth recessed the committee. When it returned a few minutes later, LUCHA members started chants of “whose house? Our house” and “kill the bill,” causing Farnsworth to recess the committee again.

Department of Public Safety officers escorted several people, including Gomez and Polanco, from the hearing. The measure passed along party lines.

Senate rules state that committee hearings must be open to the press and public — provided proper decorum is maintained. In its complaint, LUCHA alleges that Farnsworth himself broke decorum, by “rudely interrupting and silencing” Polanco.

“There is nothing in Senate Rules that says specific content is disallowed in public testimony, nor should it be. The entire point of public testimony is for the public to share their opinions and insights into proposed legislation. The only logical conclusion for the silencing of Mr. Polanco was simply that Sen. Farnsworth did not like what he was saying. And that is plain wrong,” the complaint continued.

Farnsworth did not respond to a request for comment.

House, Senate discard mask requirement

Calling it a matter of personal freedom, Republican state senators voted Monday to allow themselves to take off their masks. 

“The last I remember, America was about the land of the free and allowing people to make decisions for themselves,” said Majority Leader Rick Gray of Sun City in voting for the change. 

But Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said the new rules, approved on a party-line vote, should not be seen as a license for people to be irresponsible. In fact, the policy still says that anyone in the building is “encouraged” to wear facial protection. 

That did little to satisfy the 14 Senate Democrats, all of whom were in opposition. Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, called the move premature, pointing out that fewer than one out of every five Arizonans is fully inoculated against Covid. 

An hour later, House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, scrapped that chamber’s face mask policy. 

There, Democrats had no chance to object: Bowers is entitled to enact any policies he wants dealing with health regulations in that chamber. 

The moves come just days after Gov. Doug Ducey rescinded any remaining requirements for businesses to ensure that staff and customers are socially distanced or must wear masks. That did not impress several Democratic senators. 

“The medical doctors say we shouldn’t be letting our guard down to this virus,” said Sally Ann Gonzales of Tucson. 

“We are supposed to lead here,” added fellow Tucsonan Kirsten Engel. 

“We’re supposed to be models,” she continued. “And by us taking away the mask requirement which made perfect sense, without any kind of justification on public health grounds, I have to say it’s just irresponsible.” 

But Republican Nancy Barto of Phoenix called it “people doing what’s right for them.” 

Fann acknowledged that there are arguments that the move is premature. Aside from new strains of the virus appearing, there are younger Senate staffers who have not yet had the chance to get inoculated. 

“But there’s a lot of members that think it was a long time coming, too,” she told Capitol Media Services. 

Anyway, she noted, it’s not like the new policy requires everyone to remove a mask. 

In fact, lawmakers who are uncomfortable being on the floor or in committee with unmasked colleagues can continue to attend hearings online. And the building remains closed to virtually all visitors, with all testimony conducted through Zoom meetings. 

“I realize we’re not out of the woods yet,” Fann said. 

“But I’ve asked everybody to be totally respectful,” she continued. “If you are not wearing a mask, please keep your distance from those who are wearing a mask and be respectful of them.” 

And Fann is doing something else: Switching seats. 

Right now in the 30-member chamber all the Democrats sit on the east side of the floor with the Republicans on the west side, divided by an aisle. But given there are more Republicans than Democrats, that still leaves Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, deep in what could be considered Democratic territory. 

So Fann, who has an assigned seat on the GOP side of the room but who normally sits at the front of the chamber, is moving Kerr to her regular seat on the floor. That essentially leaves the Democrats to declare their side of the chamber as mask mandatory. 

And Fann said she will wear a mask if she’s on the floor amid the Democrats. 

Bowers said his decision to eliminate the mask mandate in the House is based on “the state’s robust rollout of vaccination resources and the governor’s decision to rescind many of the COVID-19 restrictions that went into place last year.” 

But an aide to Bowers said the clear acrylic barriers between the desks of representatives on the House floor will remain unless and until the lawmakers on each side of one of the dividers both agree to removal. There are no such barriers in the Senate, with more distance between desks. 

House, Senate panels pass wildfire relief amid debate on climate change

In this photo provided by Joseph Pacheco, a wildfire is seen burning in Globe, Ariz., on Monday, June 7, 2021. (Joseph Pacheco via AP)
In this photo provided by Joseph Pacheco, a wildfire is seen burning in Globe, Ariz., on Monday, June 7, 2021. (Joseph Pacheco via AP)

Legislative panels gave initial approval Wednesday to a $100 million plan for fighting fires and their effects, but not before the discussion strayed into the question of climate change and whether humans are responsible for the heat and drought conditions that result in huge blazes.

The measures approved by House and Senate committees on natural resources include $75 million to most immediately fight the dozen or so active fires and prepare for the aftermath, including flooding and repairs. The package also includes nearly $25 million for “wildfire mitigation,” most of that to create 72 crews, each of 10 inmates, who would go out and reduce hazardous vegetation, mostly in areas around communities.

David Tenney, the state forester and the agency’s director, told lawmakers the additional dollars would provide a five-fold increase in the state’s current ability to clear about 4,000 acres a year.

Tenney also briefed lawmakers on the prospects for 2021 becoming one of the worst fire seasons in state history, saying that 896 blazes so far this year have charred 289,000 acres.

Last year, at the same time, only about 62,000 acres were lost. Ultimately fires consumed 900,000 acres in 2020.

But Tenney sidestepped questions from Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, about how much of this he believes is due to climate change — particularly any caused by human activity.

“Obviously, there’s people with strong feelings on both sides of that issue,” he said.

“We recognize at our agency whether it’s man-caused or nature and not a lot we can do about it, bottom line is we’re in the middle of a really bad drought and things are drier than we’ve ever seen them,” Tenney continued. “So, conditions have changed.”

But he said it’s not just the heat. There’s also the drought.

“Then add in the population of Arizona has double or more in my lifetime, which means more people that want to get out of the heat and get into our forest, which means more people shooting at exploding targets and more people dragging chains and more people blowing tires and more people throwing out a cigarette butt or leaving a campfire unattended,” Tenney continued. Add to that the “timber wars” of decades earlier when there was no forest thinning

“So fire danger has increased for many reasons,” he said.

Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club, told legislators they should not approve this funding without also dealing with the underlying issues of the climate. That includes reducing emissions, including those coming from gasoline-powered vehicles.

She said virtually all of Arizona is in a drought condition, with more than half of it classified as extreme drought. Last summer was the hottest on record, Bahr said, and Lake Mead is at the lowest level since it was initially filled.

“But there is complete inaction by the legislature and the governor,” she said.

That provoked a kickback from several Republican legislators.

Rep. Frank Carroll of Sun City said climate change is just something that happens over the eons. Sen. David Gowan of Sierra agreed.

“We have ups and downs and you see it through our history,” he said. And Gowan derided claims that the climate is warming, noting there were stories in news magazines in the 1970s mentioning “global cooling.”

“Since you can’t get it right, we call it ‘climate change’ now,” Gowan said.

“There’s no debate among scientists,” responded Rep. Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley.

“There might be some debate among maybe some politicians,” he continued. “But the notion that we don’t know that climate change is real, that Arizona isn’t the third warmingest state in the country, that Phoenix and Tucson aren’t in the Top Five, is really scary to hear because it completely flies in the face of science.”

And Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, said it would be wrong for legislators to deal only with the the fires and the after-effects and then give up.

“I understand fires in the desert are no joke,” he said.

“And I truly believe making people whole after a fire is a laudable effort,” Mendez continued. “But if that’s all we do with this special session, then this whole endeavor will be a sad joke.”

Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, said he’s willing to consider where climate change fits in on the question of fires. But he said the causes and effects are not that simple, citing efforts by environmental groups to curtail cattle on public lands.

“Is there going to be an acknowledgment on the other side that things like grazing are a part of the answer to some of this stuff?” he asked. And Shope said that various environmental efforts that have curbed long-practiced policies of farmers, ranchers and others have simultaneously resulted in an “exponential rise” in fires.

One thing that could slow final approval when the measures go to the full House and Senate on Thursday has to do with the ability of ranchers to tap into the funds.

“It’s important to get cattle back on the land,” said Stephanie Smallhouse, a rancher and president of the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation. But she said that can’t happen if ranchers don’t have the money to restore burned fences and reconstruct water supplies.

But Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, pointed out that there is only so much money in the package, most immediately in responding to the fires and then to protect communities from future flooding.

“This bill is to address what is happening today and stop it, immediately, and get boots on the ground,” she said. It also can help advance dollars for communities that may eventually be able to get federal grants.

“I want to be sure that this doesn’t become a slush fund,” Otondo said. So the senator said she will seek a $10 million cap on how much cash can go to landowners.

Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, whose family owns a dairy farm, told colleagues they should not minimize the effects of ranching on Arizona and Arizonans.

“Everything we eat comes from the land,” she said. “And the land depends on us.”

But there are others looking for a piece of the financial pie.

Chris Wanamaker, Pinal County manager, spoke about viewing the area east of Superior. He wants funding for a rain gauge and a stream flow gauge.

“That can give the town some advance warning when floods or rain starts coming,” he told lawmakers. Wanamaker said those devices can be set to send out warnings at pre-set levels, even sending out emails and text messages.

Then there’s the question of stopping some of the potential destruction when the monsoon rains come, carrying not just water but debris and ash into urban areas.

“They can take out power lines, take out sewer lines, water lines, any other kind of infrastructure,” said Tami Ryall, grants administrator for Pinal County.

It’s Maricopa vs. Yuma in LD13 GOP House primary

Rep. Tim Dunn (R-Yuma) (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)
Rep. Tim Dunn (R-Yuma) (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)

If Republicans in Maricopa County have their way, nobody from Yuma County will represent Legislative District 13 in the state House of Representatives.

Of the four candidates in the LD13 House GOP primary, Rep. Tim Dunn is the only one from Yuma County. The sprawling district includes parts of that rural area.

And though Dunn has raised the most money of the four candidates in the race, and he boasts the support of the business and farming communities, the Yuma Republican, who was appointed to fill expelled Yuma lawmaker Don Shooter’s House seat in LD13, faces a math problem.

In LD13, the total number of registered Republicans in Maricopa County outnumber the registered Republicans in Yuma County by almost 18,000. Yuma County’s GOP voters represent just one-third of LD13’s registered Republicans, and a third of all registered voters in the district.

Shooter, who is attempting a political comeback, also faces a tough primary contest against incumbent Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, in the Senate, primarily because of the scandal that resulted in his expulsion from the House this year.

If both Dunn and Shooter lose their races, the interests of one of Arizona’s biggest farming communities would have zero representation at the state Legislature.

Already, Dunn’s seatmate and primary opponent, Rep. Darin Mitchell, R-Goodyear, is working to expose Dunn as a “campaign conservative,” just another RINO in the party, as he himself fights to get re-elected and jockeys for the speakership.

Political newcomer Trey Terry, who is running on a ticket with Mitchell, and Joanne Osborne, former vice mayor of Goodyear, are also seeking the GOP nomination in the House.

Capitol insiders say the four-way race is one to watch.

Republican political consultant Chuck Coughlin said while it’s hard to knock out an incumbent in a primary, Dunn finds himself in a tough spot because he was appointed to the seat, not elected, and he took over the role halfway through the legislative session.

His late appointment meant that he was unable to sponsor any bills himself, and like most freshmen lawmakers, he spent most of the session learning the ropes.

Still, Coughlin said Dunn used his time at the Legislature wisely, taking an active role in water policy discussions, a top issue affecting the district.

Coughlin said Dunn is well respected by the agriculture community, and as a lifelong resident of Yuma, is well-liked by voters there.

He also has a “great name.”

“Tim Dunn — it’s not a hard name to remember. And it’s simple things like that that will probably aid him in the end,” he said.

Like Dunn, Coughlin said Osborne also has a memorable name. She’s part of one of Arizona’s “first families” — her family owns a jewelry store called Osborne Jewelers, and she has been a political figure in the West Valley for more than a decade.

Coughlin said though Mitchell has served in the Legislature for six years, there is a fairly aggressive opposition campaign being run against him because of his interest in the speakership. And it’s not unprecedented for a candidate who is running for leadership to lose their bid for re-election, he said.

Of the four candidates, Coughlin said Terry appears to be “on the outside looking in.” Though he is running with Mitchell, he has raised relatively little money compared to Dunn, has never held political office and doesn’t have an established voting record like the three other candidates.

Political consultant Chris Baker, who is representing Mitchell and Terry, said neither of his clients are worried about the competition.

He said despite the large war chest and support, Dunn will struggle to return to the Capitol. Osborne, he said, is too moderate for such a red district, an allegation Osborne refuted.

Baker said Dunn’s biggest mistake is that he has billed himself as the “Yuma candidate,” and has largely ignored constituents in Maricopa County.

“Dunn has run ads saying he is the ‘Yuma candidate’ or that he’s ‘fighting for Yuma.’” Baker said. “I don’t know if he doesn’t realize we can see it all, but he has taken a lot of steps to try to establish himself as the Yuma candidate and I’m not sure the voters in Maricopa County are necessarily going to be enthusiastic about electing the Yuma candidate.”

Dunn knows he faces an uphill battle, but he took issue with Baker’s assessment that his campaign efforts have been focused on Yuma.

He said in a four-way primary, candidates can’t expect to coast to an easy win, they need to earn the support of their constituents, so he has spent the summer campaigning throughout the district.

“We’ve worked hard to understand the district, not just the Yuma County portion, but all of the district,” Dunn said. “I’m not just someone from Yuma. I’m not an outsider. I have businesses that are in the Maricopa County portion of the district, and a lot of the issues we face in Yuma are the same issues voters face in Maricopa County. And my job is to make sure during this primary that I let people know that.”

Lawmakers assert power grab over state offices

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

For every headache another branch of government causes a legislator, there’s a simple solution – introduce a bill.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs got around Republican roadblocks and received private funding for election publicity efforts. There’s a bill to stop that.

The Arizona Corporation Commission passed new clean energy standards. There’s a (now-dead) bill to stop that.

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs addresses the members of Arizona's Electoral College prior to them casting their votes Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Phoenix. Lawmakers have introduced measures this year to assert control over the Democrat-run office.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs addresses the members of Arizona’s Electoral College prior to them casting their votes Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Phoenix. Lawmakers have introduced measures this year to assert control over the Democrat-run office.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

Gov. Doug Ducey enacted a year-long state of emergency and significant restrictions on businesses because of Covid. There’s a whole buffet of bills to choose from to overturn the current emergency and restrict future ones.

A host of bills that seek to assert the Legislature’s power over all other governmental entities isn’t new — just ask cities and counties that see a new round of pre-emption legislation every year. But this year, after lawmakers spent months spinning their wheels out of session during the pandemic, a push to make the Legislature the most powerful branch of government is at an all-time high.

“I feel like we’ve been non-feasant all year long,” said Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, one of several lawmakers who introduced bills to limit the governor’s emergency powers. “We’re allowing the executive to rule like a monarch.” 

Lawmakers who introduced these bills say the Legislature is the best place to set all policy – that representatives and senators are uniquely situated to make decisions in the best interests of Arizonans.

But critics, including some lawmakers, contend the Legislature lacks the expertise to handle all the issues they’re trying to take control of, and other government agencies exist for a reason.

“We have 1,000 things we’re looking at at the same time,” said Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson. “We don’t have the sustained attention span.”

State of Emergency

A group of lawmakers, including Townsend and Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, has pushed for the end of Ducey’s March 11, 2020, state of emergency since shortly after the governor declared it. 

Michelle Ugenti
Michelle Ugenti

Ugenti-Rita’s resolution to immediately end the current state of emergency was among the first pieces of legislation introduced this year, but it has not yet received a vote because at least one of her Republican colleagues is opposed. So are all Democrats, meaning a single Republican defection would kill the measure.

Without support for her resolution, Ugenti-Rita has returned to giving impassioned speeches and posting lengthy screeds on social media. In a March 11 speech on the Senate floor, she implored her colleagues to reflect on the year of restrictions. 

“We should take time to really quantify what’s happened, not only to our personal freedoms but the financial impact,” she said. “I don’t think we could ever experience the kind of restrictive proposals that have been put into place in the name of public safety.”

A Ducey spokesman responded to questions by sending a brief audio clip of the governor in a pre-session Q&A with the Arizona Capitol Times

“If other people want to criticize or make conversation about what they would have done better or different, that’s up to them,” Ducey said. “…It is possible that the authorities and latitude around the emergency order were not anticipated for something like a pandemic that could last 10-plus months, and if there’s reform that’s needed or checks around that, that’s something I’m open minded to.”

Sen. T.J. Shope, the Republican blocking Ugenti-Rita’s resolution from moving forward, said he still supports a Ugenti-Rita bill that would terminate future states of emergency after 90 days without legislative consent. That’s a better vehicle for starting a conversation with the governor, he said. 

A Democratic secretary of state

After Hobbs, a Democrat, took office in 2019, Republican lawmakers who hadn’t paid much attention to the Secretary of State’s Office when Republicans Michele Reagan and Ken Bennett held the seat were newly invested in watching the office. 

Over the summer, Republican lawmakers on the Joint Legislative Budget Committee abruptly voted to repurpose $500,000 in federal funding Hobbs and counties planned to use for voter outreach, sending the funding to counties directly. Attorney General Mark Brnovich lobbied for the change.

Ducey stepped in to offer funding from the bucket of federal money he had control over thanks to the first Covid relief package, but then he put additional restrictions on Hobbs’ use of the funds under pressure from fellow Republicans. Hobbs and election officials then received a last-minute $4.8 million grant from an election nonprofit funded in part by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, to spend the funds on a statewide voter outreach campaign. 

Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, is sworn in during the opening of the Arizona Legislature at the state Capitol Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Phoenix. Hoffman introduced a bill to prohibit the state or any subdivisions from accepting private money for elections after several counties and the Secretary of State received grants from an election nonprofit funded in part by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to spend on statewide voter outreach. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, is sworn in during the opening of the Arizona Legislature at the state Capitol Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Phoenix. Hoffman introduced a bill to prohibit the state or any subdivisions from accepting private money for elections after several counties and the Secretary of State received grants from an election nonprofit funded in part by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to spend on statewide voter outreach. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

Freshman Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Gilbert, followed up by introducing a bill to prohibit the state or any subdivisions from accepting private money for elections. The bill passed the House on party lines and could have a vote in the Senate as early as next week. 

Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, took aim at another division of the Secretary of State’s Office – the Arizona Capitol Museum, which has eight permanent employees, three or four seasonal ones and works closely with the state Library, Archives and Public Records, both of which are also under Hobbs’ control. 

A bill Gowan introduced, which died on the Senate floor, would have given the Legislative Council control of the museum. Hobbs said she could think of two possible reasons.

First, the Legislative Council effectively serves as a landlord for the old Capitol, where the museum is housed. When Hobbs hung two LGBTIQ pride flags over the balcony in summer 2019, the Legislative Council executive director responded to complaints from at least one Republican lawmaker and took them down – and changed the lock on the door to the balcony. 

Hobbs also wondered whether Gowan, who tried unsuccessfully as speaker of the House to build a gym in the basement, is looking for a new space to remodel. 

“I think that Gowan is partly looking to get a playground and wants to take control of the space in the museum to make some fancy offices for legislators and just saw this as a chance to get control of that space,” she said. 

Gowan also sponsored a bill to give the Joint Legislative Audit Committee authority to approve the next election procedures manual, now drafted by Hobbs’ office and approved by the governor and attorney general. His bill died, but a second one from Ugenti-Rita to have the Legislative Council approve the manual is moving forward.  

Hobbs, who was a state senator for six years before she ran for secretary of state, said lawmakers don’t know as much as they might think they do about elections. 

“What I knew about elections could fit in a small document, and now I have binders,” Hobbs said. 

Paul Boyer
Paul Boyer

The Boyer Factor

In the Senate, several of the bills that would limit other government entities have died because of one Republican – Sen. Paul Boyer of Glendale. Boyer said he looked at each bill issue by issue.

He thinks the museum, library and archives should belong to the Secretary of State’s Office, so he voted against Gowan’s bill.

He said he thinks Arizona has reliable, if not necessarily cheap, energy, and he doesn’t want to risk altering that, so he told Sen. Sine Kerr he wouldn’t vote for her measure to give the Legislature the sole authority to set energy policy.

And when other Republican lawmakers threatened to send Maricopa County supervisors to jail for not handing over election materials the supervisors said they legally couldn’t, Boyer said he put himself in their shoes and decided to vote against the contempt measure. 

Boyer, who was a former House Republican spokesman policy adviser before he ran for office, said lawmakers and their small staff don’t have the time or knowledge to fully research all the issues they vote on. That struck him as particularly relevant on the energy policy bill – the Arizona Corporation Commission has roughly 200 employees devoted solely to energy policy. The Legislature has two. 

“Sometimes we don’t always spend as much time as we need to,” Boyer said. 

Legislature proper place for energy policy

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

A fundamental disagreement exists with the premise of Sen. Paul Boyer’s opinion article entitled Arizona’s energy mix is best set by the experts. That’s not the Legislature published in The Arizona Republic on November 17, 2021. The opinion piece attempts to put forth an argument that the Legislature is not the appropriate entity to set policy on Arizona’s energy mix. That is a false premise. The Legislature is, in fact, the appropriate venue to debate and set energy related policy. 

Sine Kerr

Two bills were referenced in the op-ed: House Bill 2248 and Senate Bill 1175. Both bills were heard in committee during the last legislative session. HB2248 was voted out of the House. SB1175 was heard and passed out of the Senate Natural Resources, Energy and Water Committee. The bill did not make it to a floor vote. Neither of the bills “flew under the radar” as the op-ed contends. Even though the bills were ultimately not successful, the legislative process was successful because energy policy was heard and debated in an open and transparent manner. 

Both bills sought to statutorily freeze an existing Arizona Corporation Commission renewable energy requirement directing regulated utilities to produce a minimum of 15% of their electricity from renewables by 2025 and prohibit the commission from setting a higher requirement, which they sought to modify by rule. The Legislature was constitutionally correct in its attempt to prohibit the commission from going further. And from a checks and balances perspective, these types of policy-based decisions are appropriately decided by a majority of 90 state legislators and the governor, rather than three of five Corporation Commission members. 

According to the Johnson Utilities case decided by the Arizona Supreme Court, the Legislature has clear authority to override the commission on clean energy mandates. The case further illustrated that the commission has exclusive ratemaking authority, and both bills affirmed that. However, the Johnson case narrowly defined ratemaking, including rate base determination, rate of return and cost allocation among ratepayer categories. The court also determined that clean energy requirements are not a rate-making function. Fuel choices and types of energy production are public policy decisions, which are best decided by a legislative body. 

The legislation did not prohibit the commission from exercising its ratemaking authority. The Legislature did not seek to take over the day-to-day regulatory function of the commission. The Legislature simply sought to exercise its constitutional authority as a policy-making body. 

Furthermore, stating that legislative resources are inadequate to set energy policy as insinuated in the op-ed is not accurate. Members of the Legislature and their staffs are capable of working on myriad policy issues, including solid energy related policy geared toward the best interest of Arizona’s ratepayers.  

The Legislature is also a more transparent and approachable body than the Corporation Commission. Any proposed energy policies would be vetted by numerous committees between the two legislative chambers, with ample opportunity for comments from the public. Indeed, vigorous debate at the Capitol ensures better policy for all Arizonans. 

Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, represents Legislative District 13.   

Lesko resigns from senate to focus on run for Congress

Debbie Lesko (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Debbie Lesko (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Sen. Debbie Lesko resigned from the Arizona state Senate on Monday afternoon, weeks after she announced a bid for Congress.

The Peoria Republican’s resignation became official at roughly 5 p.m. Monday evening, ending speculation about when Lesko would abandon her seat in Legislative District 21 to focus on a congressional run. Lesko’s seeking the seat left vacant by U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., who abruptly resigned in December following reports that he had offered $5 million to one of his staffers to be a surrogate mother for his children.

Lesko is the second GOP state senator to resign to run for Congress in recent weeks. Steve Montenegro resigned on Dec. 15, and his once vacant Senate seat in Legislative District 13 has since been filled by Sine Kerr, a Buckeye dairy farmer who was sworn into the Senate Monday morning.

Now that Lesko has resigned in the midst of a legislative session, state law requires an expedited process for local Republicans in LD21 to nominate three candidates to replace her, and for the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to appoint one of the nominees to the Senate.

LD21 precinct committeemen are scheduled to meet on Friday evening to select three the nominees for Lesko’s replacement.

Redistricting panel gets partisan

Douglas York, left, and David Mehl, Republican members of the Independent Redistricting Commission, confer Monday on changes they want in legislative and congressional maps for the coming decade. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Partisan members of the Independent Redistricting Commission are making last-minute efforts to craft maps that would help their political parties through the 2030 election. 

Each is doing so under the banner of balancing population among congressional and legislative districts. And they are pushing against a Wednesday deadline to have final plans. 

But the alterations have definite implications. 

For example, Republicans David Mehl and Douglas York demanded that a corner be chipped out of what was Legislative District 23, which runs from Yuma along the border to Tucson and north into Goodyear, and put into adjacent LD 25. 

About 600 people live there. 

One of them is state Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, whose house is in the area known as Liberty. 

More to the point, that change moves Kerr from having to run for reelection in what would be a district with about a 15-point Democratic edge to one where Republicans have a 25-point edge. 

On the congressional side, Republicans also want to move Democratic areas in Maricopa County from Congressional Disrict 1 that could be considered competitive into Congressional District 3, which already has a 3-1 Democratic edge. And they balance that by moving Republicans from Congressional District 8 where the GOP leads, into Congressional District 1. 

Democrats are doing the same thing and find ways to give their own candidates more of a chance of getting elected, whether to Congress or the Arizona Legislature. 

The big flash point for them is how to divide Tucson between Congressional District 7 on the west side and Congressional District 6 on the east side. 

A split needs to take place. because of the population. But the question becomes where to draw that line. 

Democrats have been pushing for a line that starts at the Rillito River and runs south along Campbell Avenue to Broadway, then turning east out to Pantano Road, then south to Golf Links Road before going west. 

What that does is put more Democrats living in midtown Tucson into CD 6. 

They aren’t needed in CD 7 where Democrats already have a 2-1 edge. But it could make all the difference in CD 6 where it would create a competitive district. 

Republicans prefer pushing midtown Tucson into CD 7. 

The district is anticipated to get a lot of attention because Democratic U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who has represented what is close to the same area, is not seeking reelection. That creates an open seat — and opportunities for either party. 

Other changes pushed by Democrats appear not to have direct partisan implications. 

Shereen Lerner said the Pascua Yaqui Indian Reservation does not belong, as proposed, in the same legislative district as the Tohono O’odham Nation. So she wants it included with the district that includes downtown Tucson. 

Both areas already are heavily Democratic. 

Shereen Lerner, a Democrat on the Independent Redistricting Commission, explains Monday some of the changes she wants in legislative and congressional lines being drawn. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

And Lerner wants other changes in places like the line between south Scottsdale and Tempe to create more competitive districts. Otherwise, she said, the legislative map favors Republicans in 17 of the 30 districts, something she said should not be the case given the closeness of party registration. 

Mehl, however, said he doesn’t read the numbers that way. He said five of the legislative districts could be considered “highly competitive,” with voter registration margins within four points. 

Erika Neuberg, who chairs the panel, said that’s important. 

“The narrower the vote spread, the more opportunity for a candidate to break out and win,” she said. And Neuberg, who is the sole independent member of the commission, said even if a district like this tends to lean in one direction or the other, the fact that registration is close means they have to remain “accountable” to all residents, not just those of their own party. 

But Neuberg brushed aside considering the potential effects on the overall makeup of the state House and Senate for the coming decade. 

Erika Neuberg

“That’s not something that’s within our constitutional purview,” said Neuberg, the lone nonpartisan on the five-member panel. 

What is are racial considerations. That makes relevant a plan to legislatively separate Laveen, an area of southwest Phoenix, from the rest of south Phoenix, arguing that the former has more in common with agricultural areas to the west. 

But Democrats say the move would divide the Black community which, if left in the same district, would constitute 19% of the vote. 

Some changes are being pushed for potentially less obvious reasons. 

Still in flux is whether Casa Grande belongs in CD 6 — the one that runs from midtown Tucson to the southeast border of the state — or is a better fit with CD 2. 

That district encompasses Florence and Coolidge. But the sprawling district also takes in Gila, Apache, Navajo, Coconino and Yavapai counties. 

One of the last issues likely to be resolved has to do with the legislative district that encompasses six tribes in northern and eastern Arizona. 

No matter how the district is drawn, it is likely to send Democrats to the state Capitol. But the question becomes which Democrats. 

Neuberg pointed out that when lines were drawn after the 2000 election, the district also included Flagstaff. What that did, she said, is enable “white liberals” living off the reservation to nominate candidates of their choice, like Tom Chabin and Kirkpatrick who represented that part of the state at that time. 

A decade later, the redistricting process moved Flagstaff into a district with Sedona and the Verde Valley, with the White Mountain communities added instead to the district with tribes. And that led to the nomination — and election — of Democrats living on the Navajo reservation. 

The debate on district lines has reawakened long-standing resentment by some Anglos in the White Mountains who not only do not like being represented at the Capitol by tribal members but also the fact that tribal members can control the board of supervisors. 

As long ago as 1982, the Republican-controlled legislature, at the behest of area residents, voted to split off the reservation areas of Navajo and Apache counties into a separate county. That, however, was vetoed by then-Gov. Bruce Babbitt. 

Mehl and York favor keeping Flagstaff in the tribal-dominated district. 

But there is a potential legal impediment: the federal Voting Rights Act, which prohibits election changes that would prevent minorities — in this case, tribal members — from having the opportunity to elect someone of their choice. And Neuberg, who holds the swing vote, said if leaving Flagstaff in the district undermines the ability to elect Native Americans she cannot support it. 

Neuberg said congressional lines need to be finished by the end of the day Tuesday. That gives Wednesday to make minor adjustments in the lines to comply with federal laws that require virtually identical populations of 794,600 in each of the nine districts. 

Legislative districts are supposed to each have about 238,000 residents. But commissioners have more leeway in crafting these lines, particularly when they create population disparities to comply with other needs, like protecting minority voting rights. 



Rogers claims accusations against her false

Wendy Rogers speaks at a fundraiser in Scottsdale in 2014. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Wendy Rogers speaks at a fundraiser in Scottsdale in 2014. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

A state senator accused of workplace harassment said Monday that a complaint filed against her isn’t true, and it wouldn’t violate Senate rules even if it were. 

In a two-page letter sent this afternoon, Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, urged the Senate Ethics Committee to dismiss the complaint filed by her former legislative assistant. Michael Polloni, a former Rogers campaign volunteer who began working as her legislative assistant in early December, accused Rogers of repeated verbal abuse that escalated to her physically accosting him on his last day of work on Jan. 14. 

“I believe the complaint against me is a complete fabrication by an outgoing, brand new employee who worked only one official day for the state of Arizona after the swearing in of senators,” Rogers wrote. 

In his complaint, Polloni wrote that Rogers berated him over his weight, his lesbian sister and his liberal aunt, took his personal belongings and broke an Eagle Scout plaque. Her behavior allegedly ramped up after Polloni contracted Covid on Jan. 3 and had to stay home for 10 days. 

Rogers pestered him to work each of those 10 days, Polloni said. When he was finally able to return to work on Jan. 14, she questioned whether he had ever really been sick. 

“What have you been doing for the past two weeks? Sitting on your butt doing nothing?” he remembers her asking.

On Jan. 14, Polloni said Rogers pulled him into her office and yelled at him, standing so close that he could feel her spittle on his face, according to the complaint.

“We are at war, Mikey, do you not understand that? You do not understand half of what I know. You were not told what is going to be happening in the coming months,” she yelled, according to his complaint.

This scared Polloni, who tried opening the door to call for another assistant. Rogers slammed it shut, and Polloni is convinced his hand would have been crushed if he hadn’t moved it. 

Hours later, the Senate told him he had the choice between being terminated or resigning. He chose to resign, to remain eligible for employment with the state in the future. 

In her response, Rogers dismisses all the allegations as untrue. She also cites a procedural issue with his complaint, that Polloni didn’t name the law or Senate ethics rule he believes she violated, as proof the complaint should be dismissed.

Senate ethics rules only prohibit violating state or federal law or “any improper conduct that adversely reflects upon the Senate,” Rogers wrote, and she argues that the allegations against her don’t rise to that level.

“I believe the allegation by the Complainant alleging I created a hostile work environment is not true; therefore, the alleged, untrue allegations do not constitute improper conduct that adversely reflects upon the Senate. This alleged personnel matter is not a matter of Senate ethics,” she concluded. 

Sen. Sine Kerr, the Buckeye Republican who chairs the Ethics Committee, will review the complaint and response before recommending any action by the rest of the committee. 



Senate calls it quits, leaves House to decide what’s next

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita makes a point during a Senate session to sine die. (Photo by Andrew Nicla/Arizona Capitol Times
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita makes a point May 8 during a Senate session to sine die. (Photo by Andrew Nicla/Arizona Capitol Times

This wasn’t the way it was supposed to end.

The Senate notified the House early Friday afternoon that it had ended its legislative work, ending the session and killing hundreds of bills. The lower chamber has yet to accede to the request, leaving senators in an indefinite recess.

Senators sat in an unusually empty chamber, surrounded by a smaller-than-usual crew of mask-wearing staff and a larger-than-usual group of reporters. There were no lobbyists, no traditional ice cream in the members’ lounge, no mad dashes between buildings to rush last-minute bills, just an ultimately vain attempt by a small cadre of Republicans to forestall the inevitable motion to recess.

And instead of leaving in triumph, the 24 senators who voted for adjourning sine die walked into a parking lot full of protesters, who jeered and shouted into the senators’ car windows as they slowly pulled out. 

But it also isn’t really the end. Because the state constitution and legislative rules don’t permit either chamber to adjourn for more than three days without the other, the Senate now stands at recess. Lawmakers will have to come back once more to adjourn, Senate President Karen Fann said.

“We’re sending a message to the House,” Fann said. “We can’t keep going round and round and round.”

Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, speaks during May 7 as the Senate prepares to sine die. (Photo by Andrew Nicla/Arizona Capitol Times)
Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, speaks May 8 as the Senate prepares to sine die. (Photo by Andrew Nicla/Arizona Capitol Times)

Fann said the lawmakers in the lower chamber need more time to learn how government works and come to a consensus. When the House does, she said, the Senate will be there ready to accept a sine die motion or pass two or three COVID-19-related bills. 

“They need more time over there to be able to come to a consensus, which we have tried to do for the last four or five weeks,” she said. “This is our way of saying, ‘We still want to work with you, but we are putting the ball in your court.’”

House leadership, for the most, support ending the session, but not if it means working with Democrats. Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, promised earlier this week to bring the chamber back into session Friday at 1 p.m. But late Thursday,  after a bruising Zoom call with his colleagues, Bowers went back on the plan, explaining in a statement that members “of the House Republican Caucus believe that there is important work for us to do on behalf of the people of Arizona. “

On that call, many members expressed frustration with both executive and legislative leadership, insisting that a return to work was the only path forward — in part to keep a check on the Governor, who some in the caucus want to override through a concurrent resolution that would terminate the statewide declaration of emergency. 

On one hand, they say that the stay-at-home order has devastated their local economies. On the other, their pushback is personal.

“What’s happened is, by and large, the Legislature feels that the governor has ignored us and never really paid any attention to us, and probably doesn’t respect us very much,” said Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott. “All of a sudden, our leadership wanted to sine die. The members feel that if we were to sine die, it would make us look like we’re impotent.”

In the Senate, six verbose Republican holdouts caused Friday’s floor session — which Senate Minority Leader David Bradley said he expected would take only a few minutes — to drag on for three hours. 

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, a Chandler Republican who pushed hard to leave the Legislature at recess to maintain the ability to come back to the floor as needed, said adjourning sends a bad message to the people of Arizona.

He pointed out that lawmakers took heat two years ago, during the Red for Ed movement, when they adjourned normally on a Thursday to come back on a Monday as they normally do, because teachers thought their representatives were skipping town. This is much worse, he said. 

“We shouldn’t shut down our work before the people of Arizona can get back to work,” Mesnard said. 

Sen. Dave Farnsworth, R-Mesa, took it a step further, saying it would be selfish to adjourn sine die and equated  ending the session to deserting the military. 

“How could we even consider walking away?” he asked. “If we were on the battlefield and we walked away, we could be shot for desertion.” 

Farnsworth, and fellow Republican Sen. David Livingston, insisted that the most important thing for Arizona now is to get everyone back to work. The more important thing is staying alive, retorted Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix.

Alston, 77, is the Senate’s oldest member. She addressed most of her comments to fellow older Arizonans who she described as being in the “special class” of individuals most susceptible to serious cases of COVID-19. 

“Please, let’s sine die, let’s stay home, stay healthy,” she said. “We’ve done a good job of social distancing. Let’s keep it up a little longer until we have data we need to make sound decisions that are good for our small businesses, people and economy.”

While every Democratic senator and all Senate employees kept masks on for the entire session, only two Republicans with health backgrounds did: Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, a Phoenix Republican who heads the health and human services committee, and Sen. Tyler Pace, a Mesa Republican who serves on the committee and owns a medical supply business. Mesnard had a mask on intermittently, Buckeye Republican Sine Kerr had one around her neck, and Sen. Heather Carter, who began practicing physical distancing a week before the rest of the chamber, watched from her office.

If Republican lawmakers can’t even agree to wear masks to the Senate floor for sine die, they definitely can’t resume the session, said Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale. Quezada, who has Type 1 Diabetes, tore into his colleagues and the protesters outside, speaking so animatedly that his own mask repeatedly slipped below his nose.

Republicans talked a lot about personal responsibility, he said, but they weren’t demonstrating it. 

“You could have been exposed, and now you’re impacting me,” he said. “That’s exactly why we need a heavy hand of government, because that lack of personal responsibility is affecting people like me.”

While a bipartisan coalition of senators elected to end the session, Senate GOP leaders insist their work is far from done. Fann plans to begin work Monday on plans for a special session to address COVID-19 issues, and she plans to form task forces after the August primary.

And come October, Fann said, she plans to ask legislative council to redraft bills that stalled during the 2020 session. If she’s still Senate President, she’ll ask committee chairs to hear those bills and finish them during the first two weeks of session. 

And for now, Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray said, constituents need lawmakers to be helping with unemployment issues and connecting them with government services, not on the floor passing bills.

“We don’t have to be really on the floor to help solve those constituents’ problems. We can be recessed, we can be adjourned, and we still continue to work to protect and help anyone in our district. As far as I’m concerned, the workload that we have since we’ve been recessed has been tremendous.”


  • Staff writer Arren Kimbel-Sannit contributed to this report

Senate Democrats call for investigation of Ugenti-Rita over sexual harassment allegations

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale)
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale)

Senate Democrats today asked Senate President Karen Fann to investigate whether Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita violated the Senate’s sexual harassment policy.

Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, told the Arizona Capitol Times the request is informal, and he hopes Fann will investigate without Democrats having to file a formal ethics complaint. Bradley said Democrats believe Ugenti-Rita’s alleged actions, reported in the Capitol Times last night, violate the Senate’s policy and want to see if Fann agrees.

 “We’re putting the ball in their court, saying this is where we think it falls,” Bradley said. “In a partisan world, it’s better if folks in the party they’re in initiate this.”

Fann and Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray did not return phone calls, and Senate GOP spokesman Mike Philipsen read but did not respond to a text asking to confirm whether Fann had received the Democratic caucus’s request and was considering an investigation.

The Senate’s policy requires that anyone who wants to complain about a fellow senator must first describe facts to one of the chamber’s leaders — Fann, Gray, Bradley or Assistant Senate Minority Leader Lupe Contreras.

Complaints can be resolved informally — such as through direct or mediated conversations between the complainer and the complainant — or through a formal administrative inquiry by a third-party investigator. That investigator’s report would be forwarded to the Senate Ethics Committee, which then recommends any disciplinary action for senators. 

Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, was reappointed as chair of the ethics committee at the start of the session after stepping down most of last session because she shares a district with former Rep. Don Shooter and beat him in the 2018 election. Shooter, who was expelled from the House in 2018 largely because of Ugenti-Rita’s claims that he sexually harassed her, accused Ugenti-Rita of harassing a female lobbyist in court documents filed late last week.

Senate Democrats’ request for an investigation closed a quiet and uncomfortable day in the Senate. The Senate introduced guests and did paperwork, but avoided any debates or votes and the chamber was largely empty after lawmakers took attendance.

Senate ethics chairs tosses Finchem’s complaint

Wearing a face covering and sitting among socially-distanced plexiglass, Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, sits at his desk during the opening of the Arizona Legislature at the state Capitol, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
Wearing a face covering and sitting among socially-distanced plexiglass, Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, sits at his desk during the opening of the Arizona Legislature at the state Capitol, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

It doesn’t look like Rep. Mark Finchem will get an investigation into the conduct of Democratic lawmakers who asked the FBI to investigate him.

Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, who chairs the Senate Ethics Committee, has concluded that the allegations of the Oro Valley Republican against the senators “do not constitute ‘conduct alleged to be unethical’ under the committee’s rules,” according to Chris Kleminich, an attorney for the Senate.

Her finding, released Monday, is similar to one last week by Rep. Becky Nutt, R-Clifton, who chairs the House Ethics Committee. She said his complaint about House Democrats also did not fit in the role of her committee, saying it involves essentially political matters.

Strictly speaking, Kerr’s response does not end the matter.

Senate rules allow a complaint to go forward if at least two of the other lawmakers on the five-member panel want to go further. But she has given them only until this coming Monday March 1 to respond.

Finchem’s complaint is that the Democratic lawmakers acted improperly by asking both the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice to look into his activities leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol as well as what he did in Washington that day. The Democrats charged that Finchem “supported the violent overthrow of our government” and that he participated in the attack on the Capitol.

He has denied those charges.

The Democrats said all they have heard back from the federal agencies is that they got the request.

Finchem said Monday he had no comment “other than 100% of the Democratic senator signed onto a fallacious criminal referral and they can’t have an ethics committee because they have all committed the same violation.”

And what of the fact that the people who chair both ethics panels are Republicans?

“You’ll know when I’m ready to move,” Finchem responded.

Senate leadership scramble, 3 eye presidency

From left are Sens. David Gowan, J.D. Mesnard, Warren Petersen

The Senate is preparing to select new leadership next year in both parties, and three Republicans seem confident that they can win the presidency.

Sens. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, and Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, have started campaigning for the position of Senate president.

President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, has held the position since 2019, but she is retiring after this year. Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray, R-Sun City, is also retiring, leaving a large opening in leadership.

On the Democratic side, Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, and Senate Assistant Minority Assistant Leader Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, are also leaving the Senate after this session.

The Republicans are a little further ahead in selecting new leadership. Gowan, Mesnard, and Petersen each say they are feeling good about their prospects, with Gowan and Mesnard both implying they’ve taken the lead.

Of the current 16 Republican senators, only eight besides Gowan, Mesnard and Petersen are running for their Senate seats again. At most, seven will return as Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, and Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, will run against each other in the Legislative District 7 Republican primary.

Gowan, Mesnard and Petersen are all Senate and House veterans who currently chair committees. Gowan chairs Appropriations, Mesnard chairs Commerce and Petersen chairs Judiciary. Gowan and Mesnard have also each served as speaker of the House, but none of the three have had leadership roles in the Senate yet.

Of the senators who hope to return to the chamber next year, no one will say who they are supporting in the race yet.

Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, and Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, are both interested in being majority whip next session. Borrelli has held that title for the past four years and said on April 20 that he should have the votes. “I don’t know if Senator Kerr would want to give up the chairmanship,” Borrelli said, referring to Kerr’s role as chair of the Natural Resources Energy and Water Committee. Kerr is also the chair of the Ethics Committee, but it rarely meets. Usually, senators in leadership roles don’t chair committees, but there is no rule against it.

The Senate president has control over Senate proceedings, decorum and the signing of, “All acts, addresses, joint resolutions, writs, warrants and subpoenas issued by order of the Senate, and decide all questions of order.” The president also assigns members to committees, determines who chairs those committees and can cancel or reschedule the meetings. They also appoint their own “president pro tempore” who serves in the president’s place if need be.

Current pro tem Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tuscon, is gunning for majority Leader next year. Majority Leader Rick Gray, R-Sun City, is leaving the Legislature after this session.

No one has announced an interest in being pro tem, but that’s a good incentive that candidates for president can offer to members for their votes. As is the promise of committee chairmanships.

The Democrats haven’t gotten far in the discussion of Minority leadership, but eight Democratic senators will run for re-election. Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Tempe, is leaving but said that the Senate Democrats want a veteran in leadership, and not an incoming freshman.

Sens. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, and Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, said they want to be in Senate leadership next year, but not necessarily in the role of minority leader.

In addition to the positions of minority leader and assistant minority leader, minority whip is also opening up. None of the other Democratic senators have voiced an interest in leadership or an endorsement of other senators who are interested.


Senate passes harsher penalty for animal cruelty


State senators agreed Monday to boost the penalty for intentional abuse or killing of pets over objections from a lawmaker who said it could make criminals out of ranchers protecting their herds.

Current law already makes animal cruelty a Class 6 felony. That is punishable by a year in prison.

But judges can designate these cases a misdemeanor. And that allows someone to be placed on unsupervised probation, with no requirement for any sort of counseling or treatment.

SB 1295, approved on a 16-13 margin, creates a Class 5 felony for “cruel mistreatment” of a domestic animal, meaning any animal raised as a pet. The same penalty — and the presumptive prison sentence of 18 months — also would apply if someone kills a pet without legal privilege or consent of the animal’s owner or handler.

The legislation is the outgrowth of concerns by lawmakers that, for many people, abusing animals is just a start.

“There is an extremely high correlation between folks that abuse animals and those that abuse children and also get involved in domestic violence,” said Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson.

Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, said lawmakers should be “very cautious” in increasing penalties for any crime.

“This is one of those circumstances where the evidence is so clear that people that abuse animals go on to committing other heinous crimes and domestic violence,” she said.

And Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, the sponsor of SB 1295, told colleagues that the aim is not additional punishment but to allow judges to ensure that people get treated before the crimes against animals turn to crimes against people.

“These people are extremely sick people,” he said, citing news reports that the teen who is accused of killing 17 at a Florida high school had abused animals.

“These are people with severe mental disturbances that do this,” Kavanagh said. “These are people that need treatment.”

Kavanagh also said the measure is written in a way to ensure that ranchers are not subject to criminal penalties for how they treat their own animals.

But Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, who runs a family-owned dairy farm, said that does not go far enough.

“The situation still affects us when the neighbor’s pet dog comes and kills and maims our animals,” she said. “And we have every right, within the law right now, to dispense with that animal.”

Kerr cited an incident where a Marana rancher ended up being arrested for killing a dog.

Kavanagh said that was the rancher’s own fault. He said the rancher never mentioned to police at the time that he was protecting his livestock.

“Had he, he probably would not have been arrested because it’s perfectly legal to use force to protect your livestock,” Kavanagh said. It was only at trial that the rancher first mentioned it.

“When he did raise that defense, he was found not guilty,” Kavanagh said.

Monday’s vote sends the measure to the House.

Shooter political comeback falls short

Don Shooter testifies during a hearing, June 14, 2018, in Judge Rosa Mroz’s Maricopa County Superior Courtroom, Phoenix.
Don Shooter testifies during a hearing, June 14, 2018, in Judge Rosa Mroz’s Maricopa County Superior Courtroom, Phoenix.

Ousted lawmaker Don Shooter’s political comeback attempt fell well short.

Shooter sought a swift return to the Capitol since he was voted out of the Legislature in February after a House investigation found he serially sexually harassed colleagues and lobbyists.

But the Yuma Republican quickly fell back on election night, and wound up a distant third, more than 5,000 votes behind incumbent Sen. Sine Kerr, a Buckeye dairy farmer in her first race for the Legislative District 13 Senate seat. Kerr has represented the district since January, when she was appointed to the Senate to fill a vacancy.

Shooter also trails Brent Backus, a Waddell Republican, in the primary election.

The election-night loss is a rebuke of Shooter, who sought to rally support for his campaign by leaning heavily into the accusations against him.

Shooter, who represented LD13 in the Senate from 2011 to 2016, touted a poll he said was conducted while he was deciding whether or not to run again, in which he asked prospective voters whether they would be more or less likely to vote for a lawmaker they knew was thrown out of office for sexual harassment. He boasted that the voters responded that they would be more likely to vote for such a lawmaker. And a billboard west of Yuma urged voters to elect Shooter to “make a liberals head explode.”

Kerr has an easy path to winning the general election. Republicans hold a nearly two-to-one advantage among registered voters in the district, which stretches from northern Yuma County to northwestern Maricopa County.

Michelle Harris, an Air Force veteran, is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination.

LD13 Senate by the numbers

Yuma County: 100 percent of precincts reporting

Maricopa County: 58 percent of precincts reporting


Brent Backus 30 percent

Sine Kerr 49 percent

Don Shooter 21 percent


Michelle Harris 100 percent

Sine Kerr: In love with agriculture and defending the livelihood

Cap Times Q&A

Arizona’s newest senator follows in the footsteps of former Sen. Steve Pierce and the late Sen. Chester Crandell as a lawmaker who lives and breathes the agricultural lifestyle. Republican Sine Kerr was sworn into the state Senate on January 8, the first day of the 2018 legislative session, a post from which she hopes to apply her nearly 40 years of knowledge as a Buckeye dairy farmer.

Sen. Sine Kerr (R-Buckeye) (Photo by Ben Giles/Arizona Capitol Times)Sen. Sine Kerr (R-Buckeye) (Photo by Ben Giles/Arizona Capitol Times)
Sen. Sine Kerr (R-Buckeye) (Photo by Ben Giles/Arizona Capitol Times)

First question I have to ask is, what are these giant wooden panels behind your desk?

Well, we call it the brand wall, and it’s made up of real registered cattle brands from all across the state, so there’s a lot of history. There’s a lot of rules to follow when you have a registered brand, and these are real important to the cattle ranchers. It lets them know that’s their animal, and many are passed down through the generations, so it’s a real wonderful part of our past, our history, but also they’re still used today.

Does your family’s farm have a brand on the wall?

We do, thank you for asking. Right down here, my late father-in-law’s brand, JWK, John Wilson Kerr, so we’re thankful to have that brand. It stays in the family.

How’d you wind up in Arizona?

My dad had retired from the Army after 21 years of service and could go anywhere in the U.S. and he chose Buckeye, Arizona. So we moved there in ‘64 when I was three years old. He went to work at a service station, changing tractor tires and doing mechanical work, but my friends all had farms and ranches. So when I would go to my friends’ homes on the weekend, that’s where I played. We’d ride on tractors, ride horses, just do all the fun agricultural stuff that farm kids do.

Is that why he chose Buckeye?

I think he chose it because it was a small, quiet community. Back in the mid-‘60s, it was very small then, and agriculture was king. And it’s still very much alive in Buckeye.

Why’d you want to be a farmer?

I just fell in love with ag. I couldn’t wait for the weekends, to go hang out with my friends. And then I started thinking, “Gosh it’d be nice to marry a farmer. I would love that kind of lifestyle.” So I met my husband in high school. His family came from Tempe, they had a dairy there, and moved in 1974 out to Buckeye to expand the dairy there. So we met in high school, and he was a really good basketball player. That’s what he was known for. I didn’t know he was a farmer at that time. So we started dating and when I found out he was a farmer that was it. I liked him anyways! I would’ve liked him even if he just played basketball. So then we got married out of high school, a year later. We started with 15 cows, and we’ve been growing – growing crops, milking cows, growing our family, and that’s what we continue to do.

Why after all that did you decide to get into politics?

Our food is very political, and so many regulations that affect our industry come through, mostly from the federal level, and we have so many regulations from many different areas. And there’s only 2 percent of the population that grows our food and our fiber. And so it became more and more apparent that we needed strong voices for agriculture, for rural issues. Through different leadership programs, like Project CENTRL – the Center for Rural Leadership – they take you all around the state. They immerse you in rural issues, they help you with public speaking.

You also served with the Arizona Farm Bureau?

In that capacity, they not only taught me, trained me, they took me. We would go to D.C., we would go (to Capitol Hill), we would meet with our Arizona delegation. We would have been briefed and we would study all the different issues that affect us. And we could sit there and tell our leaders at the highest level how this legislation would help us or hurt us. So that started to grow a real passion in my heart, how important it was, and just such an appreciation that we have the type of government that we do, that we can meet with our elected officials, that we could make a difference and they would listen and hear our voices.

Is the agricultural community well represented at our Capitol?

The Arizona Legislature has historically been very supportive of agriculture and rural issues, and we’ve been so thankful for that… When our groups, when Arizona Farm Bureau and the cattle growers and cotton growers, all the different groups are down here lobbying on our behalf, whether it’s permitting, water issues, regulatory issues, we’ve always had great support. So that also helped me with that desire to serve here, because while we have enjoyed great support, it still adds a different element when it’s your livelihood that you’re fighting for and defending. It just gives it a different level, or different perspective.

What’s something people might not know about dairy farming?

A lot of people are surprised that dairy farmers don’t set the price for a gallon of milk. We are price takers. USDA sets our price monthly, so that surprises people. Oftentimes, the milk price per gallon goes up in the grocery store and they’ll think, “Those dairy farmers!” We have no control over that.

Anything unique about your own farm?

Our herd, our personal herd, is also multi-generational. My daughter-in-law, Lauren, her family farmed in Arizona. They had a dairy for nearly 100 years. So when the family sold out we brought in some of their cattle. And also when my father-in-law sold out and retired, we brought in some of his cattle, so that’s really special to us, that not only is our family generational, but our herd is as well.

Where will you be in the interim when there’s not so much legislating to do?

I’ll be in the office mostly as I manage the farm office and the business management side of it, and I’ll just be out there on the farm playing with what should be my 11 grandkids after April.

USDA hints loan for groundwater could jeopardize federal funds


The federal government is warning irrigation districts in Pinal County that using a $20 million state loan to drill new wells to replace Colorado River water they are losing as part of the drought contingency plan could cost them.

In a July 17 letter to Gov. Doug Ducey and legislative leaders, Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke said U.S. Department of Agriculture officials have indicated that the federal government may not count the $20 million of state money toward cost-sharing calculations if it’s spent before they select which projects to fund.

The USDA program, called the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, has not updated its rules or released an application yet for 2019, making it difficult for irrigation districts to know if the projects qualify.

Buschatzke said in his letter that, even if the USDA approves a district’s project, that district may not get reimbursed prior to USDA contracting with that district for reimbursement.

The $20 million, approved as part of the fiscal-year 2020 budget, is due back to the state in 2021, when it was assumed that a federal grant program would kick in and the districts would be able to repay the money.

Sine Kerr
Sine Kerr

And that’s not the only deadline. The project must be completed by 2023, when farmers intend to convert solely to groundwater in compliance with the drought contingency plan, which allocates Colorado River water.

Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, said the clock is ticking for the program to release its rules for this year.

“Everything hinges on approval of the federal application,” Kerr said. “It’s very concerning. We put a deadline on them (irrigation districts) to have their infrastructure in place by 2023 and to pay us back by 2021.”

But despite her worries about timing, she believes everything will be completed on time.

“I think it’s realistic,” Kerr said of the deadlines. “We will get it resolved.”

Doug MacEachern, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Water Resources, said the department would not comment because of ongoing negotiations.

Buschatzke said in the letter the agreement between the Department of Water Resources and the irrigation districts is “in concept form and under discussion,” but did not elaborate further to the governor or Legislature, besides his warnings about the federal program.

Kerr said in the meantime, officials in Pinal County are scouting locations for wells and drafting lease agreements so that when the money can be spent, whether state or federal, everything is ready to go.

Under the Drought Contingency Plan, farmers in Pinal County agreed to give up their share of Colorado River water as long as they could pump more groundwater.

But to access that groundwater, farmers need better wells and pipelines. Without access to the groundwater, there is no way to mitigate the loss of the Colorado River.

That deal included $9 million for groundwater infrastructure, but Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, said the project could exceed a total of $50 million, and convinced lawmakers to include the $20 million in the budget.

Cook, who pushed for the money throughout the Legislative session, did not respond to multiple calls seeking comment.

Patrick Bray
Patrick Bray

A 2018 University of Arizona study found that on-farm agriculture and agribusiness combine for more than $2.3 billion in sales, add $611 million in value and contribute more that 7,500 jobs in Pinal County alone.

Patrick Bray, executive vice president of the Arizona Farm and Ranch Group, said that ADWR should be allocating the money to irrigation districts now, not waiting or advising districts not to spend the money because of the USDA.

Bray said it is the irrigation districts’ and farmers’ jobs to figure out how to pay the money back to the state by 2021, and the department’s job to allocate the money so the project can be completed on time.

“It (the legislation) never gave authority to ADWR to see if this federal program worked,” Bray said, adding that the need for the $20 million is “rapidly approaching.”

Bray said because the rules for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program have not yet been released, they are forced to use old RCPP rules to see if their projects will be approved.

He said talks with the RCPP director in Arizona have gone well and they are helping look for money through other federal programs, but that ultimately the groundwater project “doesn’t fit nicely in the box.”

“We are in the fiscal year in which this money was appropriated, whether this federal program works should not be the discussion,” Bray said. “The discussion now should be how the money flows from the state to the irrigation districts.”

Voter registration records raise questions about Don Shooter residency

Rep. Don Shooter relaxes Feb. 1 before a historic vote of his colleagues to remove him from office. He was ousted by a vote of 56-3. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Rep. Don Shooter relaxes Feb. 1 before a historic vote of his colleagues to remove him from office. He was ousted by a vote of 56-3. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Shortly before launching a campaign from Yuma for his old state Senate seat, ousted lawmaker Don Shooter spent two weeks as a registered voter in Phoenix, reopening old questions about whether he actually lives in the district he represented for more than six years.

Shooter, a Republican who was expelled from the Arizona House of Representatives in February for sexually harassing fellow lawmakers and lobbyists, registered to vote in Maricopa County on April 30 at a home in Phoenix’s Biltmore area.

He’d long been registered to vote in Yuma, most recently at a rental address on South Palo Verde Lane. Documents obtained by the Arizona Capitol Times show that Shooter’s voter registration in Yuma County was cancelled automatically because he moved out of the jurisdiction and changed his driver’s license to reflect a new address.

Shooter declined to comment, “since there may be future legal actions.”

If Shooter were found to reside outside of the district where he’s running, a judge could order that his name be kept off the ballot for the August 28 Republican primary.

Shortly after changing his voter registration to Maricopa County, Shooter said there was no chance he’d run for his old Senate seat in Legislative District 13 this year, which he’d been planning to do prior to his expulsion. On May 9, when asked by the Arizona Capitol Times if he’s running for office this year, Shooter emphatically replied, “Hell no.”

Less than a week later, Shooter changed his voter registration once more, this time back to Yuma. Officials with the Yuma County Recorder’s Office confirmed that Shooter registered to vote there on May 14.

Shooter is seeking a political comeback in LD13, which he represented since 2011, first in the Senate and then the House of Representatives before his expulsion in February.

His fellow representatives voted Shooter out following an investigation into multiple claims of sexual harassment made against the former representative and senator, sparked by accusations from a fellow lawmaker.

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, first named Shooter as one of the men in the Legislature who had harassed her. After Ugenti-Rita came forward, eight other women told stories of inappropriate, sexually charged comments and unwanted touching, although an independent investigation did not uphold all of the allegations.

The investigation produced a report detailing his repeated violation of a House harassment policy by creating a hostile work environment for female colleagues, other lawmakers, lobbyists and an intern at the Arizona Legislature.

Shooter claims he still has a loyal following in Yuma that wants him back in office.

“If people want me to work and serve, I’ll go serve,” Shooter said May 24.

Shooter’s residency was questioned while he was still in office.

His wife, Susan, owns a home in Phoenix and lists it as her primary address, according to Maricopa County property records. Shooter, meanwhile, listed a rental unit in Yuma as his address while representing LD13, which covers parts of Yuma and Maricopa County, according to KVTK (Channel 3) political reporter Dennis Welch.

Maricopa County property records list the home where Shooter was briefly registered to vote as belonging to him and the Shooter Family Trust. According to property records, Susan Shooter transferred the deed to herself in November in her capacity as a trustee of the Shooter Family Trust. The home is listed as a primary residence.

Shooter and his wife registered to vote in Maricopa County on the same day this year. Both registered as Republicans using the address of the home owned by Susan on North 22nd Street in Phoenix, according to the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office. That address is located in Legislative District 28.

Shooter’s registration was cancelled on May 15, the day after officials in Yuma County confirmed he registered to vote at the Yuma address. Susan is still registered to vote in Maricopa County.

In documents Shooter filed to run for the state Senate on May 30, he listed the rental unit on South Palo Verde Lane in Yuma as his address. He claims to have lived in Yuma County for 38 years, and in LD13 for the same period of time, according to his declaration of qualification as a legislative candidate.

The LD13 Senate seat is currently held by Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye. Shooter faces Kerr, Brent Backus and Royce Jenkins in the Republican primary.

Shooter is running for office while also preparing a legal challenge against the state. He alleged in a notice of claim filed in April that the speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives and staff members in Gov. Doug Ducey’s office conspired to remove him from office in an effort  to prevent him from uncovering “serious issues of malfeasance in state government contracts.”

Shooter told our reporter via text message that his lawyers “have told me to shut up” for now, but that in about a week or so — Shooter can’t file a lawsuit before June 15 — “you won’t be able to shut me up haha.”

‘Strikers’ propose abortion ban, money for lawmakers

Arizona state Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, speaks at a news conference as Gov. Doug Ducey looks on in Phoenix, on March 22, 2021. Kerr is a cosponsor of a proposal in the Arizona Senate that would ban most abortions even before many women know they are pregnant by making it a felony for a physician to perform the procedure if a fetal heartbeat can be detected. The proposal passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee on March 31. (AP Photo/Bob Christie, file)
Arizona state Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, speaks at a news conference as Gov. Doug Ducey looks on in Phoenix, on March 22, 2021. Kerr is a cosponsor of a proposal in the Arizona Senate that would ban most abortions even before many women know they are pregnant by making it a felony for a physician to perform the procedure if a fetal heartbeat can be detected. The proposal passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee on March 31. (AP Photo/Bob Christie, file)

Vaccine passports, abortion bans and an oft-thwarted plan to get more money in lawmakers’ pockets were among the bills that made a late introduction as strike-everything amendments this week. 

In the House, supporters of a less harsh criminal justice system used the striker process to potentially find a way around a Senate chairman who blocked their bills from making it to the full Senate. If the full House again approves a pitch for earned-release credits, the measure can now return to the full Senate for a final vote. 

The Senate had a more adventurous final committee hearing. During a long and frequently intense hearing on March 31, Appropriations Chairman David Gowan entertained bills to ban vaccine passports, send doctors to jail for providing abortions and put more money in lawmakers’ pockets.  

Kelly Townsend
Kelly Townsend


Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, and Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, got help from Kris Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state and architect of controversial Arizona immigration law SB1070 in drafting a last-minute amendment to prohibit companies from declining service to unvaccinated customers and prevent employers from making vaccines a condition of employment. The bill would also prevent Arizona from allowing any version of a “vaccine passport” President Biden expressed interest in rolling out and that is being considered in European nations. The passports would allow fully vaccinated people to begin returning to something resembling pre-Covid life, such as showing proof of vaccination to attend a concert. 

Townsend described that as creating a caste system, and Roberts compared refusing to let an unvaccinated person attend an event to racist store owners refusing service to Black Americans in the 1960s. 

“If we can’t do it for skin color, we shouldn’t be able to do it for whether somebody took an experimental vaccine or not,” he said. 

HB2190 passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 6-4 party-line vote on March 31. 


Republican Sens. Wendy Rogers, Sine Kerr and Kelly Townsend collaborated on the most far-reaching abortion legislation Arizona has seen in years — a bill that would ban all abortions after physicians can detect a fetal heartbeat. Doctors who performed abortions after that point could be charged with a Class 3 felony, and the bill also gave the would-be father of an aborted fetus the ability to sue the doctor.  

Senators who voted for the bill March 31 acknowledged they intend for it to reach the Supreme Court and lead to a reversal of the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision — confirmed in multiple additional cases — that ensure a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion before the point of viability.  

“I believe a 6-4 vote of this committee is good, but I believe a 6-3 vote by the United States Supreme Court is even better,” said Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria.  

The bill’s fate in the full Senate remains unclear, though this year’s Senate Republican caucus takes a significantly harder stance against abortion than prior ones. Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, said she needed to see significant changes to the language before she would be ready to vote for it on the floor.  

“Every single word is going to matter,” Ugenti-Rita said. “When you take out a word like ‘knowingly,’ that matters. When you insert a word, that matters.” 


David Gowan
David Gowan

A Gowan plan to give lawmakers more cash passed Senate Appropriations with only Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix, opposed. The bill, which Gowan and Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, have tried versions of for three years running, would hike per diem payments for all lawmakers. 

Under the bill, lawmakers who live in Maricopa County would get $56 daily, more than double the $25 they currently receive. Out-of-county lawmakers would receive closer to $200, the average annual federal per diem rateThey now get $60. 

Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed a version of this bill in 2019, saying he didn’t want an increase for local lawmakers and that any higher rate should kick in after the following election, as happens with pay raises for elected officials. Gowan, who put an emergency clause on his bill to enable lawmakers to begin collecting higher allowances this year, countered that the election Ducey wanted to wait for already happened.  


Among the few strikers in House Appropriations on March 30 was an amendment that supporters say is the last best chance to pass an expansion of prison earned release credits this year. SB1064, which the committee advanced on an 11-2 vote, would let drug offenders cut their sentences almost in half by taking part in drug treatment or work programs and let other nonviolent offenders cut their sentences by about one-third the same way. 

“At the end of the day, this is about making sure we’re keeping violent people off the streets, we’re acknowledging victims in any sort of injurious situation, but also making sure we have a system that’s smart,” said sponsor Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler. 

Another bill that would have let inmates earn credits more quickly than Mesnard’s, HB2713, passed the House 47-11 in February but has languished without a hearing in the Senate. Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, who sponsored the House version, spoke in favor of Mesnard’s proposal, as did Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel. 

“I feel strongly those who want to do better and be better should have the opportunity to do so,” Adel said.  

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who voted “no,” said he fears going back to the days of less consistent sentences that preceded the ‘80s and ‘90s, when most states enacted the tougher sentencing laws that are largely still in force today. 

I don’t think that this is really close to what I could support,” Kavanagh said. “I have real concerns about any bill that would allow a sentence to be cut pretty much in half.”