20% teacher pay raise made to be permanent


With Arizona’s 2018-2019 state budget now signed by the governor, I wanted to clearly explain how the 20-percent teacher pay raise was determined, how it will be provided to schools, who will be receiving raises and how much should educators expect – as there has been a great deal of misinformation about how this actually works.

Sen. Steve Smith (R-Maricopa)
Sen. Steve Smith (R-Maricopa)

The questions that are often asked are, “What is the definition of a teacher?” and “Who will be receiving these raises?”

The Legislature does not define who a teacher is. Each local school district governing board makes that determination. We simply used what each district reports to the Arizona Department of Education for “Year-End Teacher Full-Time Equivalents (FTE)” to help us determine how much money would be needed to generate a 20-percent raise by 2020. How we provided the funding maintains Arizona’s long-standing emphasis on local control by allowing local districts flexibility in determining who will receive raises.

So how does the 20-percent pay raise work?

Arizona’s auditor general recently reported the statewide average district teacher salary is $48,372. That is an independent, nonpartisan number, and while some district teachers earn more and others less, that is the true average salary of district teachers in Arizona. To determine the 20-percent by 2020 teacher pay raise, we started by determining the amount needed for a 1-percent teacher pay raise based on the actual reported cost of the 1-percent raise we passed last year. Since we typically experience inflation each year and expect to have more teachers in Arizona classrooms in each of the next three years, a 1-percent raise in 2020 would be a bit higher and cost more than a 1-percent raise this year. To make sure we provided enough funding for this growth, we took the average over the next three fiscal years, added in funding for employment related expenses such as health and dental benefits, and determined the amount necessary for a 1-percent teacher pay increase to be $32.25 million.

Since we promised a 20-percent raise by 2020, we multiplied that 1-percent by 20, resulting in $645 million. The plan spreads the pay increase over three fiscal years (10-percent up front this year, 5-percent in 2019 and 5-percent in 2020), resulting in $305 million this year, $470 million added on top of that the next year, and then up to the total $645 million in 2020. That means over the next three fiscal years, we will cumulatively be providing $1.42 billion in new state funding for teacher salary increases. In other words, this funding provides the amount necessary to bring the statewide average of district teacher salaries up to $58,046 by 2020, or $9,674 above the 2017 level of $48,372 – a 20-percent raise by 2020 just as promised.

Furthermore, since the calculations for the 20-percent raise by 2020 are based on the statewide average, the funding provided for teacher pay raises through the state budget will actually provide the largest percentage increase to those teachers who earn a salary below the statewide average and are in need of a pay raise the most.

Some have falsely claimed this funding package is not a permanent pay raise and the money could be reduced in future years. This is completely untrue. The new money for teacher pay included in the state budget was included in the statutory “Base Level” amount of our state K-12 funding formula. Thanks to Proposition 301, the Base Level amount is inflated each year and cannot be reduced by a future Legislature, but by only a vote from the people. That is why we specifically allocated the new teacher pay raise dollars through this voter protected portion of the formula – to guarantee our teachers that this money is permanent, ongoing and inflated.

So who will be receiving these new dollars? The state Legislature does not attach red tape to our K-12 funding. Local school districts determine how general K-12 formula dollars are spent. The same goes for the new $1.42 billion that districts will receive over the next three years for teacher pay raises. Schools will receive their portion of the new funding based on their weighted student count, and each local district will be responsible for determining how to allocate the pay raises to teachers.

So, if a teacher does not receive their portion of the money appropriated for teacher pay raises this year, that would be due to a decision by their local district board, not the state Legislature. To make sure districts are held accountable, we included strong intent language directing the $1.42 billion to be used for teacher pay increases, and required schools to post their average teacher salaries, and the amount of year-over-year increases on their websites. Therefore, be sure your voices are heard in your local districts to ensure teachers receive the pay increases they deserve.

Finally, some will contend that while the 20-percent raise is great for teachers, schools have other needs like building repairs, upgraded school buses, raises for non-teacher employees, etc. We agree. So in addition to all new funding for teacher pay raises, we also allocated $503.4 million cumulatively by 2020 ($100 million this year, $167.8 million in 2019 and $235.6 million in 2020) in additional assistance funding that schools may spend to address these needs. That means new monies provided to our schools for teacher pay raises and additional assistance will total over $2 billion by 2020.

That just covers the major new spending provided in this newly passed state budget. Schools will still continue to receive base annual inflation funding, Proposition 123 monies, local bond and override dollars and capital funding provided through the School Facilities Board.

These are the legitimate facts regarding K-12 funding in the budget just passed by the Arizona Legislature, and signed by Governor Ducey. It dedicates 48-percent of the entire state general fund budget to K-12 education, clearly signifying that our students, teachers and schools are the most important asset in the state.

– Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee


The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

Court weighs whether political flamethrowers can damage 3rd parties

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

Mudslinging isn’t new to politics, but changes in technology make private citizens more susceptible to being dragged into the fray — and they should have legal recourse, the attorney for a former congressional candidate’s employer argued to the Arizona Supreme Court. 

“Whereas a politician has access to the marketplace of ideas in order to dispel falsities that may be said about them, every day average citizens don’t have that recourse,” attorney Amy Sells said. “All they have is the courts.” 

The state’s high court on Tuesday heard oral arguments in an implied defamation case against Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, brought by the employer of one of her former political opponents.  

Sells represents Pamela Young, owner of the Young Agency, a modeling agency that represents models and actors, about half of whom are children. The Young Agency formerly employed former Arizona legislator Steve Smith, who ran for Congress in 2018. 

When Rogers, one of Smith’s primary opponents, ran a radio attack ad targeting Smith and his job, Sells argued Rogers defamed Young. 

Steve Smith (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

The ad’s narrator said in part that “Smith is a slimy character whose modeling agency specializes in underage girls and advertises on websites linked to sex trafficking.” 

Young sued Rogers for defamation and false light invasion of privacy. 

The modeling agency owner alleged the ads implied she “had committed or supported the commission of sex crimes.” 

Young is asking the state’s high court to weigh in on a few different issues, including whether a jury should decide whether Rogers defamed Young, whether the Court of Appeals applied the appropriate defamation test and whether under the test used by Young’s attorneys, Young would’ve had to present witness testimony to prove people would find the statement defamatory. 

Justice Clint Bolick questioned the connection between Young and the ad. 

“I am very concerned about the attenuation,” he said. “The ad does not mention Young Agency. In fact, it implies that this is Smith’s agency.” 

Sells argued that even Rogers admitted it was well known that Smith worked at the Young Agency at the time. 

“The question is whether through reasonable investigation, a person would be capable of ascertaining the identity of the agency,” Sells said, arguing it takes just one person to “easily” do that and that’s enough. 

The narrator’s ominous voice, “dungeon-like clanging in the background” and the use of “underage girls” next to “sex trafficking,” are all evidence of Rogers’ intent, Sells said. 

“There is plenty of evidence that the publisher, Rogers intended or endorsed the false defamatory meaning that the agency was engaged in sex trafficking,” Sells said. 

Rogers’ attorney Dominic Draye argued to the Arizona Supreme Court that the Court of Appeals — which overturned the lower court in a split decision in December, entering summary judgement for Rogers — made the right call.  

Draye said Rogers’ speech was protected by the First Amendment, and that the inference Young was somehow complicit in sex trafficking was absurd on its face. He also said that there was no evidence that Rogers intended to convey that “outlandish inference.” 

Judge David Weinzweig stated in the Court of Appeals opinion that reasonable listeners to the radio ad wouldn’t confuse this “unmistakable political flamethrower” in a high-profile congressional race with “a statement of objective fact, even if laced with factual grains.” 

Bolick asked Draye a question that came up throughout the litigation. 

“Can you use the term ‘specializes in underage girls’ in a sentence that does not have a damaging implication?” Bolick asked. 

Draye responded, “I actually think this one, until you read their complaint, does not suggest what they need it to.” 

Draye said the Young Agency doesn’t have evidence of damages stemming from the ad, so they need the statement in the ad to be “defamation per se” — so inflammatory and damaging, it doesn’t require proof. 

“In order to achieve that, they have to allege that Senator Rogers said that they were engaged in criminal activity,” he said. 

Young’s attorneys have tried to look at the line in total isolation, Draye said, jettisoning the rest of the advertisement and the rest of the campaign, which he argued should factor into the evaluation of the statement. 

The fact that the case is a third-party implied defamation case is important, too, Draye argued, because it opens the door for all sorts of lawsuits if a politician mentions an employer or line of work — even if, like in this case, the company isn’t directly named. 

Sells said it was very much in her client’s right to sue. 

“It is true that courts recognize the value in some level of imaginative expression or rhetorical hyperbole in our public debate, but it is simply not the law that provably false statements cannot be actionable if made in the context of an election,” Sells said. 

Draye argued that the ability even to bring this type of case against a politician will lead to self-censorship because it exposes a candidate to “ruinous personal liability” and legal costs, noting this litigation is stretching into its third year. 

“I don’t do this for free,” Draye said. 

Justice Bill Montgomery did not participate in the oral argument — when he was Maricopa County Attorney, he supported Smith during the 2018 campaign.  

 The justices did not say when they would issue a decision. 

Ducey, Legislature scrape together revenues for $10.4 billion budget proposal

State lawmakers are moving to adopt a $10.4 billion spending plan for the coming fiscal year, balancing the books — and finding the dollars for a teacher pay hike plan — at least in part by passing along expenses to some local taxpayers.

The budget is built on the premise that additional auditors at the Department of Revenue and other tax enforcement measures can bring in an additional $55 million. It also relies on getting an extra $35 million out of hospitals, saving $52 million in prescription drug costs and taking $20 million from a consumer fraud settlement that Attorney General Mark Brnovich is negotiating with Volkswagen.

And there’s something else: Taxpayers in 17 school districts will pay more in local taxes through an accounting maneuver on desegregation programs.

The two districts most affected are Tucson and Maricopa unified school districts. But a political maneuver by Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, will protect taxpayers in that district, leaving only Tucson residents with a big hit.

FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2018, file photo, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey speaks prior to signing the order calling the Legislature into a special session at the Capitol in Phoenix. Arizona Gov. Ducey is pushing lawmakers to approve his proposal for big teacher raises Monday, April 23, 2018, as school districts make plans to shut down if educators statewide walk off the job as planned this week after calling the Republican governor's plan insufficient. (AP Photo/Matt York, file)
Gov. Doug Ducey  (AP Photo/Matt York, file)

This spending package has enough leeway to allow Gov. Doug Ducey, up for reelection this year, to keep the promise he made when he was campaigning for office four years ago to cut taxes every year.

The plan increases the amount that those receiving military pensions can exempt from state income taxes. The figure is currently $2,500.

But that increase will be to just $3,500 rather than the original $10,000 proposal the governor made in January. And it has a delayed effective date on that until 2020.

And there are some other carrots in the package for various political interests.


The package also includes $2 million for the arts, $1 million for food banks and $13 million for programs for the developmentally disabled, about $1 million more than last year.

Also in the spending plan is $7 million to pay the state’s share of new veterans’ homes in Flagstaff and Yuma and $4 million for rural fire departments to help in fire prevention.

The big ticket items, however, are the $273 million for the 9 percent pay hike being offered to teachers this coming year and $100 million to finally start restoring money the state took in prior years in aid to schools for things like computers, books and minor repairs.

To make the books balance, however, the governor has given up on his proposal to have the state pay for more resource officers as part of his yet-to-be-approved school safety plan. And his request to hire more Department of Public Safety officers for the Border Strike Force and capture wrong-way drivers also is taking a hit.

Added together, legislative budget staffers predict all the additional revenues will leave the state with a “structural balance” of $150 million by the end of this coming fiscal year. That is the surplus of ongoing revenues compared with ongoing expenses.

But Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, pointed out that structural balance is set to decrease to less than $45 million the year after that — and a relatively minuscule $2 million by the following fiscal year.

That, said Farnsworth, is not a good trend line.

“That’s a valid point,” acknowledged Richard Stavneak, staff director of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. “The direction is not encouraging.”

But House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, seemed less concerned, saying it simply reflects the big investment in teacher pay in the next three years.

The budget plan also has a variety of odds and ends designed to get votes or solve specific issues.

For example, it would allow Coconino County Community College to ask voters to increase its primary tax levy more than the normal year-over-year amount allowed. Budget staffers said that college started out with a very low levy, making it difficult to keep up with expenses.

But once again there will be no state aid for Pima and Maricopa community colleges.

And there’s $1.7 million in the budget in special appropriations to Pinal, Yavapai and Mohave counties.

Ducey: ‘Politics intervened’ in school-safety bill that died

FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2018, file photo, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey speaks prior to signing the order calling the Legislature into a special session at the Capitol in Phoenix. Arizona Gov. Ducey is pushing lawmakers to approve his proposal for big teacher raises Monday, April 23, 2018, as school districts make plans to shut down if educators statewide walk off the job as planned this week after calling the Republican governor's plan insufficient. (AP Photo/Matt York, file)
In this Jan. 22, 2018, file photo, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey speaks prior to signing the order calling the Legislature into a special session at the Capitol in Phoenix. Arizona Gov. Ducey is pushing lawmakers to approve his proposal for big teacher raises Monday, April 23, 2018, as school districts make plans to shut down if educators statewide walk off the job as planned this week after calling the Republican governor’s plan insufficient. (AP Photo/Matt York, file)

Undeterred by opposition from his own party, Gov. Doug Ducey is determined to make another bid next year to let parents and school officials ask judges to take guns away from people who are a danger to themselves or others – assuming he’s still governor.

In an interview with Capitol Media Services, the governor said he is disappointed that the Republican-controlled Legislature first diluted and ultimately killed his school safety plan.

He still contends that the package was not only comprehensive but fair to everyone concerned. And Ducey said he believes that the plan would help ensure that the mass school shootings in other states do not happen here.

So what happened?

“Politics intervened,’’ he said.


Even before Ducey could get his proposal printed up, the governor had to jettison some key provisions because of GOP criticism. That included making adults liable when children get hold of unattended weapons and tightening up the ability of criminals whose civil rights were restored from also getting back their ability to own guns.

And by the time the measure got out of the Senate, the keystone of the plan – allowing judges to issue Severe Threat Orders of Protection – had been curbed so that only police could pursue such court action.

Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, argued that there’s no need to allow family members, school administrators, probation officers, behavioral health professionals, roommates and “significant others’’ to go to court to seek STOP orders. He said those concerned about someone’s behavior could simply call police.

Ducey sniffed at that contention.

“What laws have been broken if you’re scared of someone?’’ he asked.

And even what was left after the Senate got done with the bill could not get a hearing in the House. Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said he had issues with the plan, not just the issue of forcing someone to surrender weapons but allowing a judge to order people locked up against their will for a mental evaluation.

So the session ended with the bill dead, and Ducey having to be content with getting some additional dollars in the budget for mental health issues including suicide prevention.

But the governor conceded he shares at least some of the blame for the failure of the plan.

That starts with the fact that Ducey did not unveil his package until March 19, more than two months into the session. Meanwhile there were other unforeseen events.

“I believe we would have been able to get more of the school safety plan had our priorities not changed in April, that we wanted to focus on teacher pay,’’ he said. So look for Ducey to reintroduce the plan in 2019 when the session starts in January.

Smith who is running for Congress will be gone. And there could be other turnover among incumbents.

But it remains to be seen whether Ducey, if he is re-elected, can push such a plan through what could still be a Republican-controlled Legislature.

The big sticking point are those STOP orders and the whole idea that someone could be brought into court, ordered to undergo a mental examination and forced to surrender all weapons based on a complaint by someone else. Ducey said this isn’t just his idea.

“This law was brought together by superintendents and principals and teachers,’’ the governor said, people who want to remove guns from dangerous people before they show up at a school.

And Ducey said there are clear examples of why STOP orders – and allowing those other than police to seek them – make sense. Start with Florida and the shooting death of 17 students and faculty at a Parkland high school.

“Nikolas Cruz had 39 visits from social services, was identified by name to the FBI, and actually posted on YouTube that this was something that he wanted to do,” the governor said.

“There was nothing they could do,’’ he continued. “There was no law that allowed them to do anything.’’

Ditto Jared Loughner, who killed six and seriously wounded others in 2011, including then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was meeting with constituents in the parking lot of a Tucson Safeway, Ducey said. “Similar things happened with him at Pima Community College,’’ he said.

Part of what may be working against the kind of legislation Ducey is proposing is that Arizona has not had the kind of school shootings that have plagued other states. The governor said that’s irrelevant.

“Why would this only be the focus in response to one of these school shootings?’’ he asked. “Why can’t we do something proactively?

But Ducey sidestepped repeated questions about whether gun-rights groups like the National Rifle Association and the Arizona Citizens Defense League, both of which raised questions about the package and forced changes, are barriers to getting this kind of legislation passed.

“I believe we can get the full school safety package passed,’’ the governor said. And if there’s a problem with that, “the onus is on us as elected leaders, the onus is on the Legislature to make the right vote.’’

While Ducey’s plan was having some problems getting votes among some Republicans, the governor showed little interest in actively pursuing votes from Democrats. They opposed the package because it lacked some things they wanted, like universal background checks and a ban on “bump stocks’’ that can convert a semi-automatic rifle to the equivalent of a machine gun.

But the governor said those issues never came up when he was meeting with those who helped him craft the package. He said they were more interested in “pragmatic issues that would actually avoid this type of shooting.’’

Anyway, Ducey said Democrats were never going to support the plan because it included more money for school resource officers, armed police in schools

“I’m someone who just believes that someone who is trained in law enforcement inside a school is a good thing,’’ he said.

Democrats, however, suggested that the solution to campus violence is not more people with weapons on school grounds. And they said there is evidence that more police in school tends to lead to situations where discipline issues that should be handled administratively instead become criminal matters, particularly when minorities are involved.

Ducey said he remains cool to the idea pushed by some members of his own party to arm teachers and other school personnel.

The governor said he is “open minded’’ to the possibility of allowing a school employee with military or law enforcement experience, or possibly special training, to carry a weapon.

“But it also brings complexity to it,’’ he said. “How would law enforcement, when they arrive, know who is a trained teacher?’’

Education department reverses course, grants military family voucher

Jace Pennington and his stepmother Saquawia Pennington. PHOTO COURTESY AMERICAN FEDERATION FOR CHILDREN
Jace Pennington and his stepmother Saquawia Pennington. PHOTO COURTESY AMERICAN FEDERATION FOR CHILDREN

A 5-year-old Sierra Vista boy denied an Empowerment Scholarship Account and featured in a video posted over the weekend by a school choice organization will get state help paying for private school this fall. 

Children of active-duty military members can qualify for an ESA, but the Arizona Department of Education initially denied Jace Pennington’s application because his stepmother, not a biological parent, is in the Army. 

The department reversed its decision and approved the boy’s application June 28, spokesman Stefan Swiat said, but it didn’t inform the family until July 1, two days after the American Federation for Children posted a seven-minute video about the family that criticized the department.

The video was reminiscent of a dispute that came after the group produced a similar video about a few Navajo families who were told in May that they’d have to repay ESA money they spent at an out-of-state private school in New Mexico.

“In this case we have a special-interest group jumping the gun and creating a video instead of letting due process take effect,” Swiat said. “They didn’t get their acceptance before the video, but we were approving the student on [June 28].”

Swiat placed the blame for the policy that required department staff to reject Pennington’s application on an in-house legal counsel who was with the department during former Superintendent Diane Douglas’ tenure. 

Students can qualify for the ESA program for a host of reasons, including having a disability, attending a D- or F-rated public school, having a sibling who is a current or previous ESA recipient, or being the child of a parent who is on active duty in the military, was killed in the line of duty or is legally blind or deaf. 

Until July 2, a description of eligibility requirements on the department’s website stipulated that students did not qualify if their stepparents were active-duty military members or died in the line of duty. A review of older versions of that web page saved via the Wayback Machine Internet Archive shows that similar, though not identical, language was on the site during Douglas’s term. 

Staff from the Legislative Council and the Attorney General’s Office said the department was incorrectly interpreting state statute, which states simply that “a child of a parent who is a member of the armed forces of the United States and who is on active duty or was killed in the line of duty” can be eligible.

Under advice from the Attorney General’s Office, department staff decided against automatically rejecting stepparents who apply, Swiat said.

“When we see an issue where the stepparent helps the student apply for an ESA, we just require more documentation and more explanation,” he said. “That’s just being a good steward of taxpayer dollars.”  

Joshua Pennington, Jace’s father, said he didn’t know anything about the department re-evaluating his son’s application until he got a phone call July 1. After receiving a denial letter last week, Pennington called former lawmaker Steve Smith, now the state director for the American Federation for Children, to ask for help.

The American Federation for Children, which supports school choice and backed the state’s unsuccessful attempt to expand ESAs, shot a video similar to one it created about Navajo families who were asked to repay ESA funds they spent at an out-of-state school. GOP lawmakers and state and national activists jumped on it and shared the video with outraged commentary.

Smith said the American Federation for Children chose to release a video instead of helping the Penningtons work with the department because the group was unsuccessful in negotiating quietly with the department on behalf of Navajo students before it made its last video.

But Richie Taylor, the communications director for Superintendent Kathy Hoffman, said Smith’s characterization of the organization’s communication with the department on behalf of the Navajo students isn’t entirely accurate.

“They did reach out to the ESA director with questions about what the law said … they did not reach out to the superintendent or the staff,” Taylor said.

After the American Federation for Children released its May video featuring the Navajo families, it no longer had an open line of communication with the department, Smith said.

“Last time we tried to help solve it internally and they weren’t interested,” he said. “If the only thing we can do is let people know what’s going on, that’s what we’re going to do.”

“I don’t know that there’s an open line of communication anymore,” Smith said. “Last time we tried to help solve it internally and they weren’t interested. If the only thing we can do is let people know what’s going on, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Pennington said he’s glad his son will be able to use a voucher next fall, and that the department listened to his family and reconsidered its decision. But he said the stress his family experienced could easily have been avoided. 

“I just feel like we could have skipped some of these hoops if certain people would have read the law the right way,” Pennington said. 

Clarification: The fourth paragraph has been revised to clarify that a dispute came after Arizona Federation for Children created a video, not as a result of it. 

Former Senate staffer likely to sue Rogers, attorney says

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

Sen. Wendy Rogers may face a civil lawsuit alongside a Senate ethics investigation and federal workplace discrimination complaint, her former assistant’s new attorney said Monday.

Michael Polloni, who worked as Rogers’ assistant for just over a month before he was allegedly forced to resign, hired former lawmaker Adam Kwasman to represent his interests in the ongoing Senate ethics investigation and possible future civil lawsuits against the state and Rogers herself.

Kwasman told the Arizona Capitol Times he and Polloni’s other attorneys will likely submit a tort claim against Rogers for intentional infliction of emotional distress, or a similar claim. 

“This is a guy who literally put college on hold because he believed in a cause,” Kwasman said. “He worked so diligently that he was afforded a position in the halls of power in Arizona and was immediately harassed to the point of wrongful termination.” 

In a complaint sent to the Senate and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Polloni alleged that Rogers criticized his appearance, his family and his religion, broke an Eagle Scout award plaque, pestered him to work while he was on medical leave for Covid and threatened his physical safety. 

Additionally, because the complaint is public, attorneys say Polloni could have future trouble finding work in either the public or private sector. 

His attorneys will also request clearance from the EEOC to sue the Senate over how it handled Polloni’s employment. 

The Senate Ethics Committee has agreed to investigate the ethics claim and is set to meet on Thursday.

The Senate is still fighting a discrimination claim made by a Democratic policy adviser, Talonya Adams, who was fired in 2015 after she complained about being paid less than white men who worked for the Republican majority. Adams, who is Black, has been reinstated and won a $1 million verdict — reduced to $350,000 because of caps on damages – but the Senate prevailed on a motion for a new jury trial.

Rogers, too, is still embroiled in a civil lawsuit connected to her 2018 run for Congress in Arizona’s First Congressional District. During the primary campaign, Rogers ran political ads referring to one opponent, former Republican state Sen. Steve Smith, as “Slimy Steve” and implying that his employer, the Young Agency, was associated with a modeling site linked to sex trafficking.

The owner of Smith’s former employer, Young Agency, sued Rogers on claims of defamation and false light invasion of privacy, alleging the campaign ads implied she was involved in sex crimes. 

“Smith is a slimy character whose modeling agency specializes in underage girls and advertises on websites linked to sex trafficking,” the narrator said in the radio ad that’s the subject of the suit.  

A  Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled on Rogers’ motion for summary judgment in favor of the agency, allowing the case to proceed to trial, but the Arizona Court of Appeals overturned the lower court in a split decision on Dec. 8. The modeling agency has appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court, which has discretion whether to accept the case.  

Rogers did not immediately return a request for comment. 

Group starts campaign to put school voucher restrictions on ballot


An organization of public school supporters wants voters to limit the number of vouchers of state tax dollars that parents can use to send their children to private and parochial schools.

The initiative drive launched Wednesday by Save Our Schools would prohibit the state from issuing vouchers to more than 1 percent of the total number of children enrolled in public schools. There are about 1.1 million students in traditional district and charter schools, setting the cap at about 11,000.

Priority would be given to students with disabilities, first to those who already get vouchers and then to students with disabilities still in public schools. Then, if there were still vouchers available, first priority would go to those students who already had received vouchers and, finally, to students in other categories the legislature has determined are eligible.

Dawn Penich Thacker
Dawn Penich Thacker

That broad list includes not just students with disabilities but also children in foster care, children of active duty military, students attending schools rated D or F and all students living on Indian reservations.

To keep that list from expanding even farther, the proposal would prohibit lawmakers from creating new categories. It also would prohibit parents from saving the state funds they get for K-12 education and instead set them aside for college tuition, a practice that now is legal.

And the proposal also requires that any public dollars in vouchers be used in the state.

That is significant, coming the same day the Arizona Senate gave preliminary approval to allow the use of vouchers at schools outside of the state within two miles of the Arizona border.

This is designed to help students living on the Navajo Reservation who want to attend private schools in New Mexico. But as worded it would allow any student to attend any private school just outside the state’s border.

Backers have until July 2 to gather 237,645 valid signatures on petitions to put the issue on the November ballot.

Save Our Schools has a track record on this issue − and their ability to put issues on the ballot. This is the same organization which two years ago got voters, by a nearly 2-1 margin, to override a move by Gov. Doug Ducey and Republican lawmakers to eventually allow any of the state’s 1.1 million students in public schools get vouchers.

The problem, according to Dawn Penich-Thacker, one of the organizers of Save Our Schools, is that Arizona lawmakers didn’t listen to the results of the 2018 vote and aren’t listening now.

“The last two legislative sessions we’ve been beating back seven different voucher expansion bills,” she said.

“We finally realized they’re never going to stop until we stop them,” Penich-Thacker said. “So the only way to stop politicians from working against the voters is to do a voter-protected initiative.”

FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2015, file photo, Arizona state Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, speaks during a Joint Border Security Advisory Committee at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix. Ariz. Smith, the Republican chair of Arizona Senate committee considering Gov. Doug Ducey's wide-ranging school safety proposal, vowed Thursday, April 19, 2018, to ensure that whatever plan passes the GOP-controlled Legislature protects gun rights and has support from the National Rifle Association.. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
In this Nov. 9, 2015, file photo, Arizona state Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, speaks during a Joint Border Security Advisory Committee at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix. He is now the director of the American Federation for Children. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Simply put, once voters enact something at the ballot, the Arizona Constitution forbids lawmakers from repealing it or making major changes unless they “further the purpose” of the original measure. And even then it requires a three-fourths vote of both the House and Senate.

There are about 8,200 students now receiving vouchers, well within the 1 percent of the 1.1 million students in public schools, with a price tag of about $110 million.

“We wanted to find a spot that didn’t kick off anyone who’s currently in the program but didn’t allow massive growth because we want to refocus on the public schools and the funding for public schools that 95 percent of kids are in,” Penich-Thacker explained. “It’s a reasonable limit.”

More significant, she said, is the requirement for the priority to go to students with disabilities − the original reason that vouchers were enacted in the first place.

“The legislature has never seen fit to take care of special needs students in the ESA program as much as they use them as pawns,” Penich-Thacker said. She said the change, if approved by voters, will mean that “over time this program serves the students they say it was designed to serve.”

In 2018 Save Our Schools gathered virtually all the signatures they needed with volunteers. But the number needed this time is greater. And Penich-Thacker said her organization does have some funds available but would not disclose the amount or the source at this point.

That information eventually is required to become public.The proposal is provoking kickback from various groups which have supported the concept of vouchers.

“This recent political threat by Save Our Schools falls right in line with their track record of stomping on Native American children, children with special needs, and low-income children simply because these families may choose to pursue education opportunities outside of the public school system,” said Steve Smith, state director of American Federation for Children in a prepared statement. “If we truly want what’s best for each individual student, then let the parents make that decision, not a partisan lobbying group like Save Our Schools.”

“Arizona already has more school choice than any state in the nation,” Penich-Thacker countered, noting out that the state has not only open enrollment allowing students to any public school they want but also an extensive network of charter schools, both nonprofit and for profit. She said parents who want something else should not be able to use public dollars.

“It’s not an endless aquifer,” Penich-Thacker said.

“We need more educational opportunities, not fewer, especially for low-income children who have even greater needs,” said Matt Beienburg, the Goldwater Institute director of education policy in a prepared statement. “We should be working to give them the same access other families have to schooling options, not locking them out from them.”

Gun bill advances, but foes say it doesn’t go far enough

A Senate panel voted 4-3 on April 19 to allow judges to force some people to surrender their weapons – but only after a multi-step process that supporters say will protect due process rights.

But SB1519 has what foes say is a glaring loophole. It does nothing to expand existing laws designed to ensure that those people who should not have a gun from getting one, such as universal background checks before a weapon can be sold.

Arizona Senator Steve Smith, R-Maricopa
Sen. Steve Smith (R-Maricopa)

Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce and Public Safety, said it was purposely designed that way.

“Pridefully, mind you, I’m A-plus rated by the NRA,” he told dozens of people who came to testify.

“I intend on keeping it that way,” Smith said. “I am not going to run a piece of legislation that I think runs afoul to our constitutionally guaranteed Second Amendment rights.”

But Sen. Catherine Miranda, D-Phoenix, who raised the question of expanding requirements for background checks on potential buyers, said she disagrees with how Smith sees the issue.

“I don’t think we’re asking to take away gun rights,” she said. “I support responsible gun owners.”

Gerry Hills, founder of Arizonans for Gun Safety, was more direct in her response.

“You may be proud of your NRA rating,” she told Smith. “But this bill rates a D-minus,” saying 40 percent of gun sales are unregulated, not subject to background checks.

“Cash, carry, no questions asked,” Hills said.

SB1519 contains provisions that proponents say will help reduce gun violence, particularly at schools.

The heart is the ability of individuals, including family members, school administrators, significant others and those who have cohabited with someone to file legal papers asking a judge to order someone picked up.

What’s required is a “credible threat” of death or serious physical injury or some sort of actual or attempted act of violence in the prior six months that was intended to cause death or serious physical injury to self or others.

A judge who determines there is enough in the complaint to pursue the matter can order police to pick up that person for an initial hearing where the person can be present, have counsel and make his or her own case.

A judge who determines there is “clear and convincing” evidence of a threat can to issue a Severe Threat Order of Protection allowing that person to be held for evaluation and that person must surrender a firearm for up to 21 days, a period that can be extended. Having a weapon while under a STOP order would subject the person to felony charges.

Democrats won’t support the package as it is, with one key issue being the failure to enact universal background checks.

In proposing the measure last month, Ducey said he wants to be sure that those who should not have access to guns are kept from obtaining one. That’s why he wants changes to the system that requires courts and others to report convictions into a national database, the one used by federal firearms dealers to determine whether they can sell a gun to a customer.

But Arizona law does not require such checks for personal sales. And that includes people selling one or more weapons at gun shows. And Democrats contend it does no good to have someone declared a “prohibited possessor” if that person still can obtain a weapon anyway.

That’s only part of the problem.

Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Tempe, noted that Ducey has spoken of his meeting with Florida Gov. Rick Scott whose state enacted its own school safety plan in the wake of the killing of 17 students at a Parkland high school. Yet the Arizona plan does not contain some of the key provisions in the new Florida law, including raising the age to possess a weapon to 21 and a ban on “bump stocks” which can convert a semi-automatic weapon to be able to fire hundreds of rounds a minute.

And Bowie said someone who is subject to a court order must turn over weapons immediately rather than 24 hours later.

That last point got the attention of Deputy Pima County Attorney Kathleen Mayer. She said the legislation permits someone to have his or her guns for 24 hours “after a judge has just said, ‘Oh, you’re an imminent threat to kill yourself or somebody else.”

The legislation also contains some proposals aimed directly at school safety, including:

– Age-appropriate school safety training, including “active shooter” drills.

– Campus visitors having to provide identification.

– A central telephone hotline for students, teachers and others to notify of potential threat.

– Reporting incidents as appropriate to police and parents.

And schools would need a safety plan, one that Smith said could include arming school employees.

Some of what’s in the plan – and much of what is not – drew criticism.

Dave Kopp of the Arizona Citizens Defense League said there appears to be too much focus on weapons and not enough on school safety. He wants to arm staff, secure school perimeters and have stronger doors and windows, “things like that to make the building a harder target.”

Tucsonan Ken Rineer, president of Gun Owners of Arizona, who has advocated for arming teachers, had similar objections to anything he believes infringes on gun rights.

“This bill is more about seizing firearms than about treating mental illness,” he told lawmakers.

Conversely, Bowie pointed out that some things that Gov. Doug Ducey first proposed, things he likes, have fallen off the table. For example, the governor sought to hold adults responsible when children get guns and to deny permits to carry concealed weapons to those with outstanding arrest warrants.

Anni Foster, one of Ducey’s attorneys, conceded the point. But she said her boss jettisoned those provisions to come up with a “workable” bill that could get the necessary votes – in this case, Republican votes given Democrat opposition.

Will Gaona, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, objected to a proposal to put more police “school resource officers” into schools.

He said the evidence is that putting police into schools ends up entangling them in discipline issues, with some things that should be handled by administrators instead becoming criminal matters. More significant, Gaona said minorities are far more likely to end up arrested than others.

Smith reacted angrily, saying that armed officers are a key way of dealing with an armed criminal on campus. And he said these are crucial given that police are usually “minutes away” from an active shooting situation.

“You have to have someone meeting force with force,” he said.

Hoffman, school choice group clash over voucher program

Gilbert parent Christine Accurso in a video produced by the American Federation for Children describes long wait times in trying to get her child signed up for the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program. (Photo courtesy of YouTube)
Gilbert parent Christine Accurso in a video produced by the American Federation for Children describes long wait times in trying to get her child signed up for the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program. (Photo courtesy of YouTube)

A school choice organization fired its third broadside in as many months against the Arizona Department of Education, accusing the Democratic administration of playing fast and loose with state laws to stifle the voucher program.

The attack prompted some education officials to speculate that it’s the latest attempt to wrest control of the program, which provides state money so children can attend private schools, from Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman.

A video published July 18 on YouTube by the American Federation for Children (AFC) describes long wait times for parents with questions about Empowerment Scholarship Accounts.

It comes on the heels of two other recent videos, the first of which in May was about the department demanding Navajo families repay ESA money they erroneously spent at a New Mexico private school. A second video one month later featured a Sierra Vista boy who was initially rejected from the ESA program because although he has an active-duty military parent, the parent was his stepmother and not a biological parent.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman speaks at her inauguration on January 7, 2019. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman speaks at her inauguration on January 7, 2019. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR

Each video sparked calls for scrutiny of Hoffman’s handling of the program. Richie Taylor, a spokesman for the Department of Education, said the attacks are part of a concerted effort to remove the ESA program from the department’s control.

“They [the American Federation for Children] want to show the department can’t properly manage the program and ultimately would like to see it privatized,” Taylor said.

The latest video features a Gilbert mother, Christine Accurso, who said she has spent countless hours on hold with the department’s ESA hotline. It also shows emails from other parents who sought answers to questions they had about their children’s voucher contracts before the expiration of the 45-day period they have to sign those contracts.

Accurso said her main concern was to be heard by the department and get her questions answered before her son was set to start at a new school.

Unlike other parents, Accurso didn’t make any other attempts to contact the department by voicemail or by email. But she did make calls over roughly a two-month span dating back to May.

However, according to the department, she eventually talked on the phone with Karla Escobar, the ESA director, on July 23 for 30 minutes, had her questions answered and even thanked both Escobar and Hoffman for calling.

Department officials say Accurso’s long wait times are another example of insufficient funding for the program. State law allows for up to 4% of the funds allocated for the ESA program to be used for administration, but lawmakers only authorized a portion of that.

Diane Douglas
Diane Douglas

Both Hoffman and her Republican predecessor, Diane Douglas, pushed for more funds to administer the voucher program. The department now receives about $1.25 million for ESA administration, and spends about half of that on employee pay and benefits.

To make matters worse, of the 13 full-time positions responsible for the ESA program, only nine employees are currently available at the department each day, department spokesman Stefan Swiat said. One position is vacant, Swiat said, while three other employees are on extended leave.

That leaves three employees in management positions, three employees responsible for monitoring fraud and other reports, and three workers handling applications, the phone lines and emails.

About 6,500 Arizona students use vouchers, meaning each employee in the ESA office has a caseload of hundreds of students.

Even a full staff of 13 workers wouldn’t be enough, Swiat said. ESA management estimates it would take 30 employees to properly handle the number of applications and questions the department fields from ESA parents.

“If anyone is running a small business, they would never create a model that would put this much burden on so few employees,” Swiat said.

‘Strings Attached’

While the department describes long wait times as proof more administrative funding is needed, critics including Accurso, the AFC and Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, say the department has enough money.

AFC spokeswoman Kim Martinez said Hoffman balked at the chance to receive the full 4% of funds during the legislative session.

Martinez said Allen’s SB1395, which would have expanded vouchers, also would have given Hoffman millions more in administrative funding, though department officials said the eleventh-hour offer for funding came with unacceptable strings attached

Hoffman opposed the bill, which budget analysts determined would increase eligibility to the ESA program and thus draw more dollars from the state general fund as more families apply for the voucher program.

Though there was no language in SB1395 to provide such funding, Swiat said Allen did attempt to revive the bill by offering administrative funding. In exchange, Allen asked Hoffman to line up votes for the bill.

Sylvia Allen
Sylvia Allen

That offer came without specifics and “without any assurances about whether ADE would have that spending authority in perpetuity,” Swiat said. “In short, we didn’t believe the bill would pass and we weren’t going to whip votes for Senator Allen with no assurance that we would have access to the money that the law says that we should receive.”

Allen, who did not respond to a request for comment, has previously said she tried to assuage Hoffman’s concerns and had promised to remove any language that was considered an expansion of the ESA program, though no such deletion was ever adopted.

Martinez said there was no doubt Hoffman turned down the chance to add more money to administer the ESA program.

“By Hoffman’s own admission in her statement, she says she wanted the money offered but didn’t want the ‘strings attached’ — as in the other parts of the bill. Senator Allen was pretty clear in her statements in the video of how everything happens,” Martinez said.

Accurso said she followed Allen’s bill during session and didn’t want to be used as a political pawn to increase the department’s budget.

“I had this gut instinct, just because I had my antenna up politically, that I don’t want her to use this as an excuse for new funding, and that’s exactly what she’s done,” Accurso said.

And Steve Smith, the former lawmaker who now works as state director for the American Federation for Children, said it doesn’t matter how much funding the department receives.

“You can’t break the law because you didn’t get what you wanted in the budget,” Smith said. “You are statutorily obligated to give those families a response within 45 days and just because you maybe didn’t get what you wanted doesn’t mean you can skirt the law.”

More Videos

The video marks the latest rift in the relationship between Hoffman and the school choice organization and Republican lawmakers who support its mission. 

Smith represented AFC on an ESA Task Force created by Hoffman in February, but after the organization released its first video the superintendent said “trust was broken” between the two and decided to remove Smith. 

Mark Finchem
Mark Finchem

That set into motion what Taylor, the department spokesman, speculates is AFC’s goal to privatize and “find ways to expand (the program) allowing students to be sent out of state for school.”

The videos have already stirred outrage among some Republican lawmakers. Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, responded to the latest video by calling on Attorney General Mark Brnovich to investigate Hoffman for “letting her personal disapproval of the ESA program affect her legal obligation to follow the law.” 

Ryan Anderson, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said they’re focused on working with the department and “assisting the agency however we can to help fulfill their statutory duties and meet the timely needs of Arizona families who want to enroll in the ESA program.”

Anderson said Brnovich’s office is “optimistic” that, moving forward, ADE will have the legal advice and resources needed to successfully manage the program.

AFC is likely not done making videos at this point, Smith said. 

He said there’s no shortage of parents who have issues with the ESA program, and the group will continue producing videos as needed. 

“We’ll continue to make the public aware as long as ADE continues to not do their job,” he said.

Mesa homeschooled students given ESA vouchers by mistake


An error by Mesa Public Schools could lead to 27 homeschooled students losing access to the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program they were mistakenly granted.

If it hadn’t been for one parent whose son was rescinded an ESA voucher months after mistakenly being approved, the Arizona Department of Education may have never found out about the bigger issue.

Mike Retel applied for his son, Emerson, to get an ESA in February for the 2019-20 school year and was approved. His son has a learning disability, which qualifies him for the voucher, but to be eligible all students also need to be full-time at a public school. Emerson was homeschooled.

So in June, four months after being approved, Retel applied again for his other children to receive ESAs. The law states that if one child is qualified, all siblings will be as well. However, in doing so the department realized Emerson never should have been approved in the first place; so the department rescinded his approval on July 2 – mere weeks before the start of the school year.

ESAs allow parents or guardians to use taxpayer money that would have gone to a student’s public school on private school tuition, tutoring and home-school curriculum. The ESA program began specifically for special needs students, and has since grown to allow an array of students – from failing schools and children whose parents are in the military. 

Emerson attended Eagleridge Enrichment Center in Mesa, which a spokeswoman for Mesa Public Schools confirmed is not a full-time public school. Eagleridge’s website describes it as “providing innovative enrichment opportunities and support for all homeschooled students.” 

“It’s homeschool enrichment, so most students would attend one or two days a week,” Heidi Hurst said.

Students attending Eagleridge were already on the ESA program through the department, though, which only made Retel more upset with why he thought he was being targeted. 

A letter to Retel from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office said the office will review the files of “other Eagleridge attendees to determine their eligibility.” 

Hurst said Eagleridge has identified 27 students as being in the ESA program. 

The reason some students received ESA money was due to a reporting error about the school’s status last year, Hurst said. 

Hurst said it would ultimately be up to the department to decide if those students would lose their voucher money in the future.

“I don’t want others to lose funding,” Retel said, adding he just wants his son to get the education he needs. 

Not knowing what to do, Retel took the advice of other parents to reach out to the American Federation for Children, a school-choice organization, for assistance, but said no progress has been made yet other than some advice the group gave him.

Steve Smith, the state director for AFC, and Kim Martinez, the spokeswoman, both wanted to know why it took so long for Retel to find out about his son’s status, and the answer, according to the department, comes back to the Legislature.

Richie Taylor, a department spokesman, said when Retel applied for his other children in June, that was when processing ESA contracts for the upcoming school year was just beginning. Until a state budget is finalized, the department has no way of knowing how much money will go to each voucher for the students who do qualify, Taylor said. 

The legislative session this year lasted 134 days, which was the longest since 2013, giving the current administration far less time for processing applications. In contrast, the department under Diane Douglas’s never had a session end past May 10. 

Retel told the Arizona Capitol Times the revocation left him with minimal time to find another school, something he still has yet to accomplish.

This latest ESA controversy follows three videos in three months from AFC criticizing the Department of Education and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman for mishandling the underfunded program. 

The department demanded Navajo families repay ESA money they erroneously spent at a New Mexico private school. A second video one month later featured a Sierra Vista boy who was initially rejected from the ESA program because he has an active-duty military parent, but the parent was his stepmother, not a biological parent. And in July a parent complained about the unusually long wait times she had to deal with over the phone while trying to get answers in a timely manner.

Taylor and Hoffman both have adamantly talked about how the department needs the full funding that the Legislature is holding hostage to be able to properly run the program. It’s a complaint Douglas shared, too.

State law allows for up to 4% of the funds allocated for the ESA program to be used for administration, but lawmakers only authorized a portion of that.

Both the current and former superintendents pushed for more funds to administer the voucher program. The department now receives about $1.25 million for ESA administration, and spends about half of that on employee pay and benefits.

Taylor said if the Legislature fully funded the program they could more than double the size of the staff of the ESA team and provide the level of service families deserve. Right now there are 13 full-time positions responsible for the ESA program, but only nine employees are currently available at the department each day. 

“This isn’t a political game or strategy by Hoffman’s administration. We simply need more money to manage a program that continues to grow,” Taylor said. “To suggest that they want anything other than the best for these students is both offensive and wrong.”

Promises to complete border wall iffy

The old border fence, below grade, which allowed animal migration into Mexico, remains in place as a construction worker walks along a section of new border wall in San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020, in Douglas. President Biden ceased further construction of the wall that former President Trump started and now GOP gubernatorial candidates are promising to finish the job. PHOTO BY MATT YORK/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Standing in front of tall concrete bollards along a remote section of the U.S.-Mexico border last week, Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake surveyed the end of a segment of border fence built during the Trump administration.  

As governor, she told a pair of Border Patrol union leaders and a correspondent for the conservative channel Right Side Broadcasting Network, she would finish the job.  

Kari Lake (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

“I really am a big believer, we need to start building this wall immediately,” she said. 

Matt Salmon has made similar promises. “When I get elected governor,” Salmon said during a panel discussion earlier this year, “the first press conference I do is with a post-hole digger on the border, because if the feds aren’t going to do it, we’ll get it done.” 

Seizing on one of the most potent and polarizing symbols in national politics, some GOP candidates for Arizona governor are promising to finish the wall along Arizona’s border with Mexico. But it’s an idea that could be both complicated and costly. 

“Immigration is the top issue in the state of Arizona for Republicans by a significant margin and has been for an extended period of time, so it’s not surprising that these Republican candidates are trying to find ways to address that issue and appear tough on immigration,” said Paul Bentz, a pollster at the GOP firm HighGround. “Hardline stances like cracking down on illegal immigration, deporting immigrants and building a wall work very well among Republican primary audiences.” 

In addition to Lake and Salmon, Karrin Taylor Robson said in an emailed statement that “a completed wall is at the heart of a secure border.” Taylor Robson, however, stopped short of saying she’d build it herself, instead saying that “it will be my priority as Governor to work with the federal government – this administration or the next – to complete this critical job.” 

Matt Salmon

For Lake’s competitors, Bentz said, talking about building the wall is a way to align themselves with former President Trump – who remains a popular figure among GOP primary voters – while dancing around the fact that he endorsed their opponent. 

But there would be some seriously thorny details for a governor trying to continue border wall construction without the help of President Joe Biden, who campaigned on the promise that “there will not be another foot of wall constructed in my administration.”  

Biden ordered a stop to wall construction in the first week of his presidency, though the Department of Homeland Security indicated this week that it plans to do more work to “clos(e) small gaps that remain open from prior construction activities.” 

Millions per mile 

The first challenge for the state would be getting the cash together. Trump redirected several billion dollars from the Department of Defense to fund wall-building projects. For comparison, Arizona’s entire state budget for 2022 was nearly $13 billion. 

In Arizona, contracts procured through the Department of Defense totaled almost 200 miles of fence and were set to cost more than $4 billion, according to information provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (Additional contracts were procured through U.S. Customs and Border Protection.) The largest and most expensive of the projects came in at $30 million per mile, while the least expensive was a comparatively affordable $9 million per mile. 

Measuring exactly how much land along Arizona’s southern border is not currently covered by border fencing turns out to be complicated – neither U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers nor the Arizona State Land Department were able to give a straightforward measurement. But there’s plenty of it, including in areas where wall was planned, but not completed, during Trump’s presidency. 

Vast stretches of the borderlands remain untouched in areas like the Pajarito Wilderness, west of Nogales. In other areas such as Guadalupe Canyon, near Douglas, construction crews blasted routes through the mountains, but didn’t complete the wall installation. 

Taking a big chunk of funding out of the state budget to put in a bollard fence would require cooperation from legislators, but former would-be wall-builders in Arizona have also proposed another option private funding. 

In 2011 Steve Smith, then a Republican state senator from Maricopa, sponsored a bill that created a fund to accept private donations for a wall. The effort didn’t lead to any new border wall, however, and wrapped up six years later after spending about $275,000 in donations on cameras. 

Salmon, for his part, suggested yet another solution. In a statement that seemed to echo Trump’s “Mexico-will-pay-for-it” approach, he said he would build the wall and then “hand-deliver a bill to Joe Biden.” 

Beyond the budget math, the state would need permission to put up a wall in many places. Most, though not all, of Arizona’s border is covered by the Roosevelt Reservation, which means the federal government has rights to a 60-foot strip of land running along the border. 

The state of Arizona has no such power, so without federal approval, the state would face limited options for locating new fencing.  

That’s something Lake seemed to tacitly acknowledge in a statement to the Arizona Capitol Times that said: “We must immediately put up a wall where we can, including state land and even on private land with owners who are willing to cooperate and save our state.” 

In Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott has gone ahead with state-funded wall construction, more parcels along the border are privately-owned, creating the possibility of working with landowners who want a wall or seizing land through eminent domain for the purpose of wall-building. 

But parcel maps published by the Land Department show there’s little state or private land along Arizona’s border. Instead, large swaths are part of national forest or tribal land. The Tohono O’Odham Nation alone has 62 miles abutting the U.S.-Mexico border and the tribe has voiced its opposition to putting up a bollard-style fence on the land.  

So, with the Biden administration’s position on wall construction, a future GOP governor would have to hope for a new occupant in the White House if they’re hoping to put new fencing on federally controlled land. 

What’s more, as happened during the Trump presidency, a state effort to build the border wall would likely generate legal challenges. Marcela Taracena, a spokeswoman for the ACLU of Arizona, said that if a future governor tries to build more border wall, legal organizations would likely investigate avenues to block it.  

The ghost of Arizona SB1070 anti-immigration law passed in 2010 could also come into play, said Ilya Somin, a law professor George Mason University.  

A 2012 ruling in United States v. Arizona, which gutted the main provisions of SB1070, hinged on the principle that the federal government gets to set immigration policy and states can’t enact laws that interfere with that power. Somin said the federal government could argue that a state constructing its own border wall represented interference with federal immigration policy. 

A pair of migrant families from Brazil pass through a gap in the border wall to reach the United States after crossing from Mexico in Yuma on June 10, 2021, to seek asylum. GOP gubernatorial candidates have promised to finish construction of the wall in Arizona, a costly and complicated proposition for a state. (AP Photo/Eugene Garcia, File)

Comprehensive reform 

Besides the practical complications of construction, the border wall has drawn criticism from Democratic politicians and progressive groups, including immigration advocates and environmental activists. 

Taracena said the border wall isn’t an effective deterrent to migration and has created environmental damage and invited costly legal battles.   

“I think often, a lot of folks use it as a way to continue to vilify migrants,” she said. 

Still, candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination said they have other plans for border and immigration issues, but didn’t directly criticize the wall proposal. 

“We need to be smart about our investments in border security and make our border strong, secure, and high-tech,” Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said in an emailed statement. “It is crucial that our elected leaders in the federal government step up and do their part to reform our immigration system to reduce the flow of illegal immigration.” 

Marco Lopez, who’s from Nogales and worked for the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration, said border issues require “solutions, not partisan brinkmanship and photo-ops.” “We need comprehensive immigration reform that provides a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers, and we also need more resources at the border in manpower, infrastructure, and technology to secure it, and judicial resources to better process asylum cases,” he said in a statement. 

Bentz, the pollster, said that the eventual Republican nominee for governor will likely temper their rhetoric on the wall and related issues during the general election.  

“I don’t suspect that immigration will be as big of an issue once the August 2 primary is over,” he said. 

Republicans paint Democrat Hoffman as state’s political fiend

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman speaks at her inauguration on January 7, 2019. Hoffman is one of the first Democrats elected to statewide office in more than 10 years and Republicans have been demonizing her politically. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman speaks at her inauguration on January 7, 2019. Hoffman is one of the first Democrats elected to statewide office in more than 10 years and Republicans have been demonizing her politically. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

The 2018 election gave Arizona Democrats their biggest wins in a decade, with three statewide victories and narrower margins in the state House.

But it also gave Republicans, who will face a tough fight to keep their long-held legislative majority, an opportunity they haven’t had since the 2010 election cycle – the ability to argue that Arizonans need Republicans in office to stave off overreach by newly empowered Democrats.

“Essentially what they’re doing is taking the brand of Democrats as extreme and attaching it to whatever name is helpful,” Democratic campaign consultant Catherine Alonzo said. “Nancy Pelosi has been the brand in the past because you haven’t necessarily had those statewide Democrats in Arizona to point to, but now that we do they’re going to be branded with the same brush.”

Nowhere is that more clear than in the case of state Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, who, in the telling of some legislative Republicans and parent activists, is hell-bent on stripping parental rights, crippling the state’s voucher program and sexualizing schoolchildren instead of focusing on reading, writing and arithmetic.

The top Republican in the state House called Hoffman a “radical” in a speech over the weekend. Another legislative Republican called on Attorney General Mark Brnovich to investigate her implementation of the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program.

The Senate’s Republican education policy leader warned parents that they would lose their rights if Democrats win the majority of legislative seats in 2020. And the state Republican Party jumped on an op-ed the Portland-raised Hoffman wrote for the Salem (Oregon) Statesman Journal, urging lawmakers in her home state to support a legislative effort to create something akin to Arizona’s Clean Elections program in Oregon.

Talking Points

In Hoffman, a 33-year-old school speech therapist whose long-shot campaign was buoyed by the Red for Ed movement, Arizona Republicans found an in-state alternative to Pelosi and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. Her opposition to expanding the state’s voucher program and support for comprehensive sex education immediately placed her at odds with some legislative Republicans.

GOP political consultant Chuck Coughlin said it’s easy for Republicans to use vouchers and sex ed as talking points against Hoffman, and, by extension, their legislative opponents.

“Those are bread-and-butter issues for Republicans to try to stigmatize her on,” Coughlin said. “Whether she takes the bait and engages on that is a separate question. She has the ability to define what she’s for beyond those issues.”

Republican attacks on Hoffman as an elected official picked up in May, after the Arizona Department of Education discovered that eight families in the Window Rock area had improperly been using state voucher funds to pay tuition at a private school just across the New Mexico border.

The 10 students affected qualified for ESA funds, but the program didn’t allow state money to be spent at out-of-state private schools. The department suspended the students’ accounts and sent their families letters demanding that they repay the money spent.

The American Federation for Children, a pro-school choice group headed in Arizona by former lawmaker Steve Smith, promptly filmed an emotional video shared widely by Republican lawmakers panning Hoffman’s implementation of the ESA program. The Legislature scurried in the last days of session to pass a narrowly tailored law that will allow the Navajo families affected to continue using their voucher money out-of-state through the end of the 2019-20 school year, though Republicans signaled they plan to expand the program next year.

Similarly-shot videos from the American Federation for Children began appearing like clockwork each month. A June video featured a Sierra Vista boy who was initially rejected from the ESA program because the active-duty military parent who would qualify him for the program is his stepmother, not a biological parent. One in July showed a Gilbert mother complaining about unusually long phone wait times she dealt with while seeking answers about her son’s ESA.

Each video sparked a cavalcade of criticism from conservative lawmakers. One even led Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, to call for an attorney general investigation of Hoffman.

“It appears that Superintendent Hoffman is letting her personal disapproval of the ESA program affect her legal obligation to follow the law,” Finchem said at the time. “It is unconscionable that an elected official charged with administering education programs would slow-walk a program, which primarily serves children with special needs, because it doesn’t fit her left-wing agenda to end parental authority over school choice. Personal politics should never supersede the law, particularly as it relates to disadvantaged and needy families.”

Sex Ed

During the same period, the Department of Education was drawn into an intense fight over sex education — a topic that, like all other curricula, is predominantly managed at the district level.

In her State of Education Address to the House Education Committee in February, Hoffman called for the repeal of the state’s longstanding “no promo homo” law, enacted as part of a 1991 compromise between a Democratic minority desperate to preserve federal funding for sex education and House Republicans who wanted to avoid any acknowledgement of safe methods of homosexual sex.

In late March, two gay rights organizations sued Hoffman and the Department of Education over that law. Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s refusal to defend the state led the Legislature to vote overwhelmingly to repeal it.

That left the state Board of Education to rewrite its own rules to reflect the new state law, a task the board took up in May and June. It dropped language requiring schools to “promote honor and respect for monogamous heterosexual marriage” in May, but declined to take up a suggestion Hoffman submitted on behalf of state Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale, and the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network that would require that sex education instruction be “medically and scientifically accurate.”

Hoffman’s support of comprehensive sex education is a sticking point for conservative activists and lawmakers, including Senate Education Committee Chair Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, and House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa. Both spoke at Gilbert’s American Leadership Academy September 14 about their concerns.

“I don’t feel radical, but I know radical,” Bowers said at the event. “When Kathy Hoffman promotes this, I don’t have any question it’s about radicalizing children.”

He later said he stood by his assessment of Hoffman, but hoped she would prove him wrong. Allen, meanwhile, told attendees they needed to elect Republicans to stand against Democratic plans.

Plan of Attack

Murphy Bannerman, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said Bowers and Allen are prefacing attacks Democrats expect to see in 2020.

“It seems like Allen and Bowers are teaming up to lay the groundwork for Republican 2020 talking points, that parents need to be afraid of what will happen if the Legislature changes,” she said. “They’re trying to rally their base and to get Republicans to turn out and vote down-ticket.”

Candidates want to be able to point to a contrast between “us” and “them,” Coughlin said. So far, Arizonans haven’t been exposed to much of that type of campaigning at the local level because of how thoroughly Republicans have dominated state government during the past decade.

“In the past two cycles, there’s been nobody really to contrast with,” Coughlin said. “It’s been more about ‘look at us, we’re doing great.’”

Most voters don’t know who Hoffman or Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, are, making comparisons to the two of them rather ineffective, GOP political consultant Chris Baker said.

As a consultant for congressional campaigns, Baker has tried to tie his candidates’ Democratic opponents to U.S. House Speaker Pelosi. Name-dropping Pelosi works because Republican and independent voters targeted by those campaigns tend to know who she is and think she’s too far left, but similar mailers in legislative races naming Hoffman or Hobbs instead of a prominent figure like Pelosi wouldn’t have the same effect, Baker said.

“The problem with using Hobbs and Hoffman, is as much as I’m sure they’d probably disagree, most voters don’t know enough about either one of them to be terribly influenced by comparing Democrat candidate A to Katie Hobbs or Kathy Hoffman, simply because most voters don’t know or care about either one of them,” Baker said.

Democrats seeking to win over independents despite negative attacks can actually look to Hoffman as an example of what to do, Alonzo, the Democratic consultant, said.

“What Democrats are going to do is make sure they are telling the consistent authentic story about what they do stand for, and I think it’s good news that in Katie Hobbs and Kathy Hoffman you do have candidates who got elected doing that,” Alonzo said. “They got elected telling the story of their vision, and we know that they’ll continue to do so.”

Rogers asks Supreme Court to reject defamation appeal

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

The former employer of a Wendy Rogers political opponent wants the state’s high court to decide whether a political candidate can be liable for defaming a third party while attacking the political rival.

Rogers argues the ongoing litigation leftover from her failed 2018 congressional run is already chilling political speech, and that if it becomes standard for cases like this to go to trial, the chilling effect would be “catastrophic.”

“Allowing a third-party employer of a candidate to sue where truthful statements criticize that candidate would circumvent the First Amendment and chill speech in the most essential area of public discourse,” Rogers’s attorneys, E. Jeffrey Walsh and Dominic Draye wrote to persuade the Arizona Supreme Court to reject the case.  

In a 2018 radio attack ad, then-congressional candidate Rogers went after one of her primary opponents, former state Sen Steve Smith and his job at the Young Agency, a modeling agency that represents models and actors, about half of whom are children. The ad’s narrator said in part that “Smith is a slimy character whose modeling agency specializes in underage girls and advertises on websites linked to sex trafficking.”

Steve Smith (Photo by Gage Skidmore)
Steve Smith (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

On her campaign’s website, www.slimysteve.com, Rogers also stated that Smith “personally advertises on the website, Model Mayhem, a website full of pornographic material, which has also been involved in human trafficking, according to ABC News, and has been reported as having a ‘dangerous history.’”

Smith threatened to sue, and after the election, Pamela Young, owner of the Young Agency, did sue for defamation and false light invasion of privacy. 

Young alleged the ads implied she “had committed or supported the commission of sex crimes.”

Rogers’ attorneys said that if the court allowed the case to go to trial, it “would chill future politicians from introducing an opponent’s occupation or business practices into future elections” because the criticism might “inferentially concern” an opponent’s employer and “lead to personal civil liability.” 

The Court of Appeals overturned the lower court in a split decision in December, entering summary judgement for Rogers. Judge David Weinzweig stated in the opinion that reasonable listeners to the radio ad wouldn’t confuse this “unmistakable political flamethrower” in a high-profile congressional race with “a statement of objective fact, even if laced with factual grains.”

“It reflects a hard punch thrown during a primary brawl, targeting a political opponent and touting a personal narrative, leaving no reasonable listener with the parting impression that the unnamed ‘modeling agency’ has in fact supported or committed sex crimes,” Weinzweig wrote.

The dissenting judge said the decision of whether Rogers defamed Young should have been up to a jury.

“The fact that Rogers’s statements may be technically correct does not insulate her from potential liability for what she insinuated rather than said explicitly,” Judge Kent Cattani wrote in his dissent. “And there is little question that a jury could find Rogers’s juxtaposition of

‘underage girls” and “sex trafficking’ in the same sentence to insinuate that the Young Agency was involved in highly questionable—if not illegal— activities.”

Cattani pointed to Rogers’ own deposition as an example. While Rogers agreed that she “generally like[s] children,” both male and female, she responded, “False” to the question “True or False, Wendy Rogers really likes underage boys?”, saying the phrasing was “seedy-sounding” and had “an undesirable nuance.”

“A jury could likewise conclude that when Rogers broadcast an ad characterizing the Young Agency’s specialty as “underage girls,” she necessarily inserted, to use her own words, an ‘undesirable nuance’ and left the impression that the agency was ‘seedy,’” Cattani wrote.

Arizona law professor Paul Bender said that while the chances of the high court taking a case are always slim, the issue at hand was a “fairly interesting and important” one that he thought had a chance.

“I think a lot of people would ask, ‘It’s a campaign, but they’re defaming people not in the campaign, do they have any special privilege to do that?’” Bender said. 

Bender said he felt the case should go to trial for jurors to decide reasonably whether the statements are defamatory and that his instinct was that the high court would order reversal.

“The case doesn’t give people enough protection against being defamed by a political campaign that they are not involved in,” Bender said. “The court of appeals opinion says, ‘Hey, it’s a political campaign so they’re free to say what they want.’ That seems to be wrong.”

During her August 2019 deposition in the case, Rogers admitted she didn’t realize the Model Mayhem lawsuit a local ABC station referenced in its 2013 article she cited had been dismissed a year before she ran the ads.

“If I have an article from a strong news outlet‚ which I would consider ABC 17 to be, then, as I said, I cited it on [the] website and then the voter can make that choice,” Rogers said. 

Rogers said the Missouri ABC affiliate was reputable because it is “an affiliate of a major news organization.” 

When asked if the Arizona Republic was, generally speaking, a reputable news source, Rogers said, “It’s questionable.” 

The Supreme Court hasn’t yet decided whether to take the case.

If it does, Rogers asks that Justice Bill Montgomery recuses himself, as the former Maricopa County Attorney defended Smith during the 2018 campaign. 

At a pro-Smith press conference with the Arizona Police Association, Montgomery said that human trafficking was a real issue, and “clarity and a commitment to truth and justice” were needed to safeguard children and hold traffickers accountable.

“Trying desperately to associate Steve with illegal activity is the worst kind, I repeat, the worst kind, of politics and muddies the understanding of the environment in which human trafficking occurs,” Montgomery said in a statement that was read at the event.

Rogers says that while Montgomery was “entirely within his rights as a citizen and elected official” to make those comments, he shouldn’t be involved in how the Court handles the case.

School districts, lawmakers clash over teacher pay

A woman holds a sign that reads "Gov. Ducey... is this what you had in mind when you mandated the civics exam?". She joined thousands of protesters at Chase Field before marching to the Arizona Capitol on April 26. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
A woman who holds a sign joined thousands of protesters at Chase Field before marching to the Arizona Capitol on April 26. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Arizona lawmakers, roundly criticized this year over poorly funded public schools, want to make one thing clear: They’re not the ones responsible for giving teachers raises.

“We don’t set teacher pay. That’s a district decision,” House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said in April. “We’re in the resource business.”

Both statements are technically true. For nearly four decades, Arizona legislators have mostly avoided meddling in the affairs of local school districts, where governing boards, superintendents and principals are given autonomy to spend the funding they receive from the state as they see fit.

That’s not by mistake. Arizona state statute clearly spells out the nature of how the state funds K-12 public schools. A section labeled “purpose” adopted in 1980 details that before, Arizona legislators were responsible for allocating revenues for specific programs such as special education or transportation to individual schools districts.

Instead, the state adopted a block grant system that provides school districts a lump sum, a pot of money that covers a school’s operating expenses. It’s up to district leaders to decide how much of that lump sum is needed for each expense.

And so it has been, at least until the last two years. As the debate over school funding peaked  at the Capitol, beginning in 2017 and culminating in a historic teacher strike in May, some Republicans have expressed an interest in taking a more active role in dictating how dollars are spent in school districts.

Led by Gov. Doug Ducey a year ago, the state budget included a line item that bypassed the authority of local school officials to legislate roughly $34 million be spent on teacher pay.

The results were disastrous, and Ducey has since backed away from that maneuver. But as criticism continues to mount against Republican lawmakers, some are still angling for more say in local school spending matters.

Local control

A part of the problem is messaging. Ducey in April turned the budget upside down by proposing a 20 percent pay raise for Arizona teachers by 2020. The plan was marketed by the Governor’s Office and by Republican lawmakers as a spending package to boost teacher salaries.

But the nature of how schools are funded in Arizona means Ducey, nor any lawmaker, can legislate such a raise into being. It’s local governing boards that decide how to divy up the lump sum of state funding, and the $272 million is simply another part of that pot of money.

Chuck Essigs, a lobbyist for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, said that was purposefully designed for two reasons. Arizona has traditionally favored “local control,” a belief that decision-making is best left to those who know best — local leaders at a level closest to where the decisions will have an impact.

“It had a lot to do with local control, but also — and this was never stated or written anywhere — but it allowed the legislature to not have to get into a fight over how the money’s being spent,” Essigs said of the funding formula adopted in 1980. “Now basically the Legislature can say, ‘That’s on your local governing board.’”

That’s exactly how Ducey and lawmakers responded in 2017, when criticism over school funding first began to peak.

Looking for a scapegoat, the governor accused school officials for the woes of Arizona teachers, whose average salary is among the lowest in the nation. Ducey claimed the problem was that school administrators weren’t budgeting properly, not that the state wasn’t giving districts sufficient funding.

The governor doubled down on that narrative with a Republican-approved budget deal that included a line item for teacher pay raises, a maneuver that bypassed the state’s budget formula for funding K-12 schools.

The plan flopped. School officials rightfully recognized the unreliableness of that funding mechanism. And while they followed the legislative directive to provide the money to teachers, they distributed those dollars as bonuses or stipends, not a raise.

That way, if the Legislature’s desire to fund the line item for higher teacher pay waned, schools wouldn’t be left holding the bag for higher salaries.

Teachers didn’t buy into Ducey’s narrative, either, Essigs said.

“(School officials) can’t spend money that doesn’t exist,” he said. “I think that’s what really changed, and that’s why 50,000 teachers went to the Legislature.”


In January, Ducey was already showing signs of change after chastising local school leaders the year before. His State of the State address praised school officials, and his proposed budget eliminated the line item funding mechanism, opting instead to fold the “raise” of 2017 into the funding formula for schools.

Future raises as part of Ducey’s plan to boost teacher pay 20 percent by 2020 will be funded through the formula as well, ensuring they’re protected from the whims of state lawmakers and boosted each year to adjust for inflation.

That meant giving up the legislative authority to dictate how the additional money for teacher pay is spent.

The budget includes a legislative intent clause, which states that lawmakers want the $272 million in Ducey’s plan in fiscal year 2019 to go to teacher pay. But there’s legally nothing to stop a school district from spending the money elsewhere, if it’s needed.

Ken Hicks, chief finance officer at Peoria Unified School District, said in April that despite the realities of state law, most school officials will try to honor the will of the Legislature.

“We normally try to follow laws and follow intent and follow funding,” Hicks said. “As business people in schools, we follow anything.”

At least one school district is carving a different path. Tucson Unified School District Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo told the Arizona Daily Star he’ll spread the money around to give raises not just for teachers, but all “educators,” including support staff and even janitorial workers.

That means teachers at TUSD won’t get the 9 percent raise that Ducey promised.

That’s why lawmakers like Warren Petersen, a Republican senator from Gilbert, wanted more than just legislative intent.

“There’s a narrative right now that the Legislature dictates teacher salaries and how much money goes to teacher salaries,” he said. “That is not the case.” But if that’s what people want to believe, “then maybe it is time for the Legislature to do what people think is already the case and dictate salaries.”


Along with Republican Sens. Steve Smith, Judy Burges and Sonny Borrelli, Petersen lobbied for language with more teeth. Intent was not enough, they said, to ensure the money would be spent by local officials as the Legislature saw fit.

Petersen said he doesn’t want to take away the executory functions of superintendents to make decisions at the local level, but given the circumstances — the teacher strike — he wanted to go further to make sure those dollars get into teachers’ pockets.

“The battle for teacher pay was won at the Capitol, but the war has to be won at the school districts,” he said, adding that TUSD is a perfect example of how that war may be lost. “The ultimate accountability is the voters of the TUSD. If the voters are OK with using money that was tagged for teacher pay for other things, and heaven forbid admin costs, that’s where the buck stops.”

Essigs said the war is already over. Enough legislators acknowledged the problem is funding provided by the state, not the decisions of local school officials.

And in Tucson, where the superintendent is bucking the Legislature’s intent while the ink on the budget is still drying, educators seem fine with the decision.

Democratic Sen. David Bradley, whose district includes parts of TUSD, said a recent trip to a TUSD kindergarten class leads him to believe that the school employees are OK with sharing the money allocated for teacher pay with other school staffers.

The teacher introduced Bradley to multiple school personnel who aren’t defined as a teacher by Ducey, and therefore wouldn’t benefit from the additional funds intended for teachers if TUSD officials followed the legislative intent.

Their response underscores the message from the #RedforEd movement, which wasn’t solely about teacher pay, Bradley said — it was about better funding for all sorts of educators.

“My initial sense is that because that was kind’ve the talking point, the fact that the superintendent is kind’ve heading in this direction, there seems to be some acceptance of that,” Bradley said.

Sen. Steve Smith announces bid for Congress

Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, is running for Congress in a district Democrats have won in three consecutive elections.

Arizona Senator Steve Smith, R-Maricopa
Sen. Steve Smith

Smith announced today he’ll run for office in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District, a seat held by U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran, a former Republican turned Independent turned Democrat. Former U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who left Congress in 2016 to unsuccessfully challenge U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., held the seat for six of the previous eight years.

A state legislator since 2011, Smith has served Legislative District 11 in both the Arizona House of Representatives and state Senate. He announced he will serve the remainder of his term at the Legislature, meaning he’ll stay in office in 2018.

CD1 covers large swathes of northern and eastern Arizona, and spans 11 of the state’s 15 counties.

In his announcement, Smith touted the endorsements of two current Arizona congressmen, Reps. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, and Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert.

“The voters of the 1st Congressional District deserve strong leadership in Congress. Leadership that will fight for more jobs, more prosperity and real economic growth,” Smith said in a written statement. “As a state senator, I’ve fought tirelessly for these principles in the Arizona Legislature and I will do the same in Congress.”

State Rep. Vince Leach, a two-term Republican from Tucson, announced separately he’ll run for the LD11 senate seat Smith is vacating.

Sen. Steve Smith calls on Wendy Rogers to withdraw from CD1 race

Sen. Steve Smith, at a press conference on Aug. 9, 2018 at the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association headquarters in downtown Phoenix, where he said rival Wendy Rogers’ allegations are intentionally dishonest and they convey wildly false claims that The Young Agency, where he’s worked for more than 10 years, is connected to sex trafficking or engaged in improper conduct with underage girls.
Sen. Steve Smith, at a press conference on Aug. 9, 2018 at the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association headquarters in downtown Phoenix, where he said rival Wendy Rogers’ allegations are intentionally dishonest and they convey wildly false claims that The Young Agency, where he’s worked for more than 10 years, is connected to sex trafficking or engaged in improper conduct with underage girls. (Photo by Jeremy Duda/Arizona Capitol Times)

State Sen. Steve Smith called on rival candidate Wendy Rogers to drop out of the Republican primary for Arizona’s 1st Congressional District and threatened to sue her over radio ads and a website, where her campaign implies that the modeling agency he works for is tied to sex trafficking and engages in inappropriate conduct with minors.

In an ad running on numerous radio stations across CD1, a sprawling district that stretches from the state line with Utah to northern Pima County, Rogers’ campaign calls Smith “a slimy character whose modeling agency specializes in underage girls and advertises on websites linked to sex trafficking.” Rogers repeats and elaborates on those claims in an anti-Smith website her campaign runs, www.slimysteve.com.

The website accuses Smith of being the director at a modeling agency that “recruits children” and advertises on websites that feature Playboy models and includes photos of models from the The Young Agency’s website that show young women wearing bikinis and lingerie.

Furthermore, Rogers’ website says, The Young Agency advertises on modelmayhem.com, a website “full of pornographic material” – most of the models on the website are not nude, though some have nude photos as part of their portfolios. Rogers’ website also claims that modelmayhe.com was linked by law enforcement to several disappearances, rapes and instances of human trafficking, citing a report that originally ran in 2013 on an ABC affiliate in Columbia, Mo.

But at a press conference on Thursday at Phoenix Law Enforcement Association headquarters in downtown Phoenix, Smith said Rogers’ allegations are intentionally dishonest and they convey wildly false claims that The Young Agency, where he’s worked for more than 10 years, is connected to sex trafficking or engaged in improper conduct with underage girls.

Wendy Rogers, a Republican candidate for Arizona Senate in District 17, calls potential voters during a phone-bank event at her campaign headquarters. Rogers completed the Dodie Londen Excellence in Public Service Series training program in June. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)
Wendy Rogers, then Republican candidate for Arizona Senate in District 17 in this file photo, calls potential voters during a phone-bank event at her campaign headquarters. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Smith said Rogers used the word “underage” on purpose, and said it’s defined as meaning someone is too young to legally engage in an activity, particularly drinking or sex.

“That’s the definition, and she is tying that definition to the company that I work for,” Smith said. “Needless to say, her claims or her innuendo is 100 percent false.”

He noted that Rogers never directly accuses him or The Young Agency of such conduct, only that they are “linked.”

“That’s the most egregious fraud that she’s trying to link the two of them together,” he said.

Smith said regarding the claim that the Young Agency advertises on a website linked to human trafficking, Model Mayhem has more than 1 million users and is “kind of like the Facebook for the [modeling] industry.” He said his understanding is that someone on the website may have committed crimes at some point, but saying he advertises on a website that’s linked to human trafficking is like saying he’s linked to crimes committed by Craigslist users if he sells a lawnmower on the website, or that anyone with a Facebook profile is linked to Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Smith said the things that Rogers is implying about him and his company are reckless.

“To even infer that somebody in this company is at all associated with anything that she’s even remotely trying to infer is so blatantly … it’s almost evil,” Smith said.

Smith emphasized that the Young Agency, which he called a “Christian-based company,” does not book models for nude photo shoots. It does feature women, some of them under 18, wearing bathing suits or other revealing clothing, which he said is for clients, such as swimming pool companies. He said the photo shoots his company’s clients do are for the type of ads featured in Sunday newspapers for regular businesses, and that the Young Agency has clients of all ages – from babies to senior citizens.

“The right thing to do is remove herself from this race and search her soul why she would stoop so low,” he said.

Smith also called Rogers’ claims “potentially tortious” and said he may pursue legal action against her.

Rogers’ campaign stood by its ads, and continued its criticism of Smith, describing him as being in “panic mode.” The campaign did not respond to several follow-up questions from the Arizona Capitol Times.

“If Steve Smith can’t handle scrutiny about his supposed ‘Christian’ website with teenage bikini models and girls in lingerie, and the fact that he personally has a profile on Model Mayhem, a website linked to human trafficking by ABC News and the Huffington Post, then he does not have the stomach for a fight against Tom O’Halleran,” Rogers campaign manager, Spence Rogers, said in a news release.

Several law enforcement figures who support Smith spoke out against Rogers’ allegations. Justin Harris, president of the Arizona Police Association, called her campaign’s claims “a new low in the political forum” and “an act of desperation,” while PLEA President Ken Crane described them as “ludicrous and beyond the pale.”

“We are shocked and astounded at what we view as baseless inferences being leveled by the Wendy Rogers campaign trying to infer that Senator Smith’s personal business is somehow tied to sex trafficking,” Crane said.

Smith and other speakers noted that Rogers has run and lost in every election year since 2010, when she sought a state Senate seat, followed by campaigns for the 9th Congressional District in 2012 and 2014, and for the 1st Congressional District in 2016 and 2018.

“For 10 years … Wendy Rogers has been trying unsuccessfully to get elected to political office. And today, she’s so desperate to win that she’s abandoned truth, decency and the values of the Republican Party,” he said.

Rogers, Smith and political newcomer Tiffany Shedd are vying for the Republican nomination in the district. The winner will face Democratic incumbent Tom O’Halleran, who was first elected to the seat in 2016.

Senate approves watered down gun bill

State senators voted Tuesday for what was crafted as a comprehensive school and public safety plan — but not before Republicans removed a key provision designed to take guns away from dangerous people.

SB 1519, approved on a 17-13 party line vote, still allows police to ask a judge to have someone brought in for mental evaluation. And judges remain able to order temporary removal of weapons if there is “clear and convincing evidence” the person is a danger to self or others.

Arizona Senator Steve Smith, R-Maricopa
Sen. Steve Smith (R-Maricopa)

But Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, took out language which also would have allowed family members, school administrators, probation officers, behavioral health professionals, roommates and “significant others” to go to court to seek what are known as Severe Threat Orders of Protection.

“This amendment guts this bill, period,” said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson.

Smith disagreed, saying that parents and others who believe someone is a danger still have the option of calling police who, in turn, could start the court process. Farley was unconvinced, saying law enforcement officers already have more than enough to do than go out and investigate every time someone calls with a complaint that a friend or family member is acting erratically and should be evaluated to see if their guns should be taken away.

In stripping the provision, Smith had the support of his GOP colleagues.

But there is one Republican whose blessing for the somewhat stripped-down bill is missing: Gov. Doug Ducey. In fact, it was top Ducey aides who, in unveiling the legislation earlier this year, stressed the importance of family members and school administrators in keeping schools safe and, in a larger sense, protecting the public against mass shootings.

Daniel Ruiz, one of Ducey’s policy advisers, cited the 2011 mass shooting in Tucson by Jared Loughner that killed six and injured 13 including then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

“Jared Loughner actually was feared by his parents,” Ruiz said. “His parents would take away his gun at night … because they feared he was a danger to himself or to others.”

Ducey aides also cited the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, saying the the former student who killed 17 students and faculty members there in February had been called to the shooter’s home 39 times during a seven-year period. They said the suspect made threat to attack the school in 2016 and was caught with a “gun-related object” in his backpack.

Elimination of the provision could put Ducey in a tough position if the watered-down version of SB 1519 reaches his desk.

“Absolutely the governor crafted this because he wanted to give parents and educators another mechanism, another tool to report these things and have them dealt with,” said gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato.

“He wants to see it included in a final bill,” he said. “He would like to see the bill that he put forward on his desk.”

But Scarpinato said Ducey recognizes he has to work with the Legislature.

The bill’s future is clouded by opposition from House Republicans, who before Tuesday’s vote in the Senate had expressed concerns with the bill as proposed by Ducey.

The governor already has had to jettison some of the things he had proposed.

For example, the original plan would have made it a felony for someone to leave a gun around in a way that a minor could get access to it.

During floor debate Tuesday, Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, sought to restore that language. Contreras, who is a gun owner, said it simply reflects responsible gun ownership.

Republicans were unconvinced, rejecting the proposal.

Ducey’s plan also would have denied state-issued permits to carry concealed weapons to individuals with outstanding arrest warrants. And it would have said that simply because a felon has a conviction set aside should not automatically translate into restoration of the right to have a gun.

Neither were in the version that Smith brought to the Senate floor. And Smith took the lead on Tuesday in blocking various amendments offered by Democrats.

For example, Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford, D-Tucson, sought a ban on “bump stocks,” devices that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire off hundreds of rounds a minute.

Smith opposed it, saying it is being considered at the federal level, a reference to President Trump directing the Department of Justice to review federal laws and rules. That did not satisfy Cajero Bedford who cited the 58 killed and 851 injured in Las Vegas.

“We can do this right now today,” she said.

Smith was still not convinced, saying the wording of the proposed ban would affect the ability of people who are handicapped to go hunting.

Republicans also rejected a bid by Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Tempe, to add funding for more school counselors.

Sen. Steve Farley (D-Tucson) (Photo by Jessica Boehm/Cronkite News)
Sen. Steve Farley (D-Tucson) (Photo by Jessica Boehm/Cronkite News)

And Farley had no luck in proposing that weapons can be sold in Arizona only if the buyer goes through the same kind of background check now required when a gun is sold by a licensed firearm dealer.

Farley pointed out that much of the bill is based on the concept of keeping weapons out of the hands of those who should not have them. That includes any court order precluding someone judged to be a danger to self or others from possessing a weapon.

But putting that person’s name on a list of prohibited possessors would block only sales made by licensed dealers.

“If you’re going to keep people from having guns, if they’re a danger to others or themselves … then why would you give such large loopholes where people are prohibited from having guns could go to the gun show, go to the Internet or go to their buddy and buy a gun without a background check?” he asked.

“This infringes on responsible people being able to own a firearm,” said Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City.

And Sen. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, had no better luck with a proposal to require that people report stolen weapons to police. Smith said that’s not fair, as nothing in state law requires people to file police reports when jewelry or automobiles are stolen.

Six-year effort to build border wall ends with purchase of cameras

Douglas, AZ border station on Jan. 25, 2011. (Photo by Donna Burton/U.S. Customs and Border Patrol)
Douglas, AZ border station on Jan. 25, 2011. (Photo by Donna Burton/U.S. Customs and Border Patrol)

A bid to build a privately financed border wall between Arizona and Mexico ended after six years with some hunting cameras, but no actual wall.

Arizona lawmakers and law enforcement officials on the Joint Border Security Advisory Committee voted Tuesday to give roughly $56,000 to the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, which will spend the money on high-tech cameras and motion detection equipment,  communications gear, snake and rodent deterrents and hydration packs.

The appropriation drains the Border Security Trust Fund, established in 2011 and sold as a means to build a border wall solely funded by private donors, of its last dollars.

With no money left to spend, and no one soliciting donations for years, the committee will no longer meet.

Maricopa Republican Smith runs stealth campaign for House speaker
Sen. Steve Smith

Sen. Steve Smith, the Maricopa Republican who sponsored the bill creating the fund in 2011 and went on a national media tour asking for donations, said he was pleased with how the effort turned out.

The committee first gave the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office $219,000 in 2015, which officials said Tuesday bought roughly 50 BuckEye cameras, among other equipment. Those cameras are similar to hunting cameras that, when motion is detected, capture video and images of whatever triggered the device. The BuckEye cameras also have cellular service, allowing the county’s Southeastern Arizona Border Region Enforcement (SABRE) team to be notified within minutes motion is detected and provides evidence that can be used to prosecute those smuggling drugs or humans across the border, a sheriff’s deputy told the committee.

The remaining $56,000 from the Border Security Trust Fund will purchase 30 more of those cameras to be used along the border, a fitting end to efforts to build a wall, Smith said, even though he always preferred a wall.

And though his efforts only managed to raise roughly $275,000 in private donations, he argued a wall still could have been built.

“I remember when we first started this we had national border fence manufacturers approach us and say, we’ll donate, we’ll put up the first half mile, we’ll do X, we’ll do Y, we’ll do a Z,” Smith said. “But this committee always had the say. It wasn’t me.”

Given the amount raised, Smith said it might not have been an effective fence, but a symbolic one.

“Again, I think with some of the donations that were offered to us, coupled with what we did raise, yeah, I think you certainly could build however much length and footage of a fence. … At minimum I think we could’ve done a mile,” he said.

The Cochise County Sheriff’s Office wound up as the sole beneficiary of the fence-building efforts, since they were the only law enforcement agency on the border to ask for funding, according to a Senate spokesman.

State budget allocates $1 million for K-12 coding initiative

(Deposit Photos/Red Pixel)
(Deposit Photos/Red Pixel)

As K-12 curricula moves into the 21st century, Arizona will kick-start a new initiative to train teachers how to code — lessons they can then pass onto their students.

The fiscal 2019 state budget allocates $1 million for computer science education aimed at introducing Arizona school children to computer coding.

The funding allocation comes following a request from nonprofit Code.org, which works to expand K-12 computer science offerings across the country.

Gov. Doug Ducey proposed $2.5 million for the program in his original budget, but the number was cut down when the governor had to make concessions in order to grant significant teacher pay raises in the next fiscal year.

“It’s a humble start, but hopefully next year it’s a little easier to get that number up,” said Steve Zylstra, president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council. The council advocated for the funding alongside Microsoft, Science Foundation Arizona, Code.org and others.

The groups will use the new funding to train teachers computer science skills, and the grant program will focus on schools that do not have computer science programs, Cameron Wilson, the president of Code.org’s advocacy coalition wrote in a blog post.

Nearly half of Arizona’s schools lack computer science education. Only 16 percent of Arizona schools with Advanced Placement classes offered an AP Computer Science class in the 2016-2017 school year. Only 738 students took the AP Computer Science test last year.

Zylstra insists computer science is the future, and learning to code will be valuable to all students. This Arizona initiative comes as schools across the country are trying to beef up their computer science offerings as technology advances at an astounding pace, he said.

“At the end of the day, this is a tool, coding is a tool that can be used in almost every job,” Zylstra said. “I think what we’re going to see in the future is that everybody is going to learn how to code.”

Computing jobs are in high demand and come with high wages. The average salary for computing jobs is nearly double the state’s average salary of $46,290, and Arizona has around 10,000 open computing jobs.

On the teaching side of things, Arizona is severely lacking skilled coding teachers. In 2016, Arizona universities did not graduate any teachers prepared to teach computer science classes.

Many of the subjects students are taught — like math, science, English and physical education — have been staples for centuries. But computer science is new and not as many teachers are familiar with basic and advanced computer coding skills, Zylstra said.

Students who major in computer science in college don’t often pursue teaching jobs because they can make considerably more money in computing jobs.

“We don’t have a nation full of teachers who know how to teach computer science,” Zylstra said. “That’s what this initiative is about.”

Ducey is one of 17 governors participating in Code.org’s Governors’ Partnership for K-12 Computer Science program.

Arizona’s Department of Education is also working to develop new standards for computer science education within the state. The state collected public comments last year, and Code.org expects the workgroup to complete its work by the fall.

This year, Ducey also signed a bill sponsored by Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, to continue the Native American Code Writers Initiative Pilot Program. Ducey provided $500,000 in funding for the program that helps Native American high school students learn computer coding.

“Promoting technology-focused education helps students excel inside and outside of the classroom,” Ducey said.

Supreme Court to hear lawmaker’s defamation case

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)

The Arizona Supreme Court will hear the defamation case that stems from Arizona State Sen. Wendy Rogers’ attack ads during her failed 2018 Congressional run.  

Rogers’ opponent’s former employer Pamela Young said that the ads defamed her and her company by implying she “had committed or supported the commission of sex crimes.”  

The key questionYoung’s attorneys wrote in their petition to the court, is, “Can a political candidate be liable for defaming a third party while attacking a political opponent?” They say there hasn’t been another Arizona case that discusses this issue. 

The attorneys for Rogers argued that the continued litigation will chill political speech and keep politicians from bringing up their opponents’ employers.  

The First Amendment’s protection for political speech is irreconcilable with a rule that friends, employers, and acquaintances of a political candidate can force a jury trial simply by stating a theoretically possible defamatory implication,” they wrote in their petition to deny review. The chilling effect of adopting Plaintiffs’ rule would be catastrophic.” 

The state’s high court has not yet set a date for oral arguments. Supplemental briefs from the parties are due May 24.  

In one of Rogers’ 2018 radio ads, the narrator says Rogers’ opponent, former state Sen. Steve Smith, “is a slimy character whose modeling agency specializes in underage girls and advertises on websites linked to sex trafficking.”  

Rogers campaign’s website, www.slimysteve.com, also stated that Smith “personally advertises on the website, Model Mayhem, a website full of pornographic material, which has also been involved in human trafficking, according to ABC News, and has been reported as having a ‘dangerous history.’”  

Young, owner of the Young Agency, sued Rogers for defamation and false light invasion of privacy. The Young Agency is a modeling agency that represents models and actors, about half of whom are children. 

The Court of Appeals overturned the lower court in a split decision in December, entering summary judgement for Rogers.  

Now the state’s high court will decide. 

Justice Bill Montgomery did not participate in selecting the case — when he was Maricopa County Attorney, he defended Smith during the 2018 campaign. 

Rogers’ attorneys previously filed a motion for Montgomery to recuse himself, but the high court previously deemed the issue moot, as Montgomery has already recused. 


The Breakdown: Between the lines

docOne Democratic lawmaker wants to spend 2020 tackling a unique form of gerrymandering, and argues that inmates in Arizona prisoners shouldn’t count towards the population of the legislative district that the prison is drawn in.

And some parents are complaining of long waits to ask questions of the Arizona Department of Education when they need answers about the state’s voucher program. Is this a new problem, or just another example of an underfunded state agency?

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


Music in this episode included “Creative Minds,” “Funky Element” and “Energy” by Bensound.

Wendy Rogers wins CD1 Republican primary

Wendy Rogers
Wendy Rogers

After an ugly primary campaign involving accusations of sex trafficking, fake polls and threats of lawsuits, Republicans in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District elected Wendy Rogers as the GOP nominee.

Unofficial results show that Rogers beat state Sen. Steve Smith by just 3,160 votes, but her vote count was more than double that of Tiffany Shedd

It was a hard-fought victory for Rogers after taking heat for accusing Smith of working for a company that engaged in sex trafficking and inappropriate conduct with minors.

But she left that behind in a statement declaring victory Aug. 29, turning her attention instead to Democratic incumbent Tom O’Halleran.

“Both Steve Smith and Tiffany were fierce competitors for whom I have great respect,” Rogers said in the statement “It is time to unite, so we can defeat radical leftist Tom O’Halleran.”

She will face O’Halleran, who did not have a primary challenger, in the Nov. 6 General Election.

Arizona’s 1st Congressional District By the Numbers

59,820 votes cast


Wendy Rogers 43.27 percent

Tiffany Shedd 18.81 percent

Steve Smith 37.92 percent


56,992 votes cast

Tom O’Halleran 100 percent