2 tight races require statewide recounts

Ballots from the general election are boxed up at the Maricopa County Recorders Office in Phoenix, Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. Two statewide races and an East Valley legislative district are headed for recounts. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Arizona will recount two statewide races this year, the attorney general and superintendent of public instruction contests, as well as an East Valley state legislative race. It will be the first time Arizona has recounted a statewide contest since 2010.

The attorney general race was decided by a razor-thin margin, with Democrat Kris Mayes beating out Abe Hamadeh by just 510 votes when Maricopa County finished tallying votes on Nov. 21. Republican Tom Horne beat Democratic incumbent Kathy Hoffman by 8,968 votes for the superintendent job.

A state law signed this year that was sponsored by Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, increased the threshold for an automatic recount from 0.1% to 0.5%.

Republican candidate for Arizona Attorney General, Abraham Hamadeh, smiles prior to a televised debate against Democrat Kris Mayes on Sept. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

The AG race was decided by a margin of just 0.02%, which would have triggered a recount even without the new law. But Horne’s margin of victory in the schools superintendent race was 0.36%, meaning that race will be recounted because of the change.

The race for one of Legislative District 13’s House seats will also go to a recount, thanks to the new law. In that race, both candidates are Republicans, so the GOP will retain control of that chamber.

GOP candidate Liz Harris finished with 32.57% of the vote in the race, just 270 votes and 0.2% ahead of fellow Republican Julie Willoughby, who took 32.37%. The top vote-getter in the district was Democratic incumbent Jennifer Pawlik, who will take the district’s other House seat in 2023.

No other federal, statewide, legislative or ballot measure contests will go to an automatic recount this year.

Democrat Kris Mayes, candidate Arizona Attorney General, smiles prior to a televised debate against Republican Abraham Hamadeh, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The full recounts will be conducted using electronic tabulators – the same method used in the initial vote count. They’re separate from a limited hand-count audit that will tally a small number of ballots in each county and is meant to confirm the accuracy of the machine count.

The recounts are set to begin on Dec. 6, after state officials certify the election on Dec. 5.

That certification could be in jeopardy after the Cochise County Board of Supervisors postponed canvassing the results of their election, with two supervisors citing concerns about voting equipment. The Secretary of State’s Office has indicated it will try to force the supervisors to certify the Cochise County election, and if that doesn’t work, will certify the state election without them.

The recounts will largely look like a do-over of tabulation that happened on Election Day and the days following.

In Pima County, the second largest county in the state, it will mean bringing the same staffers who scanned ballots on Election Day back to work, said Constance Hartgrove, the county’s elections director. But since the recount won’t include other Election Day tasks like gathering ballots and verifying early votes, the tabulation could move more quickly the second time.

“We’re going to have more people in the counting room, to try to get through this recount as quickly as possible,” she said.

The recount law was part of a larger push by GOP lawmakers to pass “election integrity” legislation in the wake of Arizona’s 2020 election, which some claimed was marred by fraud. Ugenti-Rita said the recounts should help voters have confidence in election outcomes.

“That’s the point of the recount – to give people assurances that every vote was counted,” she said in a phone call last week. “And if it doesn’t come back the way the original count did, then (the recount) did its job because it highlights problems. And then we can address it, then we can focus on something and fix it, instead of throwing out complaints with no real focus.”

The last time there was a statewide recount was in 2010 for Proposition 112, a measure that would have changed filing rules for ballot initiatives, according to information provided by the Secretary of State’s Office.

The state covers the cost of recounts and paid out $66,000 to counties as reimbursement for the 2010 recount. In a memo provided to lawmakers as they debated Ugenti-Rita’s bill this year, the Secretary of State’s Office added that it expected the costs of future recounts would be higher due to rising labor costs and the growing number of Arizona voters.

Recent history suggests the recounts won’t change race outcomes.

In the case of Proposition 112, initial results showed the measure failed by 128 votes, according to reporting at the time. A recount found the same result, but put the margin at 194 votes, or 0.012%.

In 2012, Republican Martha McSally beat out incumbent Democrat Ron Barber to represent Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District in a race that was ultimately decided by just 167 votes. A recount added six votes to McSally’s margin of victory.

And in the 2016 GOP primary race for the 6th Congressional District, Andy Biggs beat Christine Jones by just a handful of votes. Biggs’ initial 16-vote margin of victory widened to 27 votes, or about 0.03%, after a recount. Jones also filed lawsuits in efforts to change the results, but ultimately dropped the cases.

Two high profile candidates who lost their races this year have refused to accept their defeat: Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake and GOP secretary of state candidate Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley. But neither came within the margin needed to trigger a recount.

Finchem lost to Democrat Adrian Fontes by about five percentage points, or 120,000 votes. Lake was closer, losing her race to Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs by just 17,000 votes. Even so, the final margin in the governor’s race was 0.67%.

A few other legislative races were also close, but ultimately fell outside recount margin.

In Legislative District 9, Democrat Seth Blattman won the district’s second House seat with a margin of 0.65% over Republican Kathy Pearce. In Legislative District 16, Democrat Keith Seaman beat Republican Rob Hudelson by 0.62% in the race for the district’s second seat in the House.

Mayes, the likely incoming Democratic attorney general, addressed the recount in a statement after Maricopa County released its final results on Nov. 21, finishing the statewide count.

“As we head into this recount with a 510-vote lead, we feel confident that the end result will be the same, and I am very much looking forward to being your Lawyer for the People,” Mayes said.

“Thank you to all of our hardworking elections officials, poll workers and volunteers. We appreciate you,” she added.

Hamadeh, facing a narrow defeat, had a different message.

“We’re not done fighting and we are optimistic the recount will further expose the gross incompetence and mismanagement by Maricopa County officials that disenfranchised and silenced the voices of so many Arizona voters,” he tweeted on Nov. 21.


AP calls races for Kelly, Fontes; Hobbs, Mayes pad leads

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs speaks on the set of “Arizona Horizon” prior to a televised interview with host Ted Simons in Phoenix, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs and other Democrats got an unexpected boost from a batch of ballots counted in Maricopa County on Friday, widening their party’s lead in key races on a day that Republicans hoped would turn the tide in their favor. 

The Associated Press and major TV networks including NBC called the U.S. Senate race for Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly, whose lead over Republican candidate Blake Masters grew to 124,000 votes, or 5.7 percentage points, after the Friday update. 

The AP and networks also called the Secretary of State race for Democrat Adrian Fontes over Republican candidate Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley. Fontes led by 5.6 percentage points and 118,000 votes after the Friday update. 

Arizona Republican Gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake speaks as former President Donal Trump listens during a rally, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022, in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Hobbs earned 54% of the votes reported by Maricopa County on Friday, increasing her lead over Republican candidate Kari Lake to 31,000 votes, or 1.4 percentage points. And Democratic Attorney General candidate Kris Mayes finished the evening with a 19,000-vote, 0.8-percentage point lead over GOP nominee Abe Hamadeh, after taking 53.5% of the Friday vote dump. 

The closest statewide race after the Friday update was for Superintendent of Public Instruction. In that contest, Democrat Kathy Hoffman clung to a 6,700-vote lead over GOP candidate Tom Horne – a margin of less than one half of a percentage point. 

The Friday count from Maricopa County followed a 25,000-vote batch from Pima County that came in around 6:45 p.m. on Friday. Those votes favored statewide Democrats by two-to-one margins in most races, according to reporting by ABC15’s Garrett Archer. Other counties also submitted smaller vote batches throughout the day. 

Fontes, Finchem, election, Secretary of State, Democrats, Republicans, Trump, election deniers
Adrian Fontes, a Democratic candidate running for Secretary of State for Arizona, poses for a photograph July 29 in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Maricopa County Friday batch was widely expected to favor Republicans and it included some critical vote categories. Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates provided a rough breakdown of the ballots expected on Friday night at a news conference earlier in the day. 

The batch contained up to 17,000 ballots dropped into “Box 3” on ballot tabulation machines, he said. Those ballots weren’t tabulated on Election Day due to problems with voting equipment, but they seemed likely to skew Republican since they were cast by voters who voted in person on Nov. 8 – a category that has favored GOP candidates so far. 

Another several thousand (Gates said it was less than 10,000) ballots were early ballots. That’s a category that has favored Democrats so far. 

But the majority of the Friday batch, Gates explained, was made up of early ballots that voters deposited in drop boxes on Election Day. That category, Election Day drop-offs, represents a large share of the remaining votes and will be key to either party winning close races. And it’s a category that has favored different parties in the past. 

Kyrsten Sinema, the moderate Democratic Senator, won the category in her 2018 race. But former Republican President Donald Trump earned the majority of votes in that category in the 2020 presidential race in Arizona. 

Democrat Kris Mayes, candidate Arizona Attorney General, smiles prior to a televised debate against Republican Abraham Hamadeh, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Before the Friday update, Maricopa County officials said there were approximately 290,000 Election Day drop-off ballots left to be counted. On Friday afternoon, before the update, the county was reporting about 354,000 ballots left to be counted. That means that more than half of the ballots left to count around the whole state were Election Day drop-offs from Maricopa County. 

Throughout the day on Friday, GOP candidates talked confidently about an impending shift in momentum, saying they expected to earn significant majorities in coming batches including Friday’s drop from Maricopa County. 

“We’re very confident that these counts are going to start going heavily our way and we will win this,” Lake said in an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s show earlier on Friday night. Masters, Hamadeh and other GOP candidates also projected optimism leading up to Friday night. 

Paul Bentz, a veteran Arizona pollster, said GOP candidates in tight races, including Lake and Hamadeh, are looking vulnerable after Friday’s update, but their races aren’t over yet. 

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

“The window for Republicans narrowed but it’s not impossible. There is too much variance in where the ballots could be coming from,” he said in a text message. 

At the Friday afternoon news conference, Maricopa County officials said that election workers are currently counting votes from all around the county, but they didn’t provide granular information about whether any specific locations might be over or underrepresented in the Friday night vote batch. 

The Friday update came in the midst of saber-rattling by Republican figures, including Lake, who aren’t happy about the pace of vote-counting in Maricopa County, which is home to about 60% of the state’s population. Lake recently accused the county of “slow walking” its results, allegedly to extend Democrat leads before reaching Republican-friendly batches of ballots. 

The Republican National Committee and the Arizona GOP went further, demanding in a statement on Friday that ballots be counted 24 hours per day in Maricopa. Gates has previously said that county election workers are working 14 to 18-hour days. 

“The RNC and the Republican Party of Arizona demand that around-the-clock shifts of ballot processing be pressed into service until all votes have been counted, accompanied by complete transparency and regular, accurate public updates,” Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney for the RNC, said in an emailed statement. “We will not hesitate to take legal action if necessary to protect Arizona voters’ right to have their ballots counted.” 

Gates replied to that in an emailed statement on Friday night, calling the criticism “one more political stunt to try and distract us,” and noting that the county has averaged 12.5 days to post final election results in races since 2006. 

“Changing processes or adding untrained personnel would only slow the counting at this point and we will not deny the voters of Maricopa County an accurate tabulation of their votes,” he added. 


Arizona Supreme Court backs Horne in challenge to $400,000 campaign fine

Attorney General Tom Horne and his former campaign consultant Kathleen Winn testify regarding alleged campaign finance violations. (Photo by Tom Tingle/The Arizona Republic)
Attorney General Tom Horne and his former campaign consultant Kathleen Winn testify regarding alleged campaign finance violations. (Photo by Tom Tingle/The Arizona Republic)

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled today that Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk violated Tom Horne’s due process rights by levying a $400,000 fine against him and a former aide over campaign finance violations.

The decision overturned two lower court rulings and handed the former attorney general a major victory in the scandal that ultimately contributed to his election defeat.

The justices ruled that due process does not permit Polk to levy the fine against Horne and Kathleen Winn, participate in prosecuting them, and serve as the final decision-maker in rejecting an administrative law judge’s recommendation that the case be dismissed, which the Supreme Court noted would “receive only deferential judicial review.”

Writing for the unanimous court (three justices recused themselves and were replaced by other judges), Justice Clint Bolick said Polk could have made both the initial decision on the fine and the final determination to reject the administrative law judge’s decision. But by taking an active role in the prosecution, where Polk acknowledged being involved in preparation and strategy, she deprived Horne and Winn of their due process rights, even if there was no actual bias on Polk’s part, Bolick said.

Polk could also have supervised the attorneys involved in the prosecution, but she needed to be walled off from any advocacy functions or strategic decision-making if she was going to ultimately decide whether to reject the administrative law judge’s recommendation, Bolick continued.

Bolick said once an official determines that a legal violation has occurred, that official “can be expected to develop a will to win at subsequent levels of adjudication.”

“At minimum, in the context of a regulatory agency adjudication, a process that involves the same official as both an advocate and the ultimate administrative decision-maker creates an appearance of potential bias,” he continued.

Horne called the ruling “very good news.”

“I was hit with a false, malicious, defamatory charge of having coordinated with an independent campaign. The only neutral judge to hold a hearing and take evidence was the Administrative Law Judge, who found for defendants,” Horne told the Arizona Capitol Times in an email.

In a statement provided to the Capitol Times, Polk said she carefully followed the administrative process as set forth in Arizona law, but the Supreme Court decided that due process imposed additional requirements that are not in the statutes.

“As a member of the executive branch, it is my duty to apply the law as written by the Legislature while it is the duty of the Supreme Court to interpret the law,” Polk wrote. “I respect our Supreme Court and the rule of law. The case will be returned to the Attorney General’s Office for action in accordance with the court’s ruling.”

Horne and Winn aren’t necessarily off the hook yet. Rather than dismiss the case entirely, the Supreme Court sent it back to the Attorney General’s Office so a neutral decision-maker can make a final decision on whether to accept Administrative Law Judge Tammy Eigenheer’s 2014 recommendation to drop the case.

Horne declined to comment on the possibility that he and Winn could still be subjected to a fine. Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s Office did not immediately respond to inquiries about who would handle the case. Attorney General Mark Brnovich defeated Horne in the 2014 Republican primary, when the illegal coordination allegation played a major role.

Eigenheer opined that the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office did not provide sufficient evidence that Horne illegally coordinated with Winn in 2010, when she ran an independent expenditure committee that aided his campaign for attorney general. Polk rejected the recommendation and forged ahead with the case.

Late in the 2010 race, Winn’s group, Business Leaders for Arizona, ran roughly $500,000 worth of attack ads against Democratic nominee Felecia Rotellini. Investigators from the Maricopa County and later the Yavapai County attorney’s offices concluded that Horne and Winn had illegally coordinated in creating the campaign commercials. Polk ultimately fined the pair $400,000.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery’s October 2012 announcement of the coordination allegations was a political bombshell that hounded Horne for the remainder of his term as attorney general. That, along with allegations by a former staffer in 2014 that Horne had been running his re-election campaign out of the Attorney General’s Office, helped lead to Horne’s defeat in the Republican primary by Brnovich, who went on to win the general election race.

Dems expand leads in key races, Election Day drop-offs could shift momentum

An election worker tabulates ballots inside the Maricopa County Recorders Office, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Democrats running for key statewide offices expanded narrow leads over their Republican opponents Thursday. But the 78,000 votes that Maricopa County tallied today were early ballots received on Saturday through Monday, not early ballots dropped off on Election Day, which could favor GOP candidates. 

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs speaks on the set of “Arizona Horizon” prior to a televised interview with host Ted Simons in Phoenix, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs earned 54.8% of the batch and added almost 7,500 votes to her lead over Republican nominee Kari Lake, bringing the margin to about 26,900 votes. Hobbs held 50.7% of the votes to Lake’s 49.3%. 

Maricopa County’s results were posted to the county website shortly after 8 p.m. and added to vote totals on the Secretary of State’s website around 8:45 p.m. 

Democratic Attorney General candidate Kris Mayes continues to strengthen her lead over Republican Abraham Hamadeh. Mayes is 16,414 votes ahead, but the margin remains thin at 50.4% to 49.6%. Yesterday, the lead in the Attorney General’s race flip-flopped, with Hamadeh briefly overtaking Mayes, before the Democrat regained her advantage later in the day. 

Lake, Hobbs, gubernatorial, election, ballots, Trump
Kari Lake, Republican candidate for Arizona governor, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas on Aug. 5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Another two Democrats padded larger leads. U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly increased his margin over Republican Blake Masters to 115,000 votes, more than five percentage points. Secretary of State candidate Adrian Fontes boosted his lead to more than five percentage points and 109,000 votes.  

Hobbs, Mayes, Kelly and Fontes all earned between 54% and 57% of the Thursday-night Maricopa ballot drop. 

And Kathy Hoffman, the Democratic incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction, flipped her race to take a narrow, 3,852-vote lead over GOP candidate Tom Horne. 

Incumbent Republican Treasurer Kim Yee held onto an 11-percentage point lead over Democrat Martin Quezada. 

Arizona Department of Education Superintendent Kathy Hoffman speaks during a news conference in Phoenix, July 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool, File)

Maricopa’s update followed updates throughout the day from other counties including Pima, Yavapai, Santa Cruz and Cochise. 

More than 2 million votes have now been counted across the state, which translates to almost 50% voter turnout. 

But there are still around half a million votes left to count, according to information from the Secretary of State. More than 300,000 of those are in Maricopa County and more than 100,000 in Pima County. Greenlee is the only county that’s already tabulated all votes and processed all provisional ballots. 

At a news conference on Thursday, Maricopa County officials said they expect to publish counts of about 60,000 to 80,000 ballots per night going through the weekend and into next week. 

Supervisor Bill Gates said that election workers have been putting in 14- to 18-hour days. He attributed the ongoing delay to 290,000 early ballots dropped off on election day, a figure that shot up 70% compared to the 2020 election.  

Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Bill Gates (Bill Clark/Pool via AP)

“The goal posts have changed,” Gates said.  

With tight margins in the Governor and Attorney General races, those 290,000 early Election Day ballots could determine the outcome, and analysts are speculating about whether they’ll skew towards Republicans or Democrats. 

Democrats were heavily favored in early voting, after Republican candidates told their voters not to put ballots in the mail, alleging that mail-in and early voting is more vulnerable to fraud. In person, Election Day voting broke strongly for Republican candidates up and down the ticket. 

The Election Day drop-offs are something of a third category – one that’s gone for different parties in the past. In 2018, U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a moderate Democrat, won that category in her race against Republican Martha McSally. But in 2020, former President Donald Trump won more votes from Election Day drop-offs than President Joe Biden. 

Paul Bentz, a pollster for the GOP firm Highground, said the additional mail-in ballots reported on Thursday might not provide much insight into where the races are headed. 

“It would be expected that they’d act like early voters and lean towards the Democratic candidates … I’m not if sure they will really tell us much more about the drop-offs,” he said in a text message on Thursday afternoon, before the most recent update. 

A smaller segment of ballots seems likely to favor Republicans. Due to Election Day equipment problems, about 17,000 voters deposited their ballots in “Box 3” after tabulating machines couldn’t read the ballots. Since those were cast in person on Election Day, they will likely aid GOP candidates. 

The county is processing ballots affected by printing errors on Election Day and they weren’t included in Thursday’s numbers. Today, election workers started running those ballots through the tabulators at Maricopa County Elections Department. 

Several Republicans have complained about the apparently slow pace of counting, which has left the fate of key races undecided more than 48 hours after the close of polls. Some have compared Arizona to Florida, where winners were declared more quickly 

“They count ballots real slow here in Arizona,” Lake said in an interview on Fox Business.  

Gates said that’s in part because of the changing political landscape in Arizona. 

“Here’s the issue, we have so many close races (that) everyone’s still paying attention,” he said on Thursday. “Those other states like Florida, those races were blowouts, nobody’s paying attention.” 

Ex-AG Tom Horne violated campaign laws

Tom Horne
Tom Horne

A three-year investigation of former Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne found he illegally used his office staff to work on his failed 2014 re-election effort but that no criminal charges are warranted and he won’t have to pay back additional money.

The investigation by former Gilbert Town Attorney Michael Hamblin and retired Court of Appeals Judge Daniel A. Barker that followed a complaint to the secretary of state’s office was released Monday. Hamblin and Barker were appointed as special attorneys general.

Their decision orders Horne to refile his 2014 campaign finance reports to show the value of the work done by his office staff and the market value of rent on a campaign office.

But the order said a $10,000 fine Horne paid to the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission in late 2014 to settle the same allegations was sufficient.

The allegations against Horne helped torpedo his re-election. He lost in the Republican primary to current Attorney General Mark Brnovich. Brnovich played no role in the investigation.

Monday’s decision essentially ends a series of legal troubles that have dogged Horne for years, although Horne said his attorney may consider an appeal to an administrative law judge “for reputation purposes.” The new campaign finance filings, when they come, will also be reviewed by Clean Elections to ensure they meet the terms of the earlier settlement.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office previously concluded that no criminal charges should be brought for the use of office staff for his campaign because there wasn’t a reasonable likelihood of convicting Horne on felony charges and the statute of limitations on misdemeanor charges had passed.

Separately, Horne spent years battling allegations that he illegally coordinated campaign matters with former aide Kathleen Winn when she ran an outside group supporting his 2010 election. Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk determined Horne violated campaign finance laws, ordering him to repay $400,000 and face up to $1.2 million in fines. But the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in May that Polk wasn’t a neutral arbiter, and the Cochise County Attorney cleared Horne in July.

In Monday’s lengthy decision, Hamblin found that several of Horne’s staff at the Attorney General’s Office engaged in campaign work while on state time, and ordered him to re-file his campaign finance documents to account for their time. Hamblin also found that a $100 payment for use of a private office was below market value and needed to be accounted for.

But Hamblin noted that it would be difficult to fully account for the use of state staff and bypassed any additional fines, saying the $10,000 payment Horne made in 2014 was “deemed sufficient.”

Horne has consistently said he didn’t violate any campaign finance laws and that any campaign work that was done by state staff was minimal and didn’t violate the law.

In a statement, he said he was “pleased that after three years intensive scrutiny and investigation, page 18 of the report states that the $10,000 previously paid by Tom Horne ‘is deemed sufficient,’ and that there is no reason to impose additional fines.”

He didn’t address the conclusions that he used his staff to do campaign work on state time. But Horne noted “the use of any state supplies, and computers appears to have been minimal.” He also said employees he hired who doubled as campaign staff were capable state employees.

One of those staffers, Sarah Beattie, filed the complaint that alleged top executive staff in Horne’s office did fundraising, campaign planning meetings and other campaign activities while on state time.

Ex-DES director threatens to sue state over ammunition report

(Photo by Arizona Department of Public Safety)
(Photo by Arizona Department of Public Safety)

The former director of the Arizona Department of Economic Security is threatening to sue the state over alleged errors in a report detailing how the agency amassed an excessive stockpile of ammunition under his watch.

Tim Jeffries
Tim Jeffries

Tim Jeffries, who was forced to resign as head of DES in November, filed a notice of claim claiming the report produced by the Arizona Department of Public Safety contained libel and false statements against Jeffries.

Former Attorney General Tom Horne, who’s representing Jeffries in the matter, said his client is willing to settle for $5.1 million.

“Jeffries is in the consulting business, and his success depends on his reputation,” Horne wrote in his letter to the Attorney General’s Office. “The publication of this report was considerably damaging to his reputation, and therefore to his livelihood.”

Horne’s letter specifically details eight statements made in the DPS report that Jeffries claims are false, including allegations that he carried a firearm on state property and he sought to arm all employees at DES.

Horne said there were other “false” statements not detailed in his letter.

Tom Horne

“The author of the report and witnesses quoted in the report or cited in the report and other state employees knew that the statements were false, and acted in malice,” he added.

The state has until October 1 to respond to the claim. If the hasn’t responded by then, Horne said he will sue.

Ryan Anderson, a spokesman for Attorney General Mark Brnovich, declined to comment.

“The Office of the Attorney General was not involved in this investigation or responsible for the contents of the report. Immediate questions should be more appropriately directed towards the Department of Public Safety,” he said in an email.

The DPS report, released July 7, reviewed the beefing up of security at DES under Jeffries’ watch, which DPS said resulted in a firearms program “rife with disorganization and inefficiency.”

DES kept virtually no records documenting training or accounting for ammunition while Jeffries was director of the agency, and about 63,000 rounds of ammunition were purchased in violation of state procurement laws during that time, according to the report.

The DPS report concluded that the stockpile of 88,000 rounds of ammunition amassed at DES was excessive, and that Jeffries and two of his top deputies were not in compliance with agency policies when they carried firearms at state facilities.

When asked by email last month whether parts of the DPS report were falsified, as Jeffries claimed, DPS Spokesman Bart Graves simply wrote, “no.”

Jeffries was forced out at DES in November amid reports that he had fired hundreds of state workers and used a state plane to fly to Nogales to celebrate with employees who gave up their job protections.

Former DES head drops libel suit against state

In this Oct. 22, 2015, photo, former Department of Economic Security director Tim Jeffries stands outside his former office, adorned with a "Director J :)" sign. (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)
In this Oct. 22, 2015, photo, former Department of Economic Security director Tim Jeffries stands outside his former office, adorned with a “Director J :)” sign. (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)

The former director of the Department of Economic Security is dropping the libel lawsuit he filed against the state after he was fired.

Tim Jeffries told Capitol Media Services Tuesday he still believes that a report prepared by the Department of Public Safety about him and his conduct is filled with lies. These range from statements that he carried a gun on state property to the theft of state property, specifically ammunition from DES inventory.

But Jeffries said a successful lawsuit was dependent on being able to show not just that the report had lies but that those statements were part of an effort to discredit him for trying to expose waste and mismanagement.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Rosa Mroz would not allow him to pursue the documents. And last week the Arizona Supreme Court refused to disturb that ruling.

That, said Jeffries, effectively ended any reason to pursue the lawsuit.

“It’s a very, very high bar for a public official to prove defamation,” he said.

“Our whole thing was that the motive for defaming him was to keep him from disclosing that he had found corruption in the governor’s office and the reaction was to defame him, ” said attorney Tom Horne. But he said the court ruled that motive was irrelevant.

“So without the motive, the case lost a lot of its value,” he said.

Jeffries, who ran DES in 2015 and 2016 until he was forced out, said he was investigating Hacienda HealthCare over reports of poor care and fraudulent billings. He said that a sexual assault of a patient at the facility by an employee never would have happened had state officials closed the facility as he had recommended.

The issue with HEA+, he said, had to do with what was supposed to be a 24-month contract for $37 million to develop a social services eligibility system. When he was fired, Jeffries said, it already had run for 52 months at a cost of $142 million.

Jeffries said if he was guilty of anything it was “political naivete” that “people making a ton of money off the state, whether right or wrong, were going to start working against me.”

From the state’s perspective, however, that had nothing to do with his dismissal from his $215,250-a-year post.

Ducey fired Jeffries following a series of controversies, the last being reports that he flew to Nogales on a state plane to take several staffers out drinking at a restaurant during business hours. Jeffries was celebrating the fact these workers had agreed to become “at will” employees who could be fired for no reason.

The governor then directed DPS to inventory all weapons and ammunition at the agency. That resulted in the seizure of 55 handguns and nearly 89,000 rounds of ammunition stored in the basement.

According to DPS, the amount of ammunition was three or four times what a large police department might need in a year and “may reasonably be described as excessive.” Investigators also said they could not find about 4,000 rounds.

It was the statements in that report that Jeffries said were libelous.

In some ways, attorneys for the state never actually argued that what was in the report was true.

Instead, they told a judge that anyone filing a claim for libel under Arizona law must allege facts showing a false and defamatory statement concerning the plaintiff was published and that the statement resulted in injury.

“The allegations within the complaint, even taken as true, do not meet these required elements,” said attorney Daniel Dowd.

He said the DPS report presented individual interview accounts along with hundreds of pages of supporting documents on which its conclusions were based. Dowd said the report made note of when DPS received conflicting evidence, when it could not independently substantiate allegations, and when allegations were disputed.”

“DPS outlined the facts available to it, thus making it clear that the challenged statements represent its own interpretation of those facts and leaving the reader free to draw his own conclusions,” the attorney told a judge, adding that “DPS conclusions in the audit report are protected by the First Amendment and are not actionable as a matter of law.”

Jeffries was involved in several controversial issues at DES before the plane trip to Nogales that finally got him fired.

One involves revelations that Jeffries had fired close to 500 workers, including many who had previously received high evaluations and even raises. That led to allegations that the director was targeting women, minorities, older workers and gays.

It got to the point that Ducey removed Jeffries’ power to fire workers. And the governor even set up a process of allowing those who already were let go to petition to get their jobs back.

In 2016, Jeffries came under scrutiny for emailing staffers about his trip to Lourdes and offering to take their written “special intentions” to the holy shrine.

A month later Jeffries found himself back in the public eye for sending a message to all DES employees on a state-owned email list with a link to a story with arguments against Proposition 205. That measure, ultimately defeated, would have allowed for the recreational use of marijuana.

Jeffries made an unsuccessful bid for state Senate in 2018, coming in second in a three-way Republican primary to incumbent Michelle Ugenti-Rita.



Former Rep. Shooter files suit

Rep. Don Shooter asks colleagues Thursday not to expel him from the House on the heels of a report saying he is guilty of multiple counts of sexual harassment. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Rep. Don Shooter asks colleagues Feb. 1, 2018, not to expel him from the House on the heels of a report saying he is guilty of multiple counts of sexual harassment. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Claiming his rights were violated, ousted state Rep. Don Shooter has filed suit against the state demanding unspecified damages.

In a 41-page lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, Shooter cited what he said are a series of actions taken not just by J.D. Mesnard, at the time the speaker of the House, but also Kirk Adams who was chief of staff to Gov. Doug Ducey. In essence, Shooter said they all were involved in a conspiracy to silence him for trying to use his position as chair of the House Appropriations Committee to investigate contracts that were being awarded without seeking bids. Shooter is suing Mesnard and Adams in their personal capacity.

But the heart of the complaint filed on his behalf by former Attorney General Tom Horne is that Shooter was denied his due process in the way he was investigated and eventually voted out of the House.

He said the complaints against him by Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale and others should have been referred to the Ethics Committee or other special panel, saying that has been the process since the state was formed. In that format Shooter would have had opportunity to present his own evidence and have his counsel question witnesses against him.

Instead, he said, Mesnard farmed out the issue to a committee of House staffers who, in turn, hired outside attorneys to investigate.

Shooter also said his due process rights were violated because his ouster was based on his having violated a “zero tolerance” standard for sexual harassment, a policy that did not exist at the time he was investigated and at the time when colleagues voted 56-3 to eject him from the House. And he charged that Mesnard had the independent investigators he hired to “omit material and exculpatory testimony and evidence,” including allegations against Ugenti-Rita.

The House voted last Feb. 1 to expel Shooter after an investigative report found there was “credible evidence” Shooter had sexually harassed other lawmakers, lobbyists and others. Only Reps. Noel Campbell and David Stringer, both Republicans from Prescott, voted with Shooter against the move, saying a censure would have been more appropriate.

Horne said if his case had gone through the Ethics Committee, the allegations “would have been measured against entirely different policies and the outcome would have been entirely different.”

In the lawsuit, Horne concedes that the expulsion vote was not a judicial proceeding which is subject to certain set rules and protections. But he said that Shooter had a “property right” in his seat in the House, to which he was elected, and cannot be deprived of that without giving him due process.

Aside from the failure to have his case handled by the Ethics Committee, Horne said Shooter said he should have been provided access to the complete investigative file, including the investigators’ notes describing the testimony of witnesses “so that he could properly mount a defense to the allegations raised against him.”

“He should, at the very least, have had timely access to the information in order to question the bias, interest, and motive of his accusers,” the lawsuit states. And Horne also contends that Shooter was libeled throughout the process.

Mesnard has since moved to the Senate. Contacted about the lawsuit, he repeated his statement that neither he nor the House did anything wrong, saying the Arizona Constitution gives the Legislature “broad powers” to discipline its own members “and Mr. Shooter’s expulsion was well within that authority.”

There was no immediate comment from Adams.

Funding available for SROs, but positions hard to fill

Funding exists for 301 school resource officers through the Arizona Department of Education’s School Safety Grant, but some schools have yet to find an officer to fill the position.

ADE and law enforcement organization officials point to a lack of law enforcement officers across the board which they say trickles down to specialty assignments like SROs to create safety gaps in schools.

The lack of law enforcement was identified as an immediate hurdle by Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne and director of School Safety Mike Kurtenbach in the first meeting of the department’s school safety task force last week.

“We have a situation where we funded something and they can’t find someone to fulfill it,” Horne told task force members.

Schools have until the end of the year to hire an SRO with grant funding. Kurtenbach said because of the timeline, the number of vacancies across the state remains fluid. But he pointed to the city of Phoenix as one example of unfilled but funded positions.

On July 3, the Phoenix City Council voted to fill 61 of the 86 funded SRO positions, citing short staffing at the Phoenix Police Department.

The department has the budget for 3,125 sworn officer positions but only has 2,562 officers on staff, according to Sgt. Phil Krynsky, a spokesperson for Phoenix Police Department.

Matt Giordano, executive director of the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board and a task force member, said staffing continues to be an ongoing challenge for law enforcement agencies generally.

“Obviously the number one thing that we want to be able to do when someone picks up the phone and calls 911 in the law enforcement profession is to be able to have someone respond,” Giordano said.

He noted that problems stemming from inadequate staffing compound when patrol officers are shifted to SRO positions.

“You’re leaving a void somewhere else,” Giordano said.

One of the potential solutions floated by the task force was a separate SRO certification by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board.

But the change would need to come through the Legislature, and Giordano expressed concern about creating any specialty certification with lower requirements than a full authority peace officer.

“SROs engage in all matters of the spectrum of law enforcement working on a campus, from domestic violence to assaults, to threats, to intimidation to all kinds of things,” Giordano said. “In my opinion, it would be very hard to narrow down what we could take out of the full academy curriculum to adequately prepare a school resource officer at a lower level.”

Stephen Dieu, president of the Arizona School Resource Officers Association, SRO at Chandler High School and task force member, answered the phone from the school cafeteria. He said the SRO position requires traditional law enforcement training as well as interpersonal skills stretching beyond the typical bounds of policing.

After stepping out of the conversation and clammer of the lunchroom, Dieu noted embracing the chaos is one key part of the job.

“We have a large freshman class and they’ve got a lot of energy. And being able to successfully interact with them without being intimidated yourself as an adult is a skill,” Dieu said. “And so, you balance that. Where there’s order, there’s peace, where there’s order there’s safety. And I can be a positive authority in an environment that at times seems chaotic.”

Dieu continued: “School resource officers is one of those unique specialties. You have got to have patience to work with kids. Not every adult has that. And then you narrow that down with police officers who are accustomed to being that authority figure in the lives of adults. And everyone around them. And providing order in situations of chaos.”

He said SROs operate not only as police officers, but as informal counselors and teachers or mentors, as well.

Another idea to fill in gaps from the task force was to certify and hire retired law enforcement personnel. Giordano supported the idea, given proper recertification and good standing.

Dieu advocated for further training for SROs, citing a national standard. He also emphasized the importance of integrated training and collaboration with counselors, social workers, intervention specialists, among other school staff.

“There is sometimes a disconnect with a clear understanding of what it takes to implement a successful positive prevention-based school safety program,” Dieu said. “Some of those shortfalls include immediate training, mentorship, adequate education of that school community as to what that officer’s goal is.”

The School Safety Task Force plans to split into working groups to address operations and staffing, funding and grants, and training. Dieu and Giordano both plan to participate.

Kurtenbach said ADE is also in the process of bringing in additional subject matter experts to contribute to ongoing discussions. He emphasized the importance of bringing in representatives from organizations most impacted by potential changes.

“We don’t want the task force to create something that doesn’t make sense to the people that are actually charged with implementing whatever the task force comes up with,” Kurtenbach said.


Hobbs keeps donations secret for inauguration events

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Democratic Arizona Governor-elect Katie Hobbs speaks at a victory rally on Nov. 15 in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

By Bob Christie

Incoming Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs is kicking off her term with a celebratory ball, a first for a new governor since Fife Symington had one in the 1990s.

But Hobbs, who touted transparency as part of her leadership, has refused to disclose which people or corporations are paying for the party.

And the lack of full public disclosure continues with her taking the oath of office on Monday. That event, four days before the ceremonial oath, will be closed to the public and media, with the exception of a pool news photographer.

And the costs of that Thursday ceremony are being picked up by special interests, including lobbyists, companies that do business with the state, developers and builders. But the new administration, while listing official “sponsors” for the event, has been unwilling to share how much each is paying for that privilege.

The incoming governor’s unwillingness to share details of the events publicly, how much they will cost, just who is paying and how much stand in contrast to her promise to make her administration “the most ethical and accountable” in history.

On her “katiehobbs.org” website, she vows to make state government more transparent, “because the people deserve to know what their leaders are doing with their money.”

That reticence to share information about the source and use of the funds, at least for now, is a change from the three previous administrations, which were open with the costs of the inauguration and related events – and the fundraising efforts needed to throw big bashes without spending too much of the taxpayers’ hard-earned cash.

When Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano took the oath of office in 2001, she collected $150,000 from donors and those attending four inaugural receptions, followed by public disclosures.

But that wasn’t enough to cover all the costs. So the state treasury also coughed up $50,000, mainly for renting and staffing the audio-visual equipment for the large-screen TVs that ensured even those in the back of the Capitol courtyard could see what was happening.

Republican Gov. Jan. Brewer’s 2011 inauguration was cheap by comparison as the state struggled with fallout from the Great Recession and cratered state revenue. The event cost $65,000, and expenses included renting the chairs and other necessities to house a large Capitol crowd and covered $13,000 worth of keepsake coins stamped with her likeness for guests.

Brewer raised $200,000 for the event and no tax dollars were used.

And the leftover cash was used to renovate the governor’s offices on the 9th floor of the executive tower.

Outgoing GOP Gov. Doug Ducey was inaugurated in 2014 and 2018, and both times he tapped special interests like lobbying firms and big businesses to pay for some of the costs.

The 2018 event brought in cash by selling off special seats. Acquiring a pair of VIP seats costs a minimum of $10,000, which also got entrance to a special reception. Bigger checks added a photo with Ducey, and a $25,000 payout netted six seats in the front rows, three parking passes, the reception and photos, inaugural pins for all six and corporate logos on programs and the inauguration website.

This year, however, Hobbs press aide Joe Wolf said no one will have to buy tickets to watch the Thursday ceremonies.

But that doesn’t mean the incoming governor isn’t tapping donors, special interests and firms that do business with the state.

A list of event sponsors on the official state inauguration web page leads with Arizona Public Service Co., suggesting the state’s biggest utility is the single largest donor.

The company may have some fence-mending to do with the new governor.

In 2021 it gave $100,000 to the Republican Governors Association. It hasn’t yet disclosed how much it spent in 2022.

And the RGA, in turn, financed millions of dollars in TV commercials attacking Hobbs, much of that accusing her of being lax on border enforcement.

Neither aides to Hobbs nor APS will disclose how much they are now donating to the ceremony, with the company instead saying only that it is joining with other Arizona businesses in supporting the new governor’s inauguration.

“This support is directed specifically to the 2023 gubernatorial inauguration committee, meaning it can be used in support of all inauguration functions,” the statement said. “This an important event for Arizona and its citizens; and we are pleased to be a participant.”

Others listed on the inaugural committee’s website as opening their checkbooks for the event – but with no amounts – include the insurers who provide state Medicaid services, a public affairs and consulting firm for the mining industry, developers, builders, lobbying firms and Hensley Beverage. Hensley is controlled by Cindy McCain, the widow of Republican Sen. John McCain, who was the target of vitriol by Republican Kari Lake during her losing campaign against Hobbs.

“This is a private event not being paid for with public funds,”’ said Hobbs press aide Murphy Hebert when asked for specifics.

Other officials who take office Monday include Adrian Fontes, a Democrat who is replacing Hobbs as secretary of state, and Kris Mayes, who defeated Republican Abraham Hamadeh for attorney general in what is believed to be the tightest win for a statewide office in Arizona history. Recount results opened in court on Thursday confirmed Mayes won by just 280 votes. She had been ahead by 511 votes out of about 2.5 million cast before a few hundred uncounted ballots were located during the recount.

Two Republicans also won statewide office and begin their terms Monday: Treasurer Kimberly Yee won a second term and Tom Horne defeated incumbent Kathy Hoffman and will become the state’s top K-12 school official as superintendent of public instruction.

While the number of guests expected for Thursday’s official inauguration hasn’t been released, it will be large. The state Department of Administration sent a memo to state workers warning of road closures, heavy traffic and tight parking availability, since many state lots will be cordoned off for those attending Hobbs’ inauguration.

To make room, state employees assigned to buildings in the Capitol complex are being “strongly encouraged” to avoid the office on Thursday and to instead work remotely.



Hold elected officials accountable, support school leaders

The Arizona education system is failing our students. In response, opportunistic elected officials call for expansion of educational choice. With their clearest and loudest voice, they exclaim the need for enhanced parental rights.

These same publicity seekers are hypocrites. They advocate loudly, but act in contradiction. Meanwhile, Arizona English Language learners have, once again, become political pawns. English Learners (ELs) are students who have limited proficiency in the English language. But just like all Arizona students, they and their parents have rights to access an education that utilizes proven, research-based methods centered on their academic success.

Stephanie Parra

They deserve to feel valued and respected in their schools and communities. Instead, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne has declared himself the undisputed expert on what works for every child. He wants to deny them access to dual language programs that are proven to work.

This kind of ideological obstinance may sell, but it does nothing to improve academic outcomes, meaningful parental engagement or student choice. In Arizona, ELs make up 9.2% of the student population, and come from diverse ethnicities— with Latinos making up 87%. They are multilingual learners who are an asset worthy of investment. The lack of meaningful policy and access to quality dual language programs has impacted their proficiency rates – 5% in third-grade reading and 3% in eighth-grade math. They deserve access to robust dual language programs that will provide exposure to content areas, impact academic outcomes, lead to higher graduation rates and ultimately, a shorter time for students to reach proficiency in English.

Discussions on options available for ELs have remained a politically charged topic, and never include the perspectives of parents most impacted by these policy decisions preventing meaningful solutions for student success. This was the experience of Patricia Ojeda, alumni of ALL In Education’s Parent Educator Academy. Five of Ojeda’s students have been labeled as ELs even though their primary language is English. She has been told that having her children labeled as ELs would allow them to master their proficiency in English. What she didn’t know was that her children would be removed from core subject classes, like math, and reading. Her third-grader, Mateo, is struggling with literacy and requires tutoring and reading interventions.

Patricia was unaware of the evidence-based English Language learning models that schools can adopt. One of those models, the Dual Language model, has recently come under attack from Horne, who has a long, volatile history with bilingual education. During his first tenure as superintendent, Horne banned bilingual education and ethnic studies, and he is again, placing barriers for students and families to access proven dual language models. More concerning is his differential perspectives on who has access to quality bilingual education programs.

Superintendent Horne is an unapologetic advocate for school choice but seeks to limit innovation and flexibility that has been proven to deliver better academic results for those that need it most. We knew Arizona’s English-only law was failing students. Which prompted state leaders to enact important reforms (in 2019) that are now allowing evidence-based academic options for ELs. Horne wants to eliminate those choices. Data-informed decision-making must lead the discussion around English Learners.

At ALL In Education, we are focused on ensuring that the individuals in seats of power across classrooms and boardrooms are values-driven and reflective of the communities we serve. As executive director of the organization, I am driven by the belief that student outcomes will only change, once adult behaviors change. We are committed to ensuring that every participant in our leadership programs graduates understanding how leaders can use their lived experiences and data to make informed decisions to support all students.

Parents and community members must hold elected officials accountable and support school leaders who are invested in the communities they serve. I invite you to get involved and engaged with us by taking our pledge at allineducation.org/pledge and staying up to date on the issues impacting students. If we are truly a state that is about school choice, then we must ensure that we are providing quality options for ALL students. d

Stephanie Parra is the executive director of ALL In Education, a nonprofit organization that aims to ensure that the communities most impacted by educational inequities are the ones making decisions for ALL students.


Horne cancels more than $70M in covid relief for tutoring program

The Arizona Department of Education clawed back more than $70 million in Covid grant funding to make way for a $40 million statewide tutoring program.  

Superintendent Tom Horne announced today that funds are now slated to go toward a tutoring initiative for first to eighth grade students who failed to score as proficient in reading, writing and math in statewide testing. 

Grant awardees, who received the funds under former Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, received a request for evidence that their programming had resulted in academic improvement on Aug. 18. They were given a five-day deadline.  

The programs that the department found failed to provide adequate “data” saw their funding either walked back or cut entirely. In a press conference today, Horne and Associate Superintendent Michelle Udall said the department terminated or reduced funding for 27 Covid grant awardees.  

The department cut funding for programs addressing mental health and social emotional learning, but Horne said, “nothing was singled out,” and Udall said there was a “wide variety” of programs cancelled or reduced.   

Udall also noted programs that were not on track to spend all the funds by the cut-off, Sept. 30, 2024, also saw their awards walked back or adjusted.  

“If they showed that they were having good academic outcomes with students, we just reduced the grant. If they were not showing academic outcomes, we would have canceled,” Udall said.  

The department notified those that had been terminated over the weekend. 

The Valley of the Sun YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club of the Valley, notMYkid and Playworks Arizona were among the awardees that received termination notices this weekend.  

Jenna Cooper, VOS YMCA Vice President of Government and Community Relations, said in a statement, “This decision will have far-reaching consequences, including the immediate discontinuation of social-emotional support programs for youth and a likely reduction in our workforce.” 

Udall, who declined to provide a full list of the programs that were cut or reduced, noted the department was still working with awardees to adjust awards. 

Udall said the department had rescinded about $70 to $75 million. The department set aside $40 million for the tutoring program. Horne said the department left a “margin of error” for grant adjustments. 

Given new data, Horne said, “We can change our minds and let them keep their grant.” 

As for the $40 million tutoring program, Horne said private vendors and public and charter schoolteachers will be eligible to apply to tutor students.  

He said tutors will be paid $30 an hour with the potential for a $200 stipend if the students hit certain benchmarks.  

The department noted it would need to use some of the Covid funds to contract with a vendor to develop tests to measure proficiency.  

Joseph Guzman, associate superintendent of accountability, research and evaluation, said the funds spent on contracting with a testing vendor would not be “insignificant.”  

The cancelled grant funding was incorporated into the third round of funding from the American Rescue Plan. The department received $180.9 million to be put toward remedying student learning loss.  

The federal government directly allocated funding to the department. Udall said because the department is keeping the funds within the Covid-related learning loss “bucket,” it would only need to notify the federal Dept of Education that it is shifting funds around.  

Horne said the department plans to set up and launch a webpage with more details on applying for the tutoring program by Sept. 15, and said he hopes to see the program launch by Oct. 1.  

Horne, Hoffman debate LGBTQ+ website

Kathy Hoffman, Tom Horne, Superintendent of Public Instruction
From left are Kathy Hoffman and Tom Horne

The Republican candidate for the state’s top educational official is lashing out at incumbent Kathy Hoffman for her agency’s decision to promote a web site for LGBTQ+ and “questioning teens.”

“I think it’s very harmful,” said Tom Horne, referring to QChat during a debate Wednesday for superintendent of public instruction. He said the site, which can be accessed directly from the web page of the Arizona Department of Education, is designed to undermine the rights of parents to know what their children are viewing.

“Kids can go on there without their parents’ permission,” Horne said.

“They give detailed information about themselves,” he said. “They give detailed information about their sex lives or sexual thoughts.”

And he said there even is a function designed to help youngsters keep their parents from finding out what they’re doing: an “escape” button on the page that replaces what is on the screen with a Google page.

Hoffman, seeking reelection, does not dispute what is on the site. But she said Horne is making too much of it.

“The QChat is recommended by the CDC and the national organization Mental Health America as a resource helping to support our LGBTQ youth,” she said.

Hoffman said the decision to post a link came after consulting with a committee of parents, educators and LGBTQ+ students. She said it’s part of her agency’s role in providing resources for these students.

“This is a group of students who far too often are facing hate in the world and communication that’s attacking our LGBTQ youth,” Hoffman said, and she added they need resources. And she called Horne’s attacks “political.”

Horne, however, questioned whether students were getting real help.

He said the moderators are not licensed professionals.

“We don’t know how many of them might be predators,” Horne continued, though the site says the “facilitators” are “verified.” And then there’s keeping parents out of the loop, citing the escape button.

The solution for kids who can’t talk with parents, he said, is to go to “trained, licensed counselors in their schools.”

“This is outrageous for the parents to not play any role,” Horne said. “If you’re comfortable having your child talk with a stranger about sexual matters without your participation, please vote for Kathy Hoffman.”

For her part, Hoffman called the debate over the web site – it also has resulted in a lawsuit against Hoffman by Republican activist Peggy McClain – a diversion.

“What I am focused on is not these culture wars attacking the LGBTQ youth,” she said, but rather on issues like why Arizona does not fund preschool or full-day kindergarten. “If we want our state to be moving forward, let’s be supporting public education, including making our schools safe and inclusive for all kids.”

Hoffman also launched an attack of her own, saying if Horne is concerned about child welfare he never would have accepted support from former state Rep. David Stringer. The Prescott Republican stepped down from the legislature in 2019 following disclosure he had been arrested years earlier on various charges, including paying to have sex with an underage boy.

Horne said the only involvement Stringer had in his campaign this year was his decision to erect some campaign signs for him at a cost of $1,400. Stringer then posted pictures of himself next to those signs.

But when the support first came to light, Horne initially defended Stringer, saying he was innocent of those 1983 charges from Maryland and there was never any conviction. Only later did he distance himself from Stringer and reimburse him for that $1,400 expense.

During the half-hour debate aired on KAET-TV, the Phoenix PBS affiliate, the pair also found themselves on opposite sides of the decision earlier this year by the Republican-controlled legislature to create a universal system of vouchers to allow students to attend private and parochial schools at state expense.

“I think public education dollars should stay in public education,” Hoffman said. She said the new law provides no accountability, like standardized testing, to ensure students going to priavte schools with tax dollars are learning what they need to know.

Horne, however, said he sees vouchers, formally known as empowerment scholarship accounts, as an important equalizer.

“Rich people can send their kids to any school they want to,” he said.

“Poor people should have that ability as well,” Horne said. “And the whole idea of the ESA program is to give the people who don’t have as much money the ability to do the same thing that rich people do now.”

Judge dismisses federal claims in ousted lawmaker’s lawsuit

Symbol of law and justice in the empty courtroom, law and justice concept.

A federal judge late Friday threw out charges by former state Rep. Don Shooter that his civil rights were violated by an investigation that resulted in his ouster last year from the state House.

Judge Dominic Lanza said Shooter’s claim is based on his claim that former House Speaker J.D. Mesnard and Kirk Adams, the former chief of staff to Gov. Doug Ducey, acted improperly, leading to his expulsion. But the problem with that, the judge said, is there is no clearly settled law that lawmakers in fact have a right to ask a federal court to intercede in matters involving their removal.

What that also means, said Lanza, is that Mesnard and Adams are entitled to qualified immunity for any actions they say they took in their official capacity.

The judge also took a slap at former Attorney General Tom Horne, who is representing Shooter.

Don Shooter
Don Shooter

Lanza said he specifically asked Horne during a hearing earlier this week for any actual legal precedent showing that the proceedings used by the House in ousting Shooter − in this case, requiring a two-thirds vote − were unconstitutional. The judge said Horne did not provide an answer but instead urged the court to consider “the facts” alleged in the complaint.

“This is not how qualified immunity works,” Lanza wrote.

Friday’s ruling does not take either Mesnard, now a state senator, or Adams, who quit state government last December, off the legal hook.

Lanza dealt only with the federal civil rights claim over which he has jurisdiction. He said the other claims made by Shooter, including wrongful termination, defamation and false light invasion of privacy, need to be resolved in Maricopa County Superior Court.

The former Yuma lawmaker was expelled last year following a 56-3 vote of the House following release of a report addressing allegations of sexual harassment and other inappropriate conduct.

Shooter, in his lawsuit, contends that expulsion was the result of a “conspiracy” involving Adams, who was still working for Ducey at the time, Mesnard and others.

Shooter, who was chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, charged that his ouster was engineered to keep him from exposing the state’s use of no-bid contracts. And he said the allegations against him, largely by then-state Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, were part of a plan to discredit him.

He also argued that the procedures used against him, set up by Mesnard, did not follow typical House policy, with no hearings before the Ethics Committee and no right for him to present his own witnesses or confront his accusers.

Horne said Friday’s ruling does not undermine Shooter’s claims, saying he believes the former lawmaker will win in Superior Court.

Lake closes gap, still needs large tally to win

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Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake arrives to a former President Donald Trump rally on Oct. 9 in Mesa. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Republican Kari Lake closed the gap slightly on Sunday in the governor’s race with Katie Hobbs.

But unless she can do a lot better with the nearly 95,000 Maricopa ballots that remain to be counted, the Democratic secretary of state will be the next governor.

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Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, speaks at a roundtable event in Phoenix on Sept. 19. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The latest results show that Lake was the choice of 54.6% of the approximately 98,600 whose early ballots from Maricopa County were tallied on Sunday.

But that gain was offset slightly by the fact that another nearly 12,000 ballots counted in Pima County went for Hobbs by a 3-2 margin.

That left Lake still behind by 26,011 votes at the end of the night out of more than 2.42 million ballots already tallied, with Hobbs still having 50.5% of the statewide vote.

Lake has been counting on these last votes out of Maricopa County to put her over the top. She said these are from people who, following advice from some Republican candidates, refused to put their early ballot in the mail or into a drop box and instead take it directly to a polling place on Election Day.

There was a record 290,000 of these ”day-of” dropoffs. And they also are the last to be counted.

But at this point, Lake would appear to need to get at least 60% of those yet-to-be-counted Maricopa ballots to overtake Hobbs, a margin she has not been able to marshal so far.

That also presumes any gains she makes in Maricopa County are not offset by what is likely to be support that Hobbs will tally among the nearly 39,000 uncounted Pima County ballots.

Lake did not respond to a request for comment.

But Nicole DeMont, Hobbs’ campaign manager, wasted no time in declaring victory for her candidate.

“Katie has led since the first round of ballots were counted,” she said. “And after tonight’s results, it’s clear that this won’t change.”

Other undecided statewide races remain far too close to call.

The relatively strong showing for Republicans in the latest batch to be counted cut sharply into the lead that Democrat Kris Mayes has over Abe Hamadeh in the race for attorney general. She now has 50.2% of the vote, down three-tenths of a point from Saturday.

But her lead of 11,328 could easily be wiped out with a strong showing for Hamadeh when more ballots are counted on Monday.

And incumbent schools chief Kathy Hoffman, a Democrat, now essentially is tied 50-50 with Republican Tom Horne, having just a 592-vote edge.

Sunday’s tally did cut slightly into the lead that Sen. Mark Kelly has over Republican Blake Masters. But Kelly, who already was declared the winner, still has 51.6% of the vote and is leading by 127,746 over Masters, who has just 46.3%, with the balance going to Libertarian Marc Victor who dropped out of the race last month. And with only about 160,000 votes yet to be counted statewide, there is really no way for Masters to catch up.

The same is true in the race for secretary of state, also already declared for Democrat Adrian Fontes, who is outpolling Republican Mark Finchem by 123,188 votes and maintains a 52.6% margin statewide.


Mayes victorious even after recount narrows margin

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Democrat Kris Mayes, seen here in a September debate against Republican Abe Hamadeh, was declared the winner in the race for Attorney General after a recount. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A Maricopa County Superior Court Judge revealed the results of the three election recounts this morning, confirming Democrat Kris Mayes will be the state’s next attorney general.  

Judge Timothy Thomason announced that Mayes received 1,254,809 votes to Republican Abe Hamadeh’s 1,254,529 votes – meaning Mayes won by just 280 votes.  

A recount also confirmed Republican Tom Horne’s win in the Superintendent of Public Instruction race.   

Hamadeh, Mayes, attorney general, lawsuit, Mayes, Maricopa County,
Republican candidate for Arizona Attorney General, Abraham Hamadeh, smiles prior to a televised debate against Democrat Kris Mayes on Sept. 28.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The recount was not without last-minute drama after ABC 15’s Garrett Archer tweeted a tip from a source last night that a rural county, rumored to be Pinal County, had a major discrepancy in votes in the AG’s race, though he said it would not be enough to tip the scales in Hamadeh’s favor.  

The tip proved prescient as Mayes’ lead shrunk from 511 votes to 280 following the recount, though it is not known which counties were the source of the discrepancy.  

Tim La Sota, an attorney for Hamadeh, filed a motion to stay the recount results this morning based on Archer’s tweet.  

But his motion was denied by Thomason in the hearing.  

La Sota then asked for the court to delay entering the results to the end of the business day to explore legal options, which Thomason also denied.  

La Sota declined to comment following the hearing. 

Hamadeh called for an inspection of all ballots on Twitter shortly after the recount results were released, and wrote, “the outcome of this election is uncertain.”  

Representatives for Hamadeh were given the chance to inspect about 2,600 ballots in Maricopa County in his initial election contest, which a alleged a series of improprieties with ballots and printer problems. Out of the 2,600 ballots inspected, only six were undervotes intended for Hamadeh.  

In closing arguments on Dec. 23, La Sota conceded they did not find the 511 votes to flip the race, and a Mohave County Judge affirmed Mayes win from the bench.  

Today, Thomason again confirmed Mayes win and Horne for Superintendent of Public Instruction and Jennifer Pawlik and Republican Liz Harris for Legislative District 13’s two House seats. 

Horne beat Kathy Hoffman by 9,188 votes and Harris took fellow Republican Julie Willoughby by 275 votes.  

This year’s recount was the first to adhere to the new margin set by a bill passed last session. Instead of the previous 0.1% margin, races now go to recounts if they fall within 0.5%.  

Ousted DES director, top security aide, claim state libeled them

Tim Jeffries
Tim Jeffries

The former director of the Arizona Department of Economic Security and his top security official sued the state of Arizona for libel today.

Tim Jeffries, who was forced to resign from DES in November, and Charles Loftus, who was simultaneously fired as the agency’s chief law enforcement officer, filed the complaint in Maricopa County Superior Court.

The duo seek unspecified damages for what their lawyers, former attorney general Tom Horne and attorney Charles Johnson, described as a series of maliciously false statements documented in a report by the Arizona Department of Public Safety, which was charged with auditing security policies and a stash of weapons and ammunition kept at DES during Jeffries’ tenure.

Charles Loftus
Charles Loftus

DPS investigators found shoddy record keeping, insecure storage of guns and ammunition, and that state procurement policies had been violated with the purchase of roughly 60,000 rounds of ammunition.

Many statements documented in the audit “were false and known to be false by the State’s employees, for which the State is responsible,” Horne and Johnson wrote in their complaint. “There were also malicious motives involved in the writing and publication of the report.”

Those statements have harmed both Jeffries and Loftus’ reputations — Jeffries as a business consultant, whose “success depends on his reputation,” attorneys wrote, and Loftus as a peace officer “whose reputation when tarnished will cause him not to be hired by any law enforcement agency.”

The complaint provides specific examples of 27 statements in the DPS audit Jeffries and Loftus claim are false, including statements that Jeffries carried a state-purchased firearm on state property, wanted to arm all DES employees, and “wanted to create his own police force.” Loftus objected to statements that ammunition purchased under his watch was “excessive” and that the ammunition was not properly stored at DES offices.

Horne and Johnson don’t specify the amount of damages they seek in the complaint. But in individual notices of claim filed with state in August, Jeffries had stated he’s willing to settle for $5.1 million, while Loftus sought $2.6 million.

The state had 60 days to respond to those notices. Now that the time has lapsed, Jeffries and Loftus were free to file their lawsuit in court, and can now seek attorneys fees and other costs in their challenge to the state.

Jeffries was forced to resign from DES in November 2016 amid reports that he had fired hundreds of state workers and used a state plane to fly to Nogales to celebrate with employees who gave up their job protections. Loftus was one of a handful of Jeffries’ top deputies fired from the agency the same day.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Jeffries has considered running for his old boss’ job. He told the Capitol Times  he’s mulling a run for governor, and criticized Gov. Doug Ducey for not living up to campaign promises to overhaul state government.

Loftus, too, is seeking higher office — he’s filed paperwork to run as a Republican for a House seat in Legislative District 20. In the meantime, Loftus now works full time as an professor of criminology at Arizona State University, where he’s long served as a part-time instructor.

Ousted lawmaker takes case to 9th Circuit

Don Shooter awaits a vote by the state House on whether to expel him on Feb. 1, 2018. He was later removed from office by a vote of 56-3. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Don Shooter awaits a vote by the state House on whether to expel him on Feb. 1, 2018. He was later removed from office by a vote of 56-3. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Former Rep. Don Shooter has hired new legal help in his claim he was wrongfully ousted from the House, a firm that has built a reputation on defending civil rights of college students accused of sexual misconduct.

Attorney Stuart Bernstein told Capitol Media Services he hopes to prove that a federal judge got it wrong when he threw out the lawsuit filed by the Yuma Republican. Bernstein said there is plenty of legal precedent to show that the process used by the state House to expel him early in 2018 were legally insufficient.

And even if that claim fails, Shooter has separate legal claims pending in Maricopa County Superior Court against former House Speaker J.D. Mesnard and Kirk Adams, the former chief of staff to Gov. Doug Ducey. These allege that Shooter was improperly ousted “in retaliation for his investigation into corruption at the highest levels of the Arizona Legislature” according to Andrew Miltenberg, another of Shooter’s new lawyers.

A press statement by the law firm says Miltenberg and Bernstein “specialize in due process violations by universities and other organizations throughout the country.” It also says they are currently representing students and faculty at several institutions including Columbia University, Princeton University and University of Southern California.

Shooter told Capitol Media Services he was quite aware of their client list and their reputation.

“It’s why I hired them,” he said. “I hired them because they defend people whose rights have been trampled on.”

J.D. Mesnard
J.D. Mesnard

Shooter said he is not concerned about going to court with attorneys who have made a name for themselves by representing male students who have been accused of assaulting and harassing women on campus.

“Maybe every guy that was accused by some girl was guilty,” he said.

“I don’t know,” Shooter continued. “But don’t you think you ought to give them a chance to state their case?”

And that, said Shooter, is precisely what is at issue in his case and why his new lawyers are a perfect fit.

“I was the first legislator in the history of the United States to be thrown out of office without a committee hearing,” he said.

That goes to how the complaints of sexual harassment against Shooter were handled by Mesnard.

In general, the procedure for discipline of legislators that had been followed until last year was that someone accused of misconduct would get a hearing before the House Ethics Committee. That also would provide the legislator or his or her lawyer the chance to question witnesses.

The Ethics Committee would then make a recommendation to the full House whether there were sufficient facts to conclude there was misconduct and, if so, what would be the appropriate punishment. That could range from a reprimand or censure to expulsion.

In Shooter’s case, Mesnard hired outside council to prepare a report for the full House. There were no hearings, with the House voting to oust Shooter based on what was in the report.

U.S. District Court Judge Dominic Lanza threw out the civil rights claim earlier this year, ruling that there is no clear settled law that legislators have a right to ask a federal court to intercede in matters involving their removal. And that, the judge wrote, means that Mesnard and Adams are entitled to qualified immunity for any actions they say they took in their official capacity.

But Bernstein said his law firm has won a number of cases in federal appellate court overturning decisions where trial judges said individuals cannot pursue civil rights claims.

Those most notably include male students who have been kicked out of universities after facing charges of sexual assault. Bernstein said the issues there – and here – deal with the due process rights of the accused.

Bernstein conceded that there is really no way for any court to overturn the House vote to oust Shooter. But he said there are other reasons to pursue the case.

“While we may not be able to get him seated again, we certainly can clear his name,” Bernstein said.

Kirk Adams
Kirk Adams

And there’s something else. Bernstein said that the process could “shed light on what he was looking to do before all the shenanigans took place.”

That goes to Shooter’s claim that the charges of sexual harassment against him by another lawmaker, some lobbyists and others was really part of a plan to keep him from looking at no-bid contracts being awarded by the state. If he gets to take his case to court, Shooter’s attorneys will have an opportunity to demand certain documents that he claims are relevant to the case.

Shooter was first removed as chair of the House Appropriations Committee, where he would have had the ability to subpoena documents. Ultimately, though, he was removed following a 56-3 vote of the House which concluded that he had engaged in sexual harassment and other inappropriate conduct.

“Corruption is at the heart of this case,” Bernstein said.

“There are many facts that have yet to be made public,” he said. “This case is important as it exposes the manner in which Don Shooter was victimized by the personal interests of other elected officials.”

Reinstating the lawsuit also could allow him to seek release of documents and interviews done by an outside counsel hired by Mesnard to investigate the sexual harassment allegations. Shooter contends that some of what the investigators discovered about his accusers was not presented to his colleagues before they voted to remove him.

All that, however, is academic unless and until Shooter can get his day in court, assuming the appellate judges say his due process rights were denied.

But attorney Steve Tully, who represents Mesnard, argued to Lanza during a court hearing that Shooter has no property or liberty interests in being a state lawmaker, something Tully said is necessary to claim that he had something illegally taken from him.

As to that due-process claim, Tully said the only legal requirement for removing an elected lawmaker is a two-third vote of the House.

“He received the only process to which he was entitled,” Tully said, telling the judge that this is strictly a “political issue,” and not one for the courts.

Attorney Betsy Lamm, who represents Adams, echoed the theme, saying that nothing in Arizona law says Shooter was entitled to make a written response to the findings in the investigative report. Anyway, she said, the record shows that investigators did interview Shooter, allowed him to respond to the charges of sexual harassment, some of which he admitted were true, and included his response in the report.

Shooter has alleged that, as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, he found multiple instances where the state was awarding contracts without seeking the lowest bid. Tom Horne, who was Shooter’s attorney at the earlier federal court hearing, said Shooter approached Adams as Ducey’s chief of staff and threatened to have hearings and subpoena witnesses and documents unless the situation was remedied.

What happened, said Horne, is that Adams worked with Mesnard to suspend Shooter from his role as chairman of the panel by using various charges of sexual harassment. That led to the investigation and, eventually, the House vote to eject Shooter.

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to put greater emphasis on the law firm representing Don Shooter.

Races for 2022 statewide offices taking shape

Republicans GOP Democrats politics parties

Arizona is sitting somewhere between keeping the 2020 election alive and preparing for the 2022 election, where all statewide executive offices will be on the ballot as well as a U.S. Senate seat. 

As an audit of the previous election dominates the headlines, candidates from both major political parties are already beginning to launch campaigns for 2022. 

In a matter of hours on May 17, two Republican women announced bids for governor and both have close ties to Gov. Doug Ducey, who terms out after 2022.  

Arizona State Treasurer Kimberly Yee launched her campaign for governor that morning, which has been widely expected since she was sworn in as treasurer in January 2019, and that afternoon developer and Ducey-appointed regent Karrin Taylor Robson also announced her bid.  

Yee is the first Republican to jump into the race and she did so with a slick campaign ad that shows she will attempt to focus on two issues that will appeal to a wide base of Republicans – the border and opposing “socialist policies.”  

The video also leaned heavily on President Trump.  

“President Trump’s America First agenda had our economy booming like never before,” Yee said. “But now, our way of life is under attack by the corrupt press, reckless corporate leaders and politicians who put socialist ideals over people, our freedom of speech and our elections.”  

Yee was seen several times on the campaign trail stumping for Trump and was front-and-center attempting to defeat a 2020 ballot measure for a new tax to fund education.  

Yee has been silent on any topic of the election, never addressing whether she thinks the election was stolen, if Biden is the legitimate president and her thoughts on the audit of Maricopa County’s ballots. 

In contrast, Robson’s video announcement was short and to the point. In 45 seconds, she took a shot at President Biden and Vice President Harris and said she’s excited to travel around Arizona to hear from Arizonans “about how we can stand together and fight the radical Biden-Harris agenda.”  

Robson and Yee will have to duke it out for Ducey’s support, as both have been close allies of the governor. 

Neither Yee nor Robson could be reached for comment.  

With roughly 18 months to go until the 2022 election, Arizona’s other statewide races are beginning to take shape, and Yee’s announcement means all but one statewide executive office will be open for the taking.  

With strong potential GOP gubernatorial contenders in Robson, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and former U.S. Rep Matt Salmon, there was some speculation that Yee might stay in her treasurer seat. But increasing rumors that Brnovich is leaning toward taking on Democrat Mark Kelly for the U.S. Senate, gave Yee an opportunity to position herself in the top tier of the potential primary candidates.  

Yee’s announcement opens up another statewide race, leaving only Arizona Superintendent Kathy Hoffman running for re-election.  


Secretary of State Katie Hobbs is expected to imminently join Marco Lopez in the Democratic primary for governor, leaving the Secretary of State’s Office vacant. Lopez, the former mayor of Nogales and one-time chief of staff of the Customs and Border Protection, launched his campaign in March. Rep. Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley, said he is considering a run for governor, but his current priority is passing a budget in the Legislature.  

“I do think there is a real need in Arizona for commonsense leaders who can help this great state not just recover, but thrive and grow,” Lieberman said. “I can say this: If I run, I will have a top flight team with a track record of winning statewide in Arizona and all the resources I will need to compete and win.” 

House Minority Leader Reginal Bolding, D-Laveen, and perhaps former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes could run for secretary of state against Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, who has already filed his bid. 

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, who has been the prime sponsor of many election bills, is a likely candidate for the top election official, and former long-time state legislator Kate Brophy McGee told The Yellow Sheet Report the office was on a “very long list” of offices she’s looking at for a potential 2022 run.  

Bolding confirmed to Yellow Sheet last month that he was “very much exploring” running for secretary of state. 


With Brnovich termed out, twice-failed congressional candidate Tiffany Shedd and former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Andrew Gould already jumped into the race for attorney general on the Republican side. Democrats also have candidate in Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix, who filed last week one day after January Contreras, the 2018 candidate, announced she would not run.  

Meanwhile, there’s increasing chatter that U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton, a Democrat, may jump into the AG’s race. And for Republicans, perennial candidate Rodney Glassman, who has not won an election since he was a Tucson Democrat, is expected to jump in as is Lacy Cooper, a former U.S. attorney and Dawn Grove, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry board chair. 

The Treasurer’s Office hasn’t fielded many rumored candidates, except Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, who has been long rumored to have his eye on the office. No Democrats have been rumored thus far, but Mark Manoil, who ran in 2018 and lost to Yee by roughly percentage points, is a possibility to run again. 

Nobody has served two terms in that office since Tony West won in 1990 and 1994 and no Democrat has held that office since Bob Kennedy in 1964.  

Hoffman recently found a Republican challenger in Tom Horne, the former superintendent of public instruction and attorney general, but sources haven’t said much about other Republicans eyeing the chance to take her on yet. A couple of local school board members filed to run for the race already, though.  

Finally, Bill Pierce, a 2018 fan favorite for mine inspector, posted on Facebook earlier this year he was going to run again since Joe Hart is termed out, but Pierce has not yet filed his statement of interest. 



SPI race headed for recount

Ballots from the general election are boxed up at the Maricopa County Recorders Office in Phoenix, Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Superintendent of Public Instruction race is set to come down to a recount as Democratic incumbent Kathy Hoffman and conservative Tom Horne continually swapped slight leads and small margins with each ballot drop.

Horne took the lead again after Maricopa County released its last sizable tabulation results on November 14. He is now ahead by more than 8,500 votes, or about a 0.3% margin.

Races trigger recounts when the margin between two candidates is less than or equal to 0.5% under a new Arizona law passed last session. The prior margin was 0.1%.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne smiles during an interview in Phoenix on Thursday, May 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Horne and Hoffman present two drastically different approaches to policy, leaving educators bracing for what the next four years may mean for education in the state.

Chuck Coughlin, longtime political analyst and CEO and President of HighGround Inc., said the results in the race stem from the difference in how the two candidates ran and funded their campaigns.

Horne ran a traditional campaign in terms of finance, bringing in just over a million dollars from outside donors and his own income.

Hoffman ran as a Clean Elections candidate, meaning her campaign was publicly funded by the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission. She received and spent $304,495.

Coughlin said Horne’s higher budget ultimately equated to a stronger presence with voters.

He noted that Horne, having served as Superintendent of Public Instruction from 2003 to 2011 and as Attorney General from 2011 to 2015, already had name recognition.

Arizona Department of Education Superintendent Kathy Hoffman speaks during a news conference in Phoenix, July 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool, File)

In his campaign, Horne latched onto the “parental empowerment” movement, which gained notoriety in Arizona and across the country amid opposition to critical race theory and the push for school choice.

“That’s part of the national narrative now about education,” Coughlin said. “With the resources he had to campaign, he attached himself to those narratives and I think that’s eventually what delivered in the market.”

Horne’s slogan throughout his campaign was, “empower parents.” He characterizes himself as, “a crusader against mediocrity, laziness, and political indoctrination as a substitute for academic teaching,” on his campaign website.

The parental empowerment movement generally pushes for advocating for transparency to squash “woke” curriculum and expanding access to vouchers. Horne falls in line, opposing critical race theory and hurling stones at what is known as “cancel culture.”

Horne’s track record as Superintendent of Public Instruction remains in line with the policy he presented in his campaign this year.

In 2010, Horne headed a ban on ethnic studies, outlawing courses promoting resentment toward a race or class of people or advocating for ethnic solidarity. The law was struck down by a federal judge, citing “racial animus.”

He wrote on his site his desire to attempt to outlaw ethnic studies again with assurance from a “more conservative U.S. Supreme Court.”

Horne has made statements against “social and emotional learning,” and wants to instead shore up discipline in the classroom by upping the presence of school resource officers and backing teachers in disciplinary action.

When Horne served on the Paradise Valley Unified School District for 24 years, he said he “did not reverse a teacher on an issue of discipline one time,” according to his campaign website.

Marisol Garcia, president of the Arizona Education Association, called Horne’s platform “divisive,” and said it focuses on pitting parents and teachers against each other.

“Teachers are parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, voters, taxpayers,” Garcia said. “We are not a monolith.”

Garcia said the rhetoric in debates about education, especially concerning parental empowerment, frequently turns public sentiment against teachers.

“Some politicians two years ago decided to make us out to be these horrible people,” Garcia said. “It does nothing to build strong communities. It does nothing to ensure we have great schools. It does nothing for our students.”

The Arizona Education Association endorsed Hoffman.

Hoffman also saw support from public education advocacy group, Save Our Schools. Beth Lewis, executive director, said the organization included Hoffman at the top of its voting literature and led with her candidacy when knocking on doors and calling voters.

Despite their efforts, Lewis said Hoffman’s campaign could have benefitted from increased funding and greater attention given that it was a down-ballot race.

“The larger races just took a lot of the money and therefore the oxygen just in terms of radio and TV and mailers,” Lewis said.

Lewis called Hoffman’s administration “peaceful and functional.”

Hoffman took office in 2019. Before her term, Hoffman worked as a pre-school teacher and speech language pathologist in public schools.

During her time as Superintendent of Public Instruction, she established the office for Educator Recruitment and Retention, created a Teacher Residency program, lowered the student-to-school-counselor ratio by 20% and awarded $14 million in $1,000 grants to Arizona educators.

Her policy priorities are addressing the teacher shortage, raising teacher pay, expanding mental health services for students, bridging digital divides in rural and tribal communities and bolstering Career and Technical Education programs.

Hoffman has been a proponent of lifting the Aggregate Expenditure Limit and pushing for increased funding for schools.

She also opposed universal voucher expansion, which delivered public education advocates a tough loss earlier this year when Save Our Schools failed to get enough signatures to refer the universal vouchers to voters in the 2024 election.

Lewis expressed concerns over transparency and accountability in the universal ESA program. She also said she fears teacher retention will suffer under Horne.

“If the person in charge of our schools is operating under this anti public-school mentality,” Lewis said. “That’s not going to help keep teachers. I think it will drive more off and we can’t afford that.”

Coughlin said, if Horne’s current lead is cemented in the recount, his victory no doubt disappoints public education advocates.

“Clearly, Horne’s not their guy,” Coughlin said.

He said the loss may prompt introspection on behalf of education associations in how to best organize behind public education candidates going forward.

Lewis said a recall is not out of the question if Horne, “decides to be radical and chaotic.”

“Groups like ours will be more than happy to help find a replacement,” Lewis said.

The recount will take place in early December.



Stage set for ruling in Mexican-American studies trial

In this June 15, 2011, file photo, protesters gather to support the Tucson Unified School District as Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal announces that the district violates state law by teaching it's Mexican American Studies program. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, file)
In this June 15, 2011, file photo, protesters gather to support the Tucson Unified School District as Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal announces that the district violates state law by teaching it’s Mexican American Studies program. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, file)

A judge plans to rule within weeks on a challenge to an Arizona law that prompted the dismantling of a Mexican-American history program in Tucson’s largest school district.

U.S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima heard closing arguments Friday in the case in which plaintiffs contend the law was too broad and infringed on their First Amendment rights.

The courts have upheld most of the law but are determining whether it was enacted with an intent to be discriminatory, which the state denies.

The law prohibits courses that promote resentment toward a race or a class of people, are designed primarily for people of a particular ethnic group, or advocate ethnic solidarity instead treating people as individuals.

Tucson Unified School District dismantled the program in 2012 to avoid losing state funding.

Tom Horne, former state attorney general and former leader of Arizona’s public schools, testified last week that he was troubled by what he described as radical instructors teaching students to be disruptive. But he insisted he targeted all ethnic studies programs equally.

Lawmakers dismantled the programs in a measure that passed in 2010, the same year Arizona approved its landmark immigration law known as SB1070.

Students in the Tucson Unified School District, which offered the Mexican-American course, launched protests and then sued.

Horne drafted the law as superintendent of public schools and later defended it as state attorney general.

The Tucson program began in 1998 and focused on Mexican-American history, literature and art in an effort to keep Mexican-American students in school and engaged.Ai?? Advocates say students who participated outperformed their peers in grades and standardized tests.

The board of the Tucson school district officially dismantled the program in January 2012, a month after the law took effect.

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Suit challenges legal process of Arizona administrative hearings


A Washington, D.C. organization is challenging the ability of the heads of state agencies in Arizona to discard the conclusions of independent hearing officers.

The new lawsuit filed Friday in Maricopa County Superior Court contends that a caregiver at a group home was denied his rights when Greg McKay, director of the Department of Child Safety, concluded he was guilty of child abuse. Attorney Adi Dynar of the New Civil Liberties Alliance said McKay’s findings could result in the man identified only as Philip B. having his name being entered into the Arizona Central Registry as a child abuser for the next 25 years.

Dynar said McKay’s conclusions are directly contradicted by the findings of the administrative law judge who heard the evidence and exonerated Mr. B.

But the larger legal issue, said Dynar, is the fact that Arizona law actually allows McKay to substitute his own judgment − and even his own version of the facts − from those of the independent hearing officer who was actually the one to conduct the hearing and listen to the witnesses. He wants a trial judge to find that statute unconstitutional.

The outcome of the case has implications beyond DCS.

Many other state agencies operate under the same statutory provisions, with directors given wide latitude to decide cases even when the findings are contrary to those of the hearing officer. A declaration of unconstitutionality would undermine the entire system, a move that could help those who are accused of running afoul of agency rules, including those whose professions are regulated by the state.

There was no immediate response from either DCS or the attorney general’s office, which is tasked with defending the constitutionality of state statutes.

The underlying issue involves a 2018 incident when the caregiver was accused of placing his forearm against the neck of a 13-year-old boy to the point where the child’s face turned red and he was unable to breathe.

Dynar said that following a hearing the administrative law judge − who technically works not for DCS but for a separate Office of Administrative Hearings − concluded that there was no probable cause to support the finding of abuse.

What happened next, Dynar said, is that McKay struck some of the testimony from the record, declined to accept the testimony of Philip B. and another adult witness, and ordered that the finding of abuse be listed on the record as “substantiated.”

“In effect, that outcome means a death sentence for his personal reputation and career, which he has spent so far exclusively caring for children,” Dynar wrote. He said being listed on the Central Registry “can and will be used” against Mr. B. to determine qualification for any future job where he would be near a child.

That led to the appeal Friday to Maricopa County Superior Court and Dynar’s petition to the judge not just to overturn McKay’s findings but to void the process that allows the DCS director as well as those heading other state agencies to overturn the decision of the administrative law judge.

Dynar called it a “stacked process.”

“The only independent factfinder in the administrative process employed here was the administrative law judge,” he wrote. “The ALJ heard testimony, made credibility determinations, and entered findings of fact and conclusions of law into the record.”

But under the way Arizona law works, any appeal from the ALJ’s decision − whether by the person who was the subject of the complaint or the agency which filed the complaint − goes back to the head of the agency, “the very same agency that investigated the prosecuted the charge against Mr. B. in the first place.”

“Under this procedure, DCS and Director McKay not only investigated and prosecuted the child-abuse charge against Mr. B., but also acted as the ultimate factfinder and judge,” Dynar wrote.

In amending the findings of fact by the ALJ, the attorney said, McKay acted “as a one-man jury.” And in deciding whose testimony to believe, Dynar said McKay acted as a judge, something he said is particularly legally offensive given that it was the ALJ and not McKay who actually observed the witnesses and their testimony.

“To say that this process is ‘bad’ is a gross understatement,” Dynar argued.

The lawsuit actually attacks more than the system that gives agency directors the final say.

Dynar said even the process used by hearing officers is legally flawed, denying someone who is accused of wrongdoing the right to question witnesses. And he said it should require something more than “probable cause” to determine someone’s guilt.

He said that if a judge invalidates the law it will be up to the Legislature to come up with a constitutional system that protects the rights of those facing administrative hearings.

The new Arizona lawsuit appears to fit the kinds of cases taken up by the New Civil Liberties Alliance which, according to its web site, “views the administrative state as an especially serious threat to constitutional freedoms.” Other cases range from challenging the use of automatic license plate readers by a Florida city to contesting a federal rule banning the use of “bump stocks” that effectively make automatic weapons out of semiautomatic rifles.

This isn’t the first time that legal questions have been raised about the process of agency chiefs both prosecuting claims against people and then acting as the ultimate decision maker.

In 2017 the Arizona Supreme Court ruled it was improper for Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk to pursue former Attorney General Tom Horne on campaign finance charges at an administrative hearing and then, after the ALJ sided with Horne, overrule that finding.

“We hold that due process does not permit the same individual to issue the initial decision finding violations and ordering remedies, participate personally in the prosecution of the case before an administrative law judge, and then make the final agency decision that will receive only deferential judicial review,” wrote Justice Clint Bolick for the court.

But Dynar said the high court, while siding with Horne and directing there be a new and independent hearing never actually invalidated the law that still allows this process to happen, which is the legal relief he now seeks.

Tom Horne won’t have to pay $400,000 fine

Tom Horne
Tom Horne (photo by Gary Grado)

Former Attorney General Tom Horne, who was hounded by allegations of illegal coordination throughout his unsuccessful bid for re-election in 2014 and faced a $400,000 fine, has been absolved of wrongdoing by Cochise County Attorney Brian McIntyre.

McIntyre concluded that while Horne and Kathleen Winn, who ran an independent expenditure committee that aided his campaign for attorney general, communicated at a time “which would cause any outside observer to cry foul,” the record did not establish that the act is illegal.

Brian McIntyre
Brian McIntyre

“Both sides to this dispute present equally plausible explanations as to what did or did not occur during that communication,” McIntyre wrote. “The party bearing the burden, therefore, has failed to meet it.”

The Attorney General’s Office had assigned the case to McIntyre after the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk’s handling of the case violated Horne’s due process rights. McIntyre’s conclusions are the final word on the case.

That decision overturned two lower court rulings and handed the former attorney general a major victory in the scandal that ultimately contributed to his election defeat.

The justices ruled that due process does not permit Polk to levy the fine against Horne and Winn, participate in prosecuting them, and serve as the final decision-maker in rejecting an administrative law judge’s recommendation that the case be dismissed, which the Supreme Court noted would “receive only deferential judicial review.”

In 2014, Administrative Law Judge Tammy Eigenheer recommended to drop the case against Horne and Winn.

McIntyre said Eigenheer found Horne and Winn’s testimony to be credible, and he could find no substantial evidence to overturn those findings.

Kathleen Winn
Kathleen Winn

A focal point of the case against Horne and Winn was a series of emails she had sent to political consultant Brian Murray on Oct. 20, 2010, in which she told the consultant that “we” didn’t like how many times Business Leaders for Arizona, the independent expenditure group she ran, had mentioned Democrat Felicia Rotellini, Horne’s 2010 general election opponent, in its ad. She had also commented that she has “several masters” to answer to and had two “strong personalities” debating the ad’s content. The Yavapai County Attorney’s Office concluded that she must have been referring to Horne.

But McIntyre said the evidence does not reveal any actual communication between Horne and Winn, and the record supports the conclusion that those “strong personalities” did not include Horne.

McIntyre added that the investigation was “not a search for the truth, but rather, only intended to shore up conclusions already drawn.”

Horne’s attorneys, Dennis Wilenchik and Jack Wilenchik, said the “oppressive cloud” hanging over their client has been cleared.

“This case was brought by an overzealous prosecutor who chose to act as ‘judge, jury and executioner’ and to overrule a judge. Justice has finally prevailed for the former Attorney General,” they added.

Late in the 2010 race, Business Leaders for Arizona had run roughly $500,000 worth of attack ads against Rotellini. Investigators from the Maricopa County and later the Yavapai County attorney’s offices concluded that Horne and Winn had illegally coordinated in creating the campaign commercials. Polk ultimately fined the pair $400,000.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery’s October 2012 announcement of the coordination allegations was a political bombshell that hounded Horne for the remainder of his term as attorney general. Many believe that this charge, along with allegations by a former staffer in 2014 that Horne had been running his re-election campaign out of the Attorney General’s Office, helped lead to Horne’s defeat in the Republican primary by Mark Brnovich, who went on to win the general election race.


Transgender girls can still play girls sports, appellate court rules

Two transgender girls will get to play on girls’ teams, at least for the time being.

In a brief order Monday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected separate bids by Republican legislative leaders and state schools chief Tom Horne to delay the effect of an order issued last month by U.S. District Court Judge Jennifer Zipps blocking the state from enforcing its 2022 ban on transgender girls from playing with and against other girls.

That most immediately means that the girls will be able to participate in girls’ sports as this new school year begins, precisely what Horne, Senate President Warren Petersen and House Speaker Ben Toma had sought to prevent by seeking a stay of Zipps’ order. In fact, they argued to the appellate judges that, absent their intervention, one of the girls, an 11-year-old student at Kyrene Aprende Middle School, would participate in a cross-country competition on Monday.

The appellate judges apparently were not impressed by the arguments, turning down the requests for a delay in the ruling and instead setting a schedule for the attorneys for both the challengers and the affected girls to file legal briefs. And that means the court will not even consider their arguments until at least November, if not later.

Horne, ESA, data breach, Accurso
Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne (Photo courtesy of Tom Horne via Cronkite News)

Horne, reacting to Monday’s order, said he was not alarmed.

He pointed out that, strictly speaking, the litigation affects only these two transgender girls whose bid to participate in girls’ sports was brought in federal court by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the one attending school in the Kyrene district and the other a 15-year who is a student at The Gregory School in Tucson. While that is a private school, it is affected by the 2022 law because it participates in Arizona Interscholastic Association, which allows its students to participate in interscholastic sports with other schools.

But Horne told Capitol Media Services he needs to battle this particular lawsuit because he’s sure the legal fights won’t stop here.

“My view is that this is a first step towards letting males play in female sports in general,” he said.

“So this is a long-term fight,” he continued. “And I think it’s as important enough issue that we’ll win it in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Petersen was critical of the refusal of the appellate judges to step in and allow enforcement of the law.

Sen. Warren Petersen

“Bad rulings like this are just another reminder why the 9th Circuit is the most radical and overturned in the nation,” said the Gilbert Republican. In fact, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, with a reversal rate of 81.5%, is the most reversed U.S. appellate court in the land since 2007, according to Ballotpedia. The 9th Circuit comes in second in that time span with an 80% reversal rate.

A spokesman for Toma said he is “disappointed” by Monday’s ruling, saying the Peoria Republican is evaluating his next steps.

The 2022 law requires public schools and any private schools that compete against them to designate their interscholastic or intramural sports strictly as male, female or coed. And, more to the point, it specifically says that teams designated for women or girls “may not be open to students of the male sex.”

In her ruling last month, Zipps, a 2011 appointee of President Obama, rejected claims by Horne and the legislative leaders that it would be unfair to allow those who were born as males to participate against females. The judge said the evidence Horne presented claiming that prepubescent transgender girls are stronger does not hold up under scrutiny.

U.S. District Court Judge Jennifer Zipps swears in before a Senate confirmation hearing in 2011. (Photo by Cristina Rayas/Cronkite News Service)

Zipps also said that the 2022 law violates Title IX, a federal law that bars discrimination based on sex in educational opportunities. She said it deprives transgender girls “the benefits of sports programs and activities that their non-transgender classmates enjoy.”

And perhaps the most significant, the judge said the two girls who filed suit, who otherwise would be participating this new school year in sports, would suffer irreparable harm.

In seeking to stay the order, Horne argued just the opposite. He said that allowing Jane Doe, the transgender girl attending school in the Kryene district, to compete in cross-country events with other girls would not be fair to them.

“Unless Doe finishes the race behind every biological girl participating in the race, Doe’s participation will necessarily displace a biological girl from finishing in a higher-ranked position,” the schools chief argued. “Those biological girls will be irreparably harmed in the absence of a stay.”

The attorney for Petersen and Toma had their own arguments, including what he said is the right of state legislators to set public policy and adopt laws like the one challenged here.

“Permitting a single transgender-female athlete to participate on girls’ teams permits and prolongs a continuing violation of law,” wrote John Sauer.

“The act, as a duly enacted law adopted by Arizona’s elected representatives, is itself a clear and authoritative declaration of the public interest in Arizona,” he continued. “The district court erred by disregarding these public interests.”

In her extensive ruling last month, Zipps relied heavily on the concept that transgender girls are, in fact, girls.

She acknowledged that children are “assigned” a sex at birth which generally matches physiology. But the judge said that is different than “gender identity.”

“For a transgender person, that initial designation does not match the person’s gender identity,” Zipps said. She also said that “gender dysphoria” – the distress due to incongruence between the person’s gender identity and assigned sex – is highly treatable.

“Attempts to ‘cure’ transgender individuals by forcing their gender identity into alignment with their birth sex are harmful and ineffective,” Zipps wrote. And the judge said efforts like the 2022 law to deny transgender girls the opportunity to participate in sports with other girls – and she does consider the plaintiffs to be girls – can be harmful, citing high rates of attempted suicide in the transgender community.


Trump taps Stephanie Grisham as White House spokeswoman

In this June 21, 2019 photo, Stephanie Grisham, spokeswoman for first lady Melania Trump, watches as President Donald Trump and the first lady greet attendees during the annual Congressional Picnic on the South Lawn in Washington. First lady Melania Trump has announced that Grisham will be the new White House press secretary. Grisham, who has been with President Donald Trump since 2015, will also take on the role of White House communications director. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
In this June 21, 2019 photo, Stephanie Grisham, spokeswoman for first lady Melania Trump, watches as President Donald Trump and the first lady greet attendees during the annual Congressional Picnic on the South Lawn in Washington. First lady Melania Trump has announced that Grisham will be the new White House press secretary. Grisham, who has been with President Donald Trump since 2015, will also take on the role of White House communications director. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Stephanie Grisham, the former Arizona House GOP spokeswoman and current press secretary for First Lady Melania Trump, was named White House press secretary Tuesday, the First Lady tweeted

Grisham was also named the new White House communications director, according to the tweet. 


During Grisham’s tenure in Arizona, she was a spokeswoman for former Attorney General Tom Horne and former Speaker of the House, now Sen. David Gowan. 

She took an unpaid leave of absence from the House in 2016 to work for President Trump’s campaign. 

Grisham fell under some controversy when she left the House. The Arizona Capitol Times reported then that Grisham was still receiving paychecks from the state even when she was not working. 

Grisham was supposed to return to the House after Trump won the election, and the state paid her $19,000 during the two-month period.

But during that period she was traveling the country on Trump’s “thank you tour” and was then named to his transition team. 

A public records request from the time showed that Grisham didn’t send a single email for the two months she was on payroll. All of the events on her calendar, which were pre-scheduled, ended up being cancelled, according to the story. 

Grisham was not quoted in any newspaper during the period about Gowan or the House Republican Caucus during the period. 

Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted her support of Grisham Tuesday. 

“(Grisham) will be an incredible asset to the President and the country. I’m sad to leave the WH, but so happy to leave our team in such great hands. Stephanie will do a phenomenal job. Proud to have another mom and a great friend in this role,” Sanders tweeted.

Udall takes step in run for schools chief

Michelle Udall (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Rep. Michelle Udall has become the latest House member to seek higher office. 

The Mesa Republican, who is a high school math teacher and chairwoman of the House Education Committee, filed a statement of interest to run for superintendent of public instruction on Wednesday. She joins a field of Republicans hoping to take on Democratic incumbent Kathy Hoffman that, while crowded, doesn’t include many well-known names. 

Udall said she has been going back and forth on whether to run for a while. She thinks schools need to refocus on what she views as their core mission of educating students. 

“I don’t think it’s any secret that I’m pretty passionate about education policy and about ensuring that our kids get a quality education,” she said. “The past couple of years, it seems like school has been about anything but school.” 

Udall, who was elected to the House in 2017 and was a school board member in Mesa before that, was at the center of some of this year’s hottest education debates. She was the House sponsor of a controversial bill that some supporters framed as a ban on “critical race theory” in schools; while it died in the Senate, the gist of it was added to the K-12 budget reconciliation bill and passed that way. It and several other policy-related budget provisions are currently the subject of a court challenge. Earlier this year, she publicly sparred with Hoffman over how Hoffman was spending federal discretionary Covid relief dollars. 

“I’m a mom, I’m a teacher, and I have a lot of experience with education policy, and I’m really passionate about ensuring that our kids get a good education, and at the end of the day, that’s what’s the most important,” Udall said. 

Udall said she has been “not particularly impressed” with Hoffman.  

“(She’s) just not getting the job done that needs to be done,” Udall said. “(There’s a) lot of extra bureaucracy in the office right now.” 

On some issues, Udall has been a decisive vote, occasionally siding with the Democrats and bucking most of the rest of the GOP caucus to support or block something. Her opposition to a sizable Empowerment Scholarship Account expansion that passed the Senate helped to ensure it wouldn’t become law. She is also the reason why voters will decide next year whether to scuttle the state’s ban on in-state tuition for people living here illegally – when the resolution passed the Senate but stalled in the House, Udall made a procedural motion to force a vote on it, and it passed with the support of the Democrats and just a few Republicans.  

The only other candidate with a comparable level of statewide name recognition is Tom Horne, who was superintendent of public instruction from 2003 to 2011 and attorney general for four years after that before losing the GOP primary to now-AG Mark Brnovich in 2014. The other candidates to have filed statements of interest are Kim Fisher and Jennie Paperman, who are Deer Valley Unified governing board members; Kara Woods, a Prescott Unified governing board member; and Shiry Sapir, a real estate entrepreneur who lives in Scottsdale. 

Udall said she plans to finish her term in the House. She said she is working on some bills to improve Arizona’s schools that she wants to introduce when the Legislature reconvenes in January. 

“I still have a lot of work to get done this coming session,” she said. 

Ylenia Aguilar: A new citizen cast her first ballot for herself

Ylenia Aguilar
Ylenia Aguilar

The American Dream means different things to different people, but to Ylenia Aguilar, it meant being able to vote for herself in the first election she was able to vote as an American citizen.

“I became a citizen towards the end of 2014 … and the first thing I did was run for office,” Aguilar said. “I voted for the first time in 2016, for a woman president and for myself.” 

Originally from Orizaba, Veracruz, Mexico, Aguilar spent most of her life living in Tucson, hiking and enjoying the community life. She never expected to get involved politically and even decided to run for office as a “distraction” from her personal life. 

Now, she’s the sole Latina voice on the Osborn School Board in Phoenix, heavily involved in the education world on the Governing Board for Save Our Schools Arizona and trying to make as much of a difference as she can, all while raising two kids. 

“For me, voting and running for office has been an incredible experience. And all that came with access to quality education,” she said. 

Being involved with SOS Arizona, how do you think schools in Arizona need saving?

In every way. I’m sure you hear this all the time. You need the money, the resources – and resources don’t always come in money, but in order to get those programs or those resources, you need the money, so it’s that [and] it’s our policies. … One of the reasons that we struggle in our educational system is because of the way that we haven’t updated our policies to suit the needs of our changing demographics. We’re no longer just one demographic. We are a very diverse Arizona and until we address the needs of our students, then we won’t be able to get ahead.

You were an interpreter before, how did you get into that?

It was in 2008. I had my second son. I used to be a loan officer working in the mortgage industry and the market crashed. I lost my job so I started working for attorneys doing consulting work here and there. I served a labor and employment attorney. Then I went off to a criminal defense attorney. My job was to translate plea-offer sentencing memorandums, plan the calls and meetings, pretty much everything. Then some lawyer once told me, “You should be an interpreter, you’re really great at this.” And that’s how I got started. So I start going to the prisons. And that’s where I got my start with the Criminal Justice Act – the federal cases. That’s where they are detained [for] illegal reentry. So that’s how I became an interpreter.

So what do you do in a situation as the interpreter if you’re trying to tell someone what’s going on and they don’t understand?

I’m just the voice. So you’re the attorney, the inmate is here and I’m the interpreter. You speak and you’re like, here I brought this is what the government’s offering you. I never ever give my own opinion. Unless I was friends with the attorney, I would tell them that they seem like they don’t understand and you can tell. The lawyer can understand without speaking Spanish. You can understand human behavior. You do not need to speak the language to know that someone is in fear.

How do you take experiencing something like that and apply it to your own life? Does it change how you operate on the school board in any way?

Absolutely. These are the parents of the children that I serve sometimes. And also my mother’s siblings, they’ve been deported as well. So I remember visiting my family members in the detention center, so it’s not something that is too far away from me. So I can relate to being the little child waiting in line to see their uncle.

How old were you?

I want to say the first time my uncle was deported, I think I was six or seven because I remember the first time I went as an interpreter and they let us walk to the front of the line because I’m with an attorney and I just remember seeing a little girl playing with the rocks and I remember having that same experience.

At what point in your life did you want to start getting into politics? 

Never. I never thought that that was something that I would ever do actually … One thing I will say is I didn’t used to think education was political and now I know everything is political. My ex-husband taught Mexican-American studies in Tucson and in 2011 [John] Huppenthal and Tom Horne banned ethnic studies. That’s the reason we moved from Tucson to Phoenix. And there was some resentment from me to board members even though I didn’t really know what they did, because I remember everyone was demoted into other positions, but my ex-husband was the one that was blackballed, because his dad was a lawyer who filed the lawsuit against the state for battling ethnic studies. That was my first experience with politics.

And then you ran in 2016.

I was encouraged by a former school board member who was going to move and I hadn’t even shared with him that I wasn’t a citizen yet so I was like, “Oh, cool, thank you.” I was humbled someone thought I could be smart enough. Then my divorce began and I became a citizen and I didn’t even think about it. And I was asked again. … He told me, “All you’re going to have to do is work hard and knock on doors” and I thought, “I can do that.” So that’s what motivated me and I just wanted a distraction from what was going on in my personal life. 

And your distraction was running for office?

I didn’t know any better. 

Would you run for higher office?

People have asked me that. No, I really do believe that the school board is what makes me happy. I love the children. They’re what inspire me and given our current political system here in Arizona, I don’t have any aspirations or any desire to be part of all that negativity. I just want to be positive and optimistic no matter what happens in our country and our state. I want these children to have a safe environment, to be happy and prepared for life. So the school board provides me that sense of purpose that I need to feel fulfilled. So I enjoy it.