2nd straight year of calls for a lawmaker’s ouster

Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, answers questions Wednesday about his comments which were interpreted by some as racist. Stringer said he was not a racist but simply was detailing his views on the effects of rapid immigration on the country. With him is the Rev. Jarrett Maupin who agreed to let Stringer explain his comments to leaders of the African-American community in Phoenix. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES
Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, answers questions Wednesday about his comments which were interpreted by some as racist. Stringer said he was not a racist but simply was detailing his views on the effects of rapid immigration on the country. With him is the Rev. Jarrett Maupin who agreed to let Stringer explain his comments to leaders of the African-American community in Phoenix. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES

For the second year in a row, the House hovers on the edge of moral turmoil and the potential ouster of a member.

Twice this year, Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, has been recorded making inflammatory comments about race and immigration, and stories of private comments he made away from cameras and recording devices have come to light.

In June, he lamented that there aren’t “enough white kids to go around” in Arizona’s public schools.

In November, he said African Americans “don’t blend in.”

Now he faces numerous calls for his resignation, including from prominent members of his own party, and suggestions that he be recalled or expelled from the House if he refuses.

The controversial episode has parallels to the lead up to the 2018 legislative session.

In November 2017, the Arizona Capitol Times reported on a series of sexual harassment accusations made against then-Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma. Soon after, he was suspended from his duties as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee amid calls for him to leave the Legislature altogether.

Shooter wouldn’t quit, and ultimately he was expelled February 1 by his fellow House members by a 56-3 vote.

Unsurprisingly, Shooter was among the three who voted against the motion. So was Stringer, who lamented on the House floor the process that had led his colleagues to that point.

“I must vote no,” Stringer said that day. “And I hope that this procedure is never followed again. I would hate to be a victim, I would hate for any of you to be subject to this kind of a process.”

Stringer’s sin differs from Shooter, whose expulsion stemmed from graphic sexual comments he made toward women and men, including lobbyists and his fellow lawmakers. Investigators hired by the House also determined his actions, including lewd hand gestures and notes left for a fellow lawmaker, created a hostile work environment in violation of House policies.

Although Stringer’s words weren’t sexual or graphic, they have also had an impact on his colleagues and constituents, leading some to believe he simply cannot be an effective lawmaker anymore.

Rep. Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa. (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Special for Arizona Capitol Times.
Rep. Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Special for Arizona Capitol Times.

Swift action

House Speaker-elect Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, was quick to take action after the Phoenix New Times reported on Stringer’s latest comments on November 30.

In a written statement, Bowers said the comments were “vile” and had personally offended him. He asked Stringer to resign as chair of the House Sentencing and Recidivism Reform Committee that day and removed him entirely from the committee Stringer had fought for years to create.

Bowers has since dissolved the reform committee, and the issues that would have gone before it will be absorbed into the House Judiciary Committee, from which Stringer was also removed. Bowers additionally stripped Stringer of his seat on the chamber’s Education Committee, though he remains on the Government Committee.

Not everyone has been satisfied by the punishment, but Bowers told the Capitol Times he believes he has sanctioned Stringer appropriately and will go no further.

“The Constitution permits the Legislature to expel a member for their behavior but not for their beliefs or views, however repugnant they may be,” he said.

Instead, Bowers will leave the decision up to the voters of Legislative District 1, who just a month ago overwhelmingly re-elected Stringer. They could now choose to launch a recall effort against the lawmaker five days after he is sworn into office.

“That’s up to the people of District One,” Bowers said. “It sounds like they’re plenty upset and that that’s a course that they could take.”

On December 6, the newly elected House Democratic leadership – Reps. Charlene Fernandez, Randy Friese, Reginald Bolding and Athena Salman – sent a letter to Bowers saying he had not gone far enough. They agreed with his “well-reasoned rationale” for removing Stringer from three of his committee assignments, but they argued the same logic must apply to his remaining seat.

Additionally, they asked that Bowers call for a vote to censure Stringer if he does not resign before session begins on January 14.

“In November, Arizona voters chose to send one of the most diverse groups of legislators that we’ve ever seen (to the Capitol),” the Democrats wrote. “What our caucus celebrates as a symbol of our country’s unique strength and progress, Rep. David Stringer clearly sees as an existential threat to the American way of life.”

Friese, the incoming assistant minority leader, said while Stringer has already proven himself an ineffective legislator to his district, it’s too early to determine if he’ll be a drag on the entire body of the House.

If that turns out to be so, Democrats could make the case that Stringer is creating a hostile work environment in violation of House policy, Friese said.

“I think that there will be a hyper focus on how Mr. Stringer interacts with the body… as a whole, and what environment does that create,” he said.


Stringer’s views may have attracted widespread attention this year, but they came as no surprise to some in Yavapai County who’ve known the Republican for years.

Long before either recorded episode, Stringer reportedly made numerous other disparaging remarks that left the impression he was, as Prescott City Councilwoman Alexa Scholl put it, “morally flawed” and unfit for office.

Jonathan Conant, treasurer of the Yavapai County Bar Association and a Republican in LD1, said Stringer has been more careful with his words in the past, but he’s been emboldened the longer he’s got away with it.

“I feel dirty when I’m around him,” Conant said, describing Stringer as a man who is easily frustrated and quick to lash out with “morally reprehensible” speech.

He recalled several conversations with Stringer that suggested the lawmaker holds anti-Semitic views in addition to the disparaging beliefs he has expressed about people of color.

In July 2017, Conant’s wife Ali was a teacher and felt personally attacked when a conversation with Stringer about education turned “scary.”

She wrote about the interaction in a Facebook post, recalling someone present during the conversation who told Stringer he didn’t know who he was speaking to.

“At this point Representative Stringer looked directly at me and said, ‘I know exactly who I am speaking to,’” she wrote. “‘I see the San Francisco t-shirt with the peace sign and that… that…. that…Star of David. Oh, I know exactly who I am speaking to. She’s advertising it!’”

Even if giving Stringer the benefit of the doubt, Conant said Stringer’s choice of words tells a different story.

“He could be doing the best thing for the state, but if the appearance is not that, he’s not serving the state,” Conant said.

What’s next?

Following Stringer’s comments about “white kids” in Arizona schools in June, Gov. Doug Ducey called on Stringer to resign, arguing his words disqualified him from serving in the Legislature. It’s an opinion Ducey reiterated after Stringer’s latest episode.

AZGOP Chairman Jonathan Lines has also sought Stringer’s resignation, and the Prescott City Council voted on December 4 to pass a resolution adding to the demands that he step down.

Despite the outcry, Stringer has given no indication he’ll yield.

Over the summer, he defended his June comments as an honest attempt to discuss race, and appeared at Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles to deliver an apology some found lacking. Since the Phoenix New Times report on his latest comments, Stringer has made no public statements, nor has he returned multiple requests for comment.

His fate may rest in the hands of his constituents, as Bowers and some Republicans balk at further punishment.

Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, said he doesn’t see representatives going so far as to expel Stringer. While Shope said he personally has no love for the lawmaker, expelling Stringer for what amounts to his beliefs is a step too far for most lawmakers.

“I don’t think he deserves to be there,” Shope said. “But by God, the people in his district knew what he said a few months ago, and they sent him back.”

“Voters can be wrong,” Conant said.

The results may be different if given another chance, Conant said. That could happen if Stringer were ousted, be it by recall, impeachment or expulsion. Conant suggested that Stringer could be impeached under Article VIII of the Arizona Constitution, arguing his conduct constitutes malfeasance. And a petition is being circulated among attorneys in Yavapai County to ask the House to expel Stringer.

“People are tired. Do something once, shame on you. Do something twice, shame on me,” Conant said.

Pressure to do something may mount as more reporting on Stringer emerges. He has already been caught on tape twice, Shope noted, and more could come.

“Don’t you gotta think there are other recordings of Stringer that are going to come out? This is just going to be a slow leak that continues,” Shope said. “Do we get to the point where somebody’s personal feelings on race are an expellable offense? I don’t know.”

Ben Giles contributed to this report.

Conservative Prescott, liberal Tucson coalesce in election-date lawsuit

Three GOP lawmakers are preparing legislation to punish the city of Tucson, shown here in an aerial view, if voters pass a ballot measure to make the city a sanctuary for illegal immigrants. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
Shown here is in an aerial view of Tucson. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

The Democrat enclave of Tucson is getting help from largely Republican Prescott in its fight with the Arizona Legislature and Attorney General Mark Brnovich about when cities can have their local elections.

In a new legal brief, attorneys for the Yavapai County community are telling the Arizona Supreme Court they should reject efforts by Brnovich to force all cities to align the dates they choose the mayor and council members with statewide elections.

City Attorney Jon Paladini told the justices that the Arizona Constitution gives charter cities the right to control issues of strictly local concern. And he said elections are quintessential local issues.

But this is more than about Prescott helping Tucson.

Paladini said if the Supreme Court upholds the 2018 law Brnovich hopes to enforce, then Prescott, too, will be forced to move its elections to even-numbered years.

“In particular, (the law) will decrease voter turnout, increase the cost of local elections, create legal exposure and cause other serious practical problems,” he said.

What the Supreme Court decides could finally put to rest multi-year efforts of the Republican-controlled legislature to bring city elections into line with what lawmakers contend is in the best interests of the state and its residents.

It started in 2012 with a law that decreed all local elections have to be conducted on the same even-year cycle as federal and statewide votes. Proponents argued that conforming election dates would increase voter turnout.

Tucson, with its odd-year cycle, filed suit.

Attorneys for the city pointed out that its voters — along with those in 18 other Arizona communities — have adopted local charters. More to the point the state constitution gives these charter cities specific rights to legislate on matters of “strictly local concern.”

In 2014, the Court of Appeals agreed with the city, ruling the law “improperly intrudes on the constitutional authority of charter cities.” The Supreme Court did not disturb that decision.

In 2018, Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, got colleagues to approve the measure again, but with a twist.

This new version says cities have to come into conformance with the state election schedule when turnout in their local elections is at least 25 percent less than in the most recent statewide vote. That logic was designed to prove the claim that lawmakers were interested in higher voter turnout and that made it a legitimate interest of statewide concern.

The 2019 Tucson election fell below that threshold. But when Tucson refused to move its elections, Mesnard got Brnovich to ask the Supreme Court to force the city to comply or risk the loss of half of its state aid.

With the justices set to consider the issue next month, Prescott has come to Tucson’s defense.

“The constitutional drafters recognized that it is in the best interest of charter cities, and their respective citizens, that they be autonomous and self-governing with little interference from the state when it comes to local concerns,” Paladini wrote. And that, he said, includes Prescott, where voters adopted a “home rule” charter in 1958.

That charter requires the city’s primary elections to be in late August of every odd-numbered year, followed by a general election — if necessary in the city’s nonpartisan system — in November of the same year. All that, Paladini told the justices, will go away if they rule against Tucson.

He also questioned the whole idea that consolidating local elections with statewide votes would actually mean more voter participation.

Paladini pointed out Prescott council elections are conducted entirely by mail. This, he said, creates higher turnout “because voters do not have to take the extra step of contacting the Yavapai Counnty Elections Office and requesting a ballot.”

There also are policy issues.

“The Prescott elections are bipartisan, and if forced to hold elections on even-numbered years, the election issues will be confused with partisan issues which are not matters of ‘local concern,” Paladini wrote.

“Adding in all other municipal, county, state and federal elections to the ballot serves only to cause voter fatigue and confusion,” he continued. “The Prescott voters should be allowed to focus solely on local representation and local concerns rather than being inundated with numerous choices such as rating unknown superior court judges, Corporation Commissioner elections and statewide initiatives.”

Paladini said moving the local elections to even-numbered years will result in additional fees from Yavapai County, with city residents having to pony up money for it to conduct both in-person and mail-in voting.

And then there’s a practical issue.

He pointed out that if a change to even years is mandated, that will affect the remaining terms of mayor and council members who were elected in 2019. That, said Paladini, means either shaving a year off their terms or adding a year “in violation of the Prescott City Charter which will generate legal challenges and decrease confidence in our democratic process.”

“The legislature must not be allowed to unlawfully impose its definition of what is the method and manner of local elections,” he concluded. “The legislature has sought to upend these practice bringing confusion, and doing a disservice to the Prescott voters.”


Charter cities in Arizona:


Casa Grande



— Source: League of Arizona Cities and Towns

Court to determine whether hashish legal for medical marijuana patients

A 10 grams piece of Hashish laid next to a 20 grams piece, isolated on white background. This pieces represent the quantity of three retail units.
A 10 grams piece of Hashish laid next to a 20 grams piece.

The Arizona Supreme Court will decide whether the extracts of marijuana used to make edible products now sold to patients at state-licensed dispensaries are legal.

In a brief order Tuesday the justices said they want to hear arguments by attorneys for Rodney Jones about why his 2013 conviction for possession of illegal drugs and 2 1/2-year prison term is contrary to state law.

Robert Mandel, one of Jones’ lawyers, pointed out that his client is a medical marijuana patient, entitled by the 2010 voter-approved Arizona Medical Marijuana Act to obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. Jones had a jar containing 0.05 ounces of hashish, a resin made from the plant.

In a divided ruling last year, the state Court of Appeals upheld the conviction. The majority said that law that legalized marijuana for medical purposes allows patients to possess only forms of the plant itself — flowers, leaves and seeds — and not the resin, or anything made from that.

But Mandel, in asking the high court to review the conviction, said this is about more than his client.

He pointed out that the state Department of Health Services has for years allowed — and even regulated — the sale of alternate forms of marijuana through state-regulated dispensaries. These range from candy and gummy bears to oils that can be administered to children who have been recommended medical marijuana by a doctor for issues like seizures.

In fact Will Humble, who was state health director when voters approved the law, even filed an affidavit with the Supreme Court saying that the rules he crafted, in consultation with the Attorney General’s Office, always considered that the statute allowed for alternate forms of the drug. And he dismissed the contention by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, whose office prosecuted Jones, that hashish is legally different than other marijuana extracts now used to make edibles.

In both cases, he said, it’s a preparation.

“It started with the marijuana flower and ended up with hashish,” Humble said.

The issue of the state having given its blessing to the sale of edibles prepared from extracts eventually resulted in Attorney General Mark Brnovich, whose office normally would handle the appeal to the Supreme Court, backing out of trying to get the Supreme Court to uphold Jones’ conviction. Instead he has taken the position that the justices should review the issue to provide some guidance.

That left defending the conviction to Polk who wants the justices to uphold both the rulings of the trial court and the Court of Appeals.

Polk did not immediately return a call to her office for comment.

But Brnovich aide Ryan Anderson said his boss is happy the justices have agreed to take up the case and decide whether her prosecution of Jones was correct.

“There’s enough uncertainty as to whether or not extracts are covered by the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act,” he said. “Hopefully the Supreme Court can provide some clarity, not only for patients but for law enforcement moving forward.”

No date has been set for a hearing.

Hanging in the balance is what will be allowable going forward under the 2010 law that allows those with a doctor’s recommendation to purchase marijuana from state-regulated dispensaries. At last count there were nearly 184,000 Arizonans who qualify.

In upholding the conviction, appellate Judge Jon Thompson, writing for the majority, said the law allows patients to possess “all parts” of the cannabis plant, whether growing or not, and the seeds of the plant. That verbiage, he said, also immunizes medical use of any “mixture or preparation” of marijuana.

What the law does not include, Thompson wrote, is hashish.

But Judge Kenton Jones, in his dissent, said his colleagues were drawing distinctions where he said none were intended by those who crafted the law. And he said limiting the forms of marijuana that can be used for medical purposes undermines the whole purpose of the law: to help patients.

“Different forms or delivery methods of marijuana may be more or less appropriate, depending upon the patient’s age, condition, abilities, and desired dosage,” Jones wrote. “When considered in the context of medicinal use, there is no logical reason to limit how the therapeutic compounds found in marijuana are introduced into the body.”

Defeated gubernatorial candidate comes up short on contributions

Ken Bennett (Photo by Gary Grado)
Ken Bennett (Photo by Gary Grado)

Ken Bennett found himself out of the running when he was trounced by incumbent Doug Ducey in the Republican primary in August.

Now he is finding himself out of the money.

The Secretary of State’s Office has concluded that Bennett came up short of the necessary $5 contributions needed to qualify for public funding for his ill-fated gubernatorial bid. And that’s even after a judge gave Bennett four additional hours in August to gather the necessary 4,000 contributions after he complained the online portion of the system had been improperly shut down early.

But Bennett told Capitol Media Services he’s not giving up just yet.

The former secretary of state said he is negotiating with election officials in three counties where a large number of his contributions were declared invalid, often because a signature on a paper form did not match each person’s voter registration file. Bennett said he hopes to convince each county official to accept other evidence, like an affidavit from the donor, that the contribution forms are, in fact, accurate.

Bennett said he already has such a commitment from Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez.

But the number of disputed signatures in Pima County is insufficient to get him up to the 4,000 he needs to get the cash from the Citizens Clean Elections Commission. So now he is trying to get officials in Maricopa and Yavapai counties to go along.

Only thing is, even Bennett admits there is nothing in state law that specifically allows him to try to “rehabilitate” signatures that county officials found wanting.

On paper, the fight is over Bennett’s efforts to qualify for $839,704 which is available for gubernatorial candidates who gather sufficient $5 contributions and agree not to take other special interest money.

The election, however, is over. And Bennett got just 191,775 votes against 463,772 for Ducey who spent more than $1.7 million gathered from private contributions.

But even if Bennett now qualifies for public funding he cannot use the money as the election is over. What he instead wants is a chance to recoup the more than $50,000 he spent of his own cash on the race.

But here’s the thing: Even after the additional time to collect contributions, the signature-by-signature check of the forms found just 3,878 valid.

Bennett, however, contends that at least half of the signatures that county officials found bad are valid.

“I know that people signed these forms themselves,” Bennett said. “So if the signatures don’t match it’s because the person’s signature has changed over time.”

Take the case of Steve Blair, a Prescott city council member. That was one of the signatures rejected by Yavapai County election officials.

“Well, the guy probably registered when he was 18 years old,” Bennett said. He’s now 62.

“For whatever reason, I guess his signature he gave me a couple of months ago on a $5 form doesn’t match whatever they have on the county recorder’s file,” he continued. “But I personally witnessed him give me the form, sign the form, give me the $5. And there’s scores of those.”

All that presumes, however, that county officials will let him try to convince them that the signatures they rejected are, in fact, valid.

“There’s no specific part of the statute (on verifying Clean Elections signatures) that says if there’s a disqualification of a signature by a county recorder’s office the candidate can challenge that through this process,” Bennett said.

He said, though, there is precedent elsewhere in election procedure to go through an additional step if there is a question on a signature.

For example, Bennett said, sometimes a county will get a mail-in ballot where the signature on the outside of the envelope does not match the signature in the voter’s file. He said. what usually happens is an election worker will call the voter to determine if he or she was actually the person who sent in the ballot but perhaps there’s a reason the signatures do not match, like someone having had hand surgery.

And Bennett, who successfully sued the state in August to get additional time to collect signatures, said he’s prepared to go that route again.

“I’m 1 and 0,” he quipped, having won the first case while representing himself. “I’d rather not have to do a second one.”

Democrats narrow margin on early ballots

Voting ballot box isometric vector icon with paper sheet

Election Day officially is tomorrow but more people already have cast their ballots in Arizona than four years ago – though not everywhere throughout the state.

New figures from the Secretary of State’s Office on Monday showed that 1,586,783 early ballots had been turned in. By contrast, in the entire 2014 midterm race, only 1,537,671 people voted at all, whether early or at the polls.

The biggest turnout for the moment appears to be in Maricopa County where there already are 100,000 more ballots turned in than those who voted at all in 2014.

At this point Republicans hold a decided edge statewide, with 41.4 percent of those early ballots coming from those registered with the GOP, versus 33.9 percent from Democrats and 23.9 percent from those unaffiliated with either major party.

But that split has been narrowing.

There were days last month where Republican ballots turned in exceeded Democratic ballots by more than 15,000. The most recent GOP edge is less than 2,000 a day as Democrats have started to mail in their early ballots.

Overall, Republicans hold a 136,587 registration edge over Democrats of the more than 3.7 million people registered for this election. So that makes turnout important for both sides.

But the real balance of power could rest with the more than 1.2 million people who are unaffiliated with any party.

Women seem to be outperforming men in ballot returns, turning in 51.3 percent of those early ballots come from women. By comparison, the Census Bureau says just 50.3 percent of the state is female.

And the average age of early voters at 58.2.

Elsewhere around the state, only two counties already have exceeded the 2014 turnout: Yavapai and Yuma. In all three counties Republican early ballots outnumber those from Democrats.

But in Pima County, where the early ballot count is just 6,000 below the total 2014 turnout, Democrat early ballots are running stronger than the GOP.

In other places, however, the difference between the latest numbers and the 2014 turnout is quite marked.

Most noticeable is Apache County, where total early voting is less than 8,400 to date, versus the 21,324 turnout four years ago. Much of that is likely due to the fact that more than two thirds of the county is Native American, with Election Day considered more of a community event and gathering.

Doug Ducey poised to win with election a month away

Coolidge City Council member Tatiana Murrieta snaps a selfie with Gov. Doug Ducey as he campaigns in Pinal County on Oct. 6. PHOTO BY CARMEN FORMAN/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Coolidge City Council member Tatiana Murrieta snaps a selfie with Gov. Doug Ducey as he campaigns in Pinal County on Oct. 6. PHOTO BY CARMEN FORMAN/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Gov. Doug Ducey wants to know why the U.S. Senate is taking so long to vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation.

It’s just before 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6 as he queries his staffers while they ride in a hulking SUV with dark tinted windows toward downtown Coolidge, population: 12,528. The governor is riding shotgun and scrolling through his phone on the brief drive from the Coolidge Municipal Airport to the heart of downtown, where he will walk in the annual Coolidge Days parade.

Ducey supported Kavanaugh’s confirmation despite allegations of sexual assault leveled at the judge.

Support for Kavanaugh could be an issue that tanks a Republican’s re-election bid in this weird and wild post-President Trump political environment. Supporting Kavanaugh can be viewed as more than just support for a Supreme Court nominee, but also affirmation of a controversial president.

And with Democrats across the country fighting back against the president and his agenda, any connection to Trump could be hard for Republicans to overcome this election cycle.

But not for Arizona’s governor.

Love him or hate him, Arizona is likely to see four more years of Ducey.

Democrat David Garcia appeared to ride a wave of galvanized Democrats after the Red for Ed movement this spring, but Ducey now holds a double-digit lead in the polls.

Ducey and his supporters have blanketed the airwaves for months with positive ads touting the governor and negative ads attacking his opponent. In comparison, Garcia’s campaign hasn’t had the money to fight back.

Early voting just started, but the race may already be over.

Gov. Doug Ducey pauses during the Coolidge Days parade to chat with Wendy McHugh, of Pinal County, and her granddaughter Paisley. Ducey, who is seeking re-election, walked in the parade. PHOTO BY CARMEN FORMAN/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Gov. Doug Ducey pauses during the Coolidge Days parade to chat with Wendy McHugh, of Pinal County, and her granddaughter Paisley. Ducey, who is seeking re-election, walked in the parade. PHOTO BY CARMEN FORMAN/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

First stop: Pinal County

Ducey wears a happy-go-lucky smile as he works the parade route in Coolidge.

He’s in a button-down shirt tucked into pressed Wrangler jeans and flanked by Republican Reps. T.J. Shope, David Cook and state Sen. Frank Pratt, who are also seeking re-election.

He shakes hands with nearly everyone along the parade route, mainly adults but also some kids  — old boardroom habits die hard. At times he gives kids high-fives, punctuating an especially satisfying smack with “boom!”

Parade goers continually praise him for bringing manufacturing start-up Nikola Motor Co. and its nearly 2,000 projected jobs to Coolidge.

The company that makes semi-trucks initially planned to locate in Buckeye, but pivoted because Coolidge had a shovel-ready site that would allow Nikola to start filling orders sooner.

It’s not clear what, if any, specific role Ducey may have played in helping Nikola switch sites, but economic development has been a central theme of the governor’s re-election campaign.

A former businessman, Ducey brought his corporate experience with him to the state’s executive office and has since prioritized job creation and reducing red tape and government interference in business.

And Arizona’s economy does look drastically different than it did four years ago — when the state was still feeling the lingering effects of the recession. Unemployment is down. Job growth is up, and more people are moving to Arizona every day.

Ducey has promised to take economic development to the next level with a second term.

“Now that we’ve got this momentum, this shine on our reputation, this polish on our state, that gives us the opportunity to make the case for the state of Arizona,” Ducey said in an interview.

Ducey’s recipe for economic excellence includes reforming the state’s tax code and creating a friendlier regulatory environment for businesses. He also thinks it’s just as important to fight “bad ideas” like the Invest in Education Act, which would have boosted taxes on Arizona’s wealthiest residents, and Proposition 127, which would mandate the state meet certain clean energy goals.

But creating a friendlier regulatory environment is not without issues. Uber and Theranos are oft-cited examples of where a lax regulatory environment can be problematic.

Garcia said Ducey built an economy for those at the top through tax breaks for corporations, and that greater K-12 education investment is crucial to driving economic development.

Ducey’s campaign has also emphasized border security throughout his re-election bid, partly as a way to tout creation of the Border Strike Force, but also as a way to tear down his opponent’s opposition to Trump’s border wall and his support for revamping the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

After the parade, the governor is delighted to find two off-duty Border Strike Force agents waiting for their breakfasts to arrive at a local diner in Coolidge.

The men tell the governor a K-9 unit caught someone trafficking 30 pounds of meth that very morning. Ducey’s face brightens and he thanks the men for their service.

But for Ducey, there’s no time for breakfast. Save for the freshmint Tic Tacs he pops throughout the seven-hour campaign barnstorm; he doesn’t eat because he doesn’t want anything slowing him down.

Gov. Doug Ducey poses for a photo with supporters at the Prescott airshow on Oct. 6. Ducey, who spent the day campaigning across the state as part of his re-election bid, talked to people at the airshow before rallying campaign volunteers in Prescott Valley. PHOTO BY CARMEN FORMAN/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Gov. Doug Ducey poses for a photo with supporters at the Prescott airshow on Oct. 6. Ducey, who spent the day campaigning across the state as part of his re-election bid, talked to people at the airshow before rallying campaign volunteers in Prescott Valley. PHOTO BY CARMEN FORMAN/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Next stop: Yavapai County

The charter jet — Ducey doesn’t use the state plane for campaign events — touches down at the Prescott Airport where nearby airstrips are crowded with people who came for an airshow.

The governor will be back in Prescott on Election Day eve — a tradition that pays homage to Barry Goldwater and John McCain, who launched their presidential bids from the courthouse steps.

Ducey makes the rounds, chatting with pilots and passersby alike.

In Washington, D.C., the Senate just confirmed Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court by a vote of 50-48.

“I don’t remember a Supreme Court battle like this,” Ducey said. “Hopefully, the temperature comes down a bit in D.C.”

The political heat in the nation’s capital is spreading. The national political climate is reverberating across the country ahead of the congressional midterms.

Ducey’s opponents have tried to tie him to the president whenever possible. It’s a strategy Democrats across the country are employing en masse against their Republican opponents.

At a recent get-out-the-vote rally for Garcia, U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego characterized Ducey as Trump’s henchman in Arizona.

“We need to fight Doug now. We need to fight Trump later because they are one in the same,” he said.

Trump is expected to visit Arizona before Election Day, but the president’s visit is unlikely to affect Ducey’s re-election campaign. Trump endorsed Ducey ahead of the primary election.

Ducey has tried to separate himself from the president. But at the same time, Ducey has praised Trump for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and his Supreme Court picks. He has also made multiple visits to the White House this year.

The governor views it as his job to work with the president — whoever it may be — wherever he can.

“I think this idea of protesting or being a part of the resistance rather than being the governor or the leader and doing what’s necessary for the citizens of Arizona is a real differentiator in this campaign,” Ducey said.

Ducey cited greeting President Barack Obama on the tarmac at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport just days after the governor was inaugurated in 2015. He acknowledged that he and Obama didn’t see eye-to-eye on policy, but said that didn’t stop him from occasionally working with the administration.

The governor said he should be held accountable for his actions, not the president’s.

“I think what the other side would like to do is nationalize the election,” he said. “If people are upset with what’s going on in Washington, D.C., I can’t be in control of that. I can be in charge of the state of Arizona.”

Ducey hit several stumbling blocks this year, most notable of which was when 75,000 teachers marched on the state Capitol demanding higher teacher pay. He granted them pay raises spread over three years, but teachers weren’t satisfied.

The Red for Ed movement flipped Arizona’s political landscape on its head. Teachers filed to run for office, got involved in political campaigns and pushed the Invest in Ed ballot initiative.

The escalating political tension was palpable. But it’s too soon to know what effect teachers will have on Arizona’s elections this year. And early indicators show teachers’ newfound political activism won’t be able to topple Ducey, their No. 1 enemy.

Gov. Doug Ducey rallies supporters and campaign volunteers at a Prescott Valley park on Oct. 6. With one month until Election Day, Ducey encouraged volunteers to knock on as many doors as they can in order to boost Republican voter turnout. PHOTO BY CARMEN FORMAN/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Gov. Doug Ducey rallies supporters and campaign volunteers at a Prescott Valley park on Oct. 6. With one month until Election Day, Ducey encouraged volunteers to knock on as many doors as they can in order to boost Republican voter turnout. PHOTO BY CARMEN FORMAN/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Next stop: Ground game

Ducey rallies about two dozen campaign volunteers in a Prescott Valley park, emphasizing that Republicans need to boost turnout to help their candidates across the board.

The governor is leading in the polls by double digits, but other Republicans — namely U.S. Senate candidate Martha McSally — are not as lucky.

“We’re in the homestretch of this campaign, and it’s going to be a dogfight,” Ducey says. “We’re going to need every part of the state to turn out. … And of course, it’s about our race, but it’s about more than that.”

A Real Clear Politics average of five Arizona gubernatorial race polls shows Ducey up by 11.8 points. Ducey beat Democrat Fred DuVal by 12 points in 2014.

Democratic strategist Barry Dill is prepared to throw in the towel on the governor’s race.

“The race is all but over,” he said.

The problem all along for Garcia’s campaign was money. His inability to raise any significant amount of money meant he was unable to define himself as the Republican Governors Association pounded him with negative ads for months, Dill said.

Even before the primary Ducey and his allies started going negative on Garcia. But Garcia’s campaign depleted much of its cash coffers in the primary, giving the governor and his supporters a 50-to-1 spending advantage over Garcia.

“What has happened is that the governor’s campaign has had a free reign on defining David Garcia to the electorate and I don’t think there’s enough time or enough money to fight back,” Dill said.

In an interview, Garcia brushed off the onslaught of ads and recent polling that shows him behind.

“Polls don’t vote, people do,” he said. “Ads don’t vote, people do.”

Winning is possible, it’s just a matter of turnout and getting people to the polls, he said. Garcia cited his campaign’s more than 40,000 small-dollar donors to Ducey’s few thousand high-dollar donors as a sign that Arizonans support his campaign.

Garcia’s path to victory focuses on boosting turnout among new voters. His campaign has courted Hispanic voters — a traditionally hard to motivate group of voters — and young, progressive Democrats.

But as Garcia has embraced the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party, he is alienating some independent and moderate voters — a voting bloc other statewide Democrats are working hard to capture.

Primary election data from the Secretary of State’s Office indicates new voters may not be turning out in high enough numbers for a Garcia victory. Arizona saw record-breaking primary turnout in August, but that was not because of new voters, but rather voters who typically vote in general elections, but had not voted in the previous two primary elections.

Ducey is ready to knock on doors and talk to voters face-to-face. He gets an overwhelmingly warm reception as he knocks doors at about a dozen Republican homes a few blocks away from the Prescott Valley park.

At one home, an older woman answers and shrieks when she sees the governor standing outside. Ducey tries to launch into his pitch, but Jenelle Balonon cuts him off.

“I know who you are, I’m voting for you,” she says, joking that that the governor almost gave her a heart attack. She extends her arm out to Ducey to show that she’s literally shaking.

As Ducey heads to the next door, his entourage picks up a cohort of curious children. The elementary school-aged boys were playing basketball at a house when they saw Ducey and his supporters, who are noticeable in the quiet neighborhood.

One boy pulls out at an iPhone and snaps a picture of Ducey upon learning he is the governor.

“I’m going to send this to so many people,” he says. The boy convinces the governor to FaceTime with his father, Scott Mitchell, a pastor at the Church Next Door in Paradise Valley.

His wife, Carolyn Mitchell, keeps a watchful eye on their young boys from the driveway. She thanks Ducey for granting teachers pay raises.

“We voted for you the first time so we’ll vote for you again,” she says.

Last stop: Home

The jet lands back at Phoenix Sky Harbor at about 4:30 p.m. After a quick photo with the pilots, Ducey hops into a waiting vehicle.

Across the country, Kavanaugh was just sworn in as the newest addition to the Supreme Court in a private ceremony at the country’s high court.

Protests rage on outside the Supreme Court. But in Phoenix, it’s just another Saturday as Ducey’s car drives away.

Former county supervisor to lead charge on rural development

Jack Smith
Jack Smith

Jack Smith is the new state director of USDA Rural Development in Arizona. Before he was appointed to the position by the Trump administration on July 8, Smith served as a Yavapai County supervisor for seven years.

How was your first week on the job? What do you do here at Rural Development?

So Rural Development, basically, is a funding mechanism for low income folks, or folks that have fallen on hardship or want to work in the rural areas of whatever state they’re in. Think about rural Arizona and what do you see when you drive by you see farms – you see agriculture, you see cattle. We deal with the infrastructure side of it, whether it be housing. So somebody can’t get a loan because of their income, or maybe they’re only making wages working on a farm. That’s where it originated from. They just didn’t have the infrastructure that you have in a big city. We go out there, we want to get business loans, we want to join that up maybe with grants and loans together. We want to make sure that we’re reaching out: broadband, water infrastructure, sanitary districts.

What did you learn during your time as a county supervisor?

I learned that the rurals don’t get a lot of money. You know, you got municipalities that can add on taxes and everything. Because their base is so large, those tax dollars are quite large. But when you have a smaller tax base, so you have smaller municipalities that only have 44,000 people in them, that tax base is going to be a lot smaller. Yet, building roads, building the infrastructure, making sure that you’re enticing businesses to come into the town or the city, it’s harder, it’s a lot harder than something like this. So that’s where I’ve been the last seven years, trying to get that infrastructure built up to where people in the world can actually have good grocery stores to go to, broadband when they need it, good schools.

You said in an announcement when you got this new position you were going to be customer focused. What does that mean? 

What it means to be customer focused, is dealing with the issues that are coming forward. When I took this job, I said, “I’m not a behind this desk type person.” And when I walked in, here I go, “Oh my gosh, this place is awesome. Man, I made it, right?” No, it was about being out there with the individuals that are having issues with funding. It’s actually getting out there. And being a part of the process, which I’m planning on doing. I’m going to all over the state. I just bought a 2017 Volt downstairs.

You have a degree in Christian studies. Why did you study that, and how did it lead you here? 

I went through seminary years back at my grandparents’ church, and that was directly out of the Army. And they just basically said, “Hey, … you’re a very caring person,” and I am. I care, I want to talk to people, I want to be able to connect one-on-one with people. So I went through seminary and it took me about six years. I became an ordained minister with the church, I preached at the church, I did a lot of different studies within the church and everything else.

You talked about your background in infrastructure and transportation. So what do you think about the state of rural highways? 

Highways is definitely a part of it. I mean, if you don’t have a good supply chain, you’re certainly not going to have a robust economic outflow of products. I used to say, when I worked with Ace Hardware, when I managed the fleet, I can get you the product, but when it’s shut down, or I got a bumpy road, the product is either going to be broken, or it’s not going to get there on time.

Is expanding broadband part of your plan? 

Yeah, it’s huge. When we team up with the libraries, which is something I want to focus on, utilizing those libraries to be able to get onto the Internet, do research, do school work, whatever it may be. What about the kids that are up in Ash Fork or Baghdad who don’t have the access to resources like a big library or something else? How do we help support them? Through the broadband, through setting up or maybe joining up with counties and saying, OK, we’re going to help you out with telecommunications, we’re going to make sure that you have a signal going to you or something to where you can get on the Internet, so these folks can do the research.

GOP bill would restrict vote-by-mail options

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, stands at her desk on the floor of the Arizona House of Representatives, before a vote to expel Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma. Ugenti-Rita’s allegations of sexual harassment by Shooter led a host of women and one man to air similar allegations against him. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Ignoring the testimony of county election officials, Republican lawmakers voted to bar Arizona voters who receive their ballot by mail from turning them in by hand.

On party lines, the four GOP senators on the chamber’s Judiciary Committee advanced SB 1046, which would restrict how voters who sign up for the Permanent Early Voting List, known as PEVL, can cast a ballot. Current law allows them to return those ballots by mail, or hand-deliver them to election facilities at any time leading up to or on election day.

Some voters like to wait until the last minute – 228,000 mail-in ballots were dropped off at polling sites on the day of the 2018 general election, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita said eliminating those so-called “late-early” ballots will help speed up the announcement of election results, and would temper frustrations from the 2018 election, when several races were too close to call for more than a week after election day.

County officials testified that the Scottsdale Republican’s logic is flawed.

Whether they’re mailed in or not, people like holding onto their ballots as long as possible, said Jennifer Marson, executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties, so ballots mailed at the last possible second would still pile up on election day, too.

“The counties believe voters should have the opportunity to turn in that ballot regardless of when they received that ballot,” Marson said.

If more voters use the alternative provided in Ugenti-Rita’s proposal by voting in person on election day, in the event they forget to mail their ballots back on time, voters could experience longer lines at the polls and more costly elections, said Rivko Knox of the Arizona League of Women Voters.

That’s really all beside the point, Knox said, because the bill is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. While Republicans have complained that ballots took too long to count, recorders took roughly the same amount of time to count votes in 2014, 2012, and other elections, Knox said.

“The difference was that several elections were very close,” she said, meaning competitive races highlighted the vote-county process. Many of those close races resulted in victories for Democrats to key statewide offices, even after initial vote tallies on election night favored some Republican candidates.

Yavapai County Recorder Leslie Hoffman said there is one scenario in which Ugenti-Rita’s bill would speed up the vote-counting process.

“It might save time by reducing turnout,” Hoffman said. “We don’t want that.”

That’s when Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, a Gilbert Republican and chair of the Judiciary Committee, cut off Hoffman’s testimony, calling it “unfounded speculation.”

Ugenti-Rita later dismissed the criticisms of the county election officials as beyond their purview.

“This is a policy discussion,” and it’s well within the Legislature’s right to set the rules for how recorders conduct elections, Ugenti-Rita said. “For them to say it’s not a good piece of legislation and it’s disenfranchising voters, that’s really beyond their scope.”

The committee’s three Democrats criticized the bill for ignoring the expert advice of officials who conduct the elections. In addition to failing to produce more timely election results, Sen. Martin Quezada cited testimony that the policy change would sow confusion among voters.

“We’re taking away an option that’s used a lot because we simply don’t like it,” the Phoenix Democrat said. “We haven’t even identified that we’re solving the problems the sponsor is trying to solve.”

Farnsworth said that Arizona voters will still have ample opportunity to vote.

“We already give both options,” Farnsworth said, referring to the state’s dual system of mail-in ballots and day-of voting. “We’re just suggesting, choose one or the other.”

Republicans also approved another Ugenti-Rita to bill that requires voters to produce ID to cast ballots at in-person early voting sites. Current law only requires ID to vote on the day of the election – early ballots, whether cast in person or by mail, have historically used a voter’s signature as their ID.

Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, D-Tucson, said she feared SB 1072 would disenfranchise older and low-income voters who might not have access to a traditional driver’s license for identification.

Democrats and Republicans did find one bill to agree on.

SB 1072, also sponsored by Ugenti-Rita, would create uniform standard for all 15 counties in Arizona when allowing voters to “cure” their ballot and ensure it’s counted.

As approved, the bill only provides a curing process for early ballots with missing or “illegible” signatures during a period of five business days after an election. Ugenti-Rita expressed willingness to amend it and provide opportunities to cure a vote if there’s an issue with the signature beyond legibility.

Gym to reopen without state’s approval

Stock Photo/Deposit Photos
Stock Photo/Deposit Photos

Arizonans waiting to get back into exercise routines during the COVID-19 pandemic may not have to wait much longer.

And they also could go to theaters and even to some bars — assuming they operate more like restaurants.

Data from the state Department of Health Services shows that businesses in Cochise, Coconino, Greenlee, La Paz and Yavapai counties already can reopen providing they follow certain health protocols. That means everything from physical distancing and mask requirements to enhanced cleaning procedures.

There’s a limit of 25% capacity for gyms, and 50% for movie theaters and bars.

But an analysis of statistics by Capitol Media Services shows that Pima, Pinal and Maricopa counties are just one benchmark shy of hitting the numbers to reopen. That could happen Thursday when the latest figures are released.

What all that means is all the legal wrangling over whether the state is being arbitrary with who opens and who cannot could disappear for much of the state.

Tom Hatten, founder and CEO of Mountainside Fitness, reacts Tuesday to a court ruling throwing out his challenge to the decision by Gov. Doug Ducey to close gyms through at least July 27. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Tom Hatten, founder and CEO of Mountainside Fitness (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

One locally owned chain, however, is not waiting for the new numbers on Thursday to see whether it can legally allow customers. Mountainside Fitness announced Tuesday it intends to reopen at 4:30 a.m. that morning —  with or without the state’s blessing and regardless of whether the health department finds that conditions in Maricopa County have reached the “moderate” level.

Mountainside CEO Tom Hatten, who waged his own court battle with the health department, said he has provided “third-party certification … supported by medical professionals” that the company’s 18 facilities are safe to reopen, regardless of whether the state believes the level of infection in Maricopa County has reached acceptable levels. Yet despite that, the Department of Health Services has so far denied his request to reopen.

He isn’t alone. The latest figures from the health department show the agency has denied 99 requests by gyms and fitness centers to reopen; another 90 locations have been given the go-ahead.

But Hatten isn’t going to wait, accusing the state of “subjective enforcement.”

If he follows through, that puts the burden on the health department to decide what to do next. There was no immediate response.

Health department spokesman Steve Elliott said his agency continues to work with businesses willing to implement additional measures to prevent further spread of COVID-19.

“Our goal is for businesses to reopen in a way that protects the safety of customers and employees,” he said.

Hattten has had some luck in court.

He got Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomason to order the state to provide a “roadmap” of sorts to show when it is safe for various kinds of businesses to reopen automatically — and under what conditions — as well as an appeals process for those who seek a waiver.

It is that roadmap that will allow gyms and fitness centers to reopen at 25% capacity if individual counties pass a three-part test.

First, there have to be two weeks where there are fewer than 100 cases for every 100,000 residents. It also requires that fewer than 10% of tests for the virus come back positive for two weeks straight.

Finally, fewer than 10% of people showing up at hospitals have COVID-like symptoms.

All 15 counties meet the last category, with five hitting the other two benchmarks. What’s left now is to see when the other 10 counties can reach the same levels.

Nothing that’s happening in any of the counties will lead to the reopening of bars and nightclubs, at least not the way they used to operate with dancing, standing around and chatting or even hanging around the pool tables.

The standards set by the health department prohibit these establishments from reopening with those practices until all three benchmarks in a county reach what the state considers “minimal” levels. That means fewer than 10 cases per 100,000, fewer than 5% of test results coming back positive, and fewer than 5% of hospital visits by patients with COVID-like symptoms.

And no county is even close.

There is a way around that, though.

They will be allowed to open in any county where the levels of infection have reached just the moderate standard, the same one that will allow gyms and fitness centers to reopen at 25% capacity.

But here’s the thing: They would have to convert to what the health department calls “restaurant service.”

That doesn’t mean no alcohol. What it does mean is customers escorted to tables, groups limited to no more than 10, no standing or mingling, and limited waiting areas.

And forget dancing.

Under those conditions, the business could have up to 50% occupancy.

Schools and in-person instruction present a different set of issues.

They use the same benchmarks for number of cases at fewer than 100 per 100,000 residents and that 10% standard for hospital visits. But it requires that the percent of tests for the virus turning up positive is below 7% for two weeks — not 10% like for business.

So far only Apache and Yavapai County qualify.


LD1 incumbents say they have political targets are on their backs

Rep. David Stringer and Rep. Noel Campbell
Rep. David Stringer and Rep. Noel Campbell

Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, said he wasn’t planning to seek re-election to the House in Legislative District 1 after the 2018 session.

Campbell’s seatmate, Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, said he also debated coming back for a second term.

At 70 and 76, respectively, neither Stringer nor Campbell are looking to make a career in politics, they said.

But both said they couldn’t give up the seats they had fought so hard to win so easily.

Campbell unsuccessfully ran as a clean elections candidate for the House in 2010.

In 2014, he ran against incumbent Linda Gray, an establishment candidate who had served in the Legislature for 16 years. After a tough primary battle, Campbell managed to defeat her by 2,800 votes.

In 2016, Stringer ran against establishment candidate Chip Davis, a multi-term Yavapai County Supervisor. On election night, Stringer was ahead by just 60 votes. He increased his lead to 750, defeating Davis.

This year, the pair, who are running on a slate together, face a primary challenger. Jodi Rooney, a political newcomer who was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Prescott Valley Town Council in 2017, is also seeking the Republican nomination in LD1.

Campbell said the establishment camp in Yavapai County has made it difficult for outsiders to play a larger political role in the county, but he and Stringer are trying to end that pattern. He said the establishment would do anything to end their efforts and unseat either of them, including running a third candidate, like Rooney.

And that’s something that doesn’t sit well with him.

“They would like us to be good little Republicans and do what they say, but we just don’t feel that way. They didn’t help us get elected and they didn’t help us stay in office and they’ll go all out to get us out of here,” Campbell said. “I worked too hard to get elected and I decided I’m not going to give up so easily.”

While Rooney said no one put her up to run for the House in LD1, she does boast the support of several known political figures in Yavapai County.

Rooney has been endorsed by Arizona Corporation Commissioner Andy Tobin, who represented LD1 in the House from 2006 to 2014, former Senate President Steve Pierce, and other top municipal and county officials in the district. The Arizona Association of Realtors, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce have also endorsed Rooney.

Campbell said he’s unfazed by their support of the competition.

He described Rooney as “an unknown quantity,” and said both he and Stringer can run on their record and accomplishments during their time at the Capitol.

“I could totally be wrong, but I don’t see her as a viable candidate to unseat either myself or Representative Stringer. Nobody knows much about her, how she got in the race, or who is supporting her,” he said.

He said this past session, he and Stringer managed to get funding for the Mayer Unified School District, which was financially affected by the exodus of dozens of students whose families moved out of town after natural disasters last year destroyed low-income housing.

They also managed to secure an additional $1 million for the families of the 19 firefighters who died battling the Yarnell Hill wildfire in 2013, he said.

“There’s saddle horses and there’s work horses and I would consider both of us work horses,” Campbell said. “We work hard for this county. Ms. Rooney has got to get out and shake 10,000 hands and she has to show people she can get things done. We’ve already shown that.”

Campbell said he’s confident he and Stringer will get re-elected, despite a lack of support from the establishment in Yavapai County.

He said he also doesn’t think racial statements Stringer made about immigration at the Yavapai Republican Men’s Forum last month will have any effect on Stringer’s campaign.

Stringer came under fire after a 51-second snippet of his speech where he said immigration is an “existential threat” to the United States surfaced on social media. He has since said his comments were misconstrued, and he called the video a “Democrat hit piece.”

Stringer told the Arizona Capitol Times that people who were offended by his comments likely weren’t going to vote for him in the first place. He said his supporters know that he was just stating facts and that he didn’t say anything that was inherently racist.

“These kind of slurs and name calling, calling people racist and bigots, have been used so frequently now, used against the president, that it has desensitized a lot of people. It’s just dirty politics and people take it for what it is,” Stringer said.

Rooney, who previously worked at the Arizona Department of Transportation, said she wouldn’t have run if she didn’t think she could unseat either Campbell or Stringer. She said though she is new to the political scene, she’s committed to the GOP’s platform, and hopes to push for economic development, responsible investment in education and will champion the proposed Interstate 17 transportation corridor, if elected.

“That’s one of the first things you ask yourself, ‘Can you unseat one of the incumbents.’ Absolutely I think I can,” she said. “Our team is well organized and we’re moving forward and we do look to take one of the seats.”

Phil Goode, first vice chairman of the Yavapai County Republican Committee, said while Campbell’s position as an incumbent and his track record are strong, the controversy surrounding Stringer’s comments have made the race competitive where before it didn’t appear to be.

But whether the controversy has any significant effect on Stringer’s re-election chances or gives a boost to Rooney’s campaign remains to be seen, Goode said.

Seatmate Sen. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, told the Arizona Capitol Times that Rooney was a strong candidate who had a decent chance of taking one of the House seats, even before Stringer’s comments surfaced. But she said Stringer’s remarks had “boosted her numbers up exponentially.”

Goode said that’s likely not the case.

He said Stringer’s comments have energized the Tea Party segment of the GOP party in Yavapai County – Stringer’s voting base, and that has led voters to dump funding into Stringer’s campaign coffers.

“I think he’ll be OK,” he said.

One county’s take on medical marijuana makes some users criminals

Illustration of pot blondies with marijuana leaves surrounding the tray of edibles.
Illustration of pot blondies with marijuana leaves surrounding the tray of edibles.

Roughly 100 miles – the distance between Phoenix and Prescott – meant the difference between a felony arrest and freedom to use medical marijuana for Adam Hight.

In Phoenix, specifically Maricopa County, Hight would not have been charged with a felony for possessing marijuana extracts, he wouldn’t owe the state as much as $3,000, and he wouldn’t have had to give the state a sample of his DNA.

But that’s the price he paid for having a thimble-sized amount of marijuana wax in Yavapai County, where County Attorney Sheila Polk has fought in court to deem any byproducts of the plant outlawed even for card-carrying medical marijuana users.

The county has won in the courtroom so far, but as of mid-March, has stopped prosecuting cardholders for possessing or using extracts as the Arizona Supreme Court considers their legality.

The byproducts, which come in many forms such as wax, gummy bears, cookies, vapes and hashish, are often the preferred method for ingesting medical marijuana.

Hight said the entire ordeal was confusing for him as a cardholder.

“It was very hard to accept that I pay money to the state [for my card] and now the state is telling me I’m going to be a felon for something that was sold to me [legally],” he said.


A police report shows Hight’s ordeal began Aug. 6, 2018. He was driving back to Prescott from a dispensary in Glendale when a Prescott Valley police officer stopped him for speeding on State Route 69. The traffic stop did not go how Hight expected.

Hight has been a cardholder for two years as a result of ligament damage to his knee.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Arizona since voters approved Proposition 203, known as the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, or AMMA, in 2010. The AMMA protects the use of marijuana, and allows medical marijuana patients to have up to 2.5 ounces, but whether it protects the use alternate forms of marijuana is being debated at the Arizona Supreme Court and state Legislature.

Hight told the officer he had just come back from a dispensary in Phoenix, where marijuana is much cheaper than the Prescott area shops. When they asked to see his marijuana, he handed it over.

“I have nothing to hide,” he said as the cop peered inside his car.

But Hight hesitated when they asked about the bag of marijuana wax on the floor of his car. He had heard marijuana extracts, edibles and other derivatives may be considered illegal by some police departments and prosecutors even though they are readily available at every state licensed dispensary in Arizona.

Unfortunately for him, Polk, a marijuana prohibitionist who was a staunch opponent of the 2016 effort to legalize recreational use, is one of the few – possibly the only – prosecutor in the state who would take his case to court.

After conferring with Polk’s office, police put him in handcuffs, and hauled him off to jail.

In Court

The Arizona Supreme Court from left are Robert Brutinel, John Lopez, John Pelander, Scott Bales, Andrew Gould, Clint Bolick, Ann Scott Timmer.
The Arizona Supreme Court from left are Robert Brutinel, John Lopez, John Pelander, Scott Bales, Andrew Gould, Clint Bolick, Ann Scott Timmer.

The state’s highest court heard oral arguments March 19 on whether extracts, tinctures or anything else made from the cannabis plant is legal.

The case, State of Arizona v. Rodney Christopher Jones, stems from a 2013 arrest in which Rodney Jones, a cardholder, possessed .05 ounces of hashish, which is about the size of a standard memory card. Jones, 27, served 30 months in jail, and depending on what the Supreme Court decides, that may have been unnecessary.  

The Yavapai Superior Court and the Court of Appeals agreed that AMMA does not protect cannabis products.

Lawmakers tried to take up the issue before the court’s decision.

Rep. Tony Rivero, R-Peoria introduced HB 2149, which would take the definition of cannabis from Arizona’s criminal code and move it under the definition of marijuana, ensuring all marijuana products would be protected under AMMA. That bill, however, was stymied by lawmakers who preferred to let the court decide.

Records obtained by Arizona Capitol Times show Hight was in the same boat as Jones. He had his valid card available, and possessed roughly an ounce of marijuana flower plus .17 ounces of concentrated “wax,” which Polk’s office considers a Class 4 felony, punishable by up to three years in prison. The wax had a value of about $75.

On the roadside, police called Polk’s office to ask whether to arrest Hight.

Despite the legal limbo of marijuana products and their widespread availability in marijuana dispensaries, Polk’s office told the police to arrest him and refer his case for prosecution.

Based on the Arizona Department of Health Services annual reports, non-marijuana flower products are selling much better than in years prior. From 2016 to 2018, non-flower has increased from roughly 4,000 pounds in 2016 to more than 10,000 pounds in 2018.

According to Cody Sides, the general manager of Nirvana Center, a dispensary in Prescott Valley, about 40 percent of the market is made up of non-marijuana flower.

“Being in our location, which is more of a retirement community, it’s really about 30 percent of our market,” Sides said.

The flower still makes for a majority of the profit, but “there’s just certain things for a lot of our patients that the flower cannot do,” he said. Sides said he has noticed a lot more concentrate users now compared to previous years, but most of those users still use a mix between flower and other products.

The rising popularity in concentrates has not stopped Yavapai County Attorney’s Office from going after medical marijuana patients who use them.

Hight agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge for drug paraphernalia, and the felony for possession of narcotics, though the felony sentence was deferred.

A judge gave him three years probation, which could be reduced to half for good behavior. He cannot consume any alcohol or drugs for the entirety of the probationary period, and he cannot leave the state until it’s completed.

Hight also spent two days in jail and had to submit to a DNA test, the results of which will be uploaded to a national database for law enforcement identification purposes. All told, he could end up paying between $1,500 and $3,000 for drug tests and drug counseling classes depending how long the probation lasts. Hight said his Toyota was also impounded resulting in an additional $200 charge.

When the police let him go, they gave him his marijuana flower back.

The probation entails he enroll in a drug offender treatment program and comply with a drug test, though he is he still allowed to smoke medical marijuana.

“They said it’s fine to have THC in my system,” Hight said.

Prosecutions Suspended

Under Polk’s command, The Yavapai County Attorney’s Office has been notoriously against marijuana of any kind. For years, her office has gone after small time medical marijuana patients, arresting them for cannabis products legally purchased at marijuana dispensaries.

The court, which has yet to rule, did not seem to buy the county’s arguments, although the justices gave no indication of how they will rule.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk
Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk

Yavapai County prosecutor Benjamin Kreutzberg said in the March 19 oral arguments the language in AMMA permits patients to use marijuana flower and leaves of the plant, but anything else would be illegal. Robert Mandel, representing Jones, told the justices the whole purpose of AMMA was to give marijuana patients – adults and children – medicine.

“Nobody anticipated that two or three-year-old minors were going to be rolling joints and smoking them, because that’s absurd,” Mandel said.

Bill Hughes, the chief criminal deputy in the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office told Capitol Times in a March 26 email the office would hold off on filing charges in cannabis cases with a few exceptions until the Supreme Court rules.

Hughes said he would not comment further when asked why Polk’s office decided to hold filing charges until recently, as opposed to when the Supreme Court opted to hear the case in January.

Hughes’ statement however, came with quite a few caveats. For new and pending cases where a person was also arrested on other unrelated felony charges, Yavapai County Attorney’s Office will also file the possession of cannabis charge if there is a reasonable likelihood of conviction, Hughes said. For pending cannabis-only cases that have already been filed, the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office will allow the defense to continue their case until after the Supreme Court rules in Jones, he said.

Jared Keenan, a criminal justice staff attorney with the ACLU of Arizona, had some ideas on why Polk’s office had a sudden change of heart.

“[Oral arguments] didn’t seem to go well for Yavapai County,” Keenan said, adding it now seems safer for Polk to wait to continue prosecuting until the Supreme Court makes its final decision.

Another factor that didn’t help Polk in the Jones case, is that once things started to heat up, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich pulled out before the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments. Brnovich withdrew his argument that extracts are not covered under AMMA.

Ryan Anderson, spokesperson for Brnovich, said at the time,  “The last thing Mark Brnovich wants to do is stand in the way of patients getting legitimate medicine.”

Keenan said Polk should have either sought an opinion from Brnovich on the legality of extracts under AMMA or filed a lawsuit to seek an injunction against either the dispensaries for selling extracts or the Arizona Department of Health Services for authorizing their sale.

David Black, a criminal defense attorney in Phoenix, had some ideas on why that isn’t the best strategy. He said dispensaries would be a much tougher challenge in court.

One County

Hight’s situation is not only similar to State v. Jones because of what happened, but also where it took place –– in Yavapai County.

If he were arrested in Pinal, Maricopa, or Navajo counties, he likely would not have been prosecuted. Even if Hight was pulled over now in Yavapai County, he would be fine.

Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer has never tried to prosecute medical cannabis cases, saying the litigation over the intent of AMMA, and the fact that the Legislature is contemplating legislation to clarify that extracts are covered under the law, makes it all too messy to jump into.

“I just wasn’t going to waste a whole lot of time and resources until we had a little more information,” he said.

Volkmer noted that it’s rare for county attorneys to disagree about whether a substance is illegal or not. But the fact that the State of Arizona v. Rodney Jones case has worked its way up to the Supreme Court, which will settle the issue once and for all, shows “the system kind of worked here.”

Possessing extracts is considered illegal in Yavapai County, but as of mid-March, the County Attorney's Office stopped prosecuting.
Possessing extracts is considered illegal in Yavapai County, but as of mid-March, the County Attorney’s Office stopped prosecuting.

And while he thinks concentrates are legal under AMMA, he doesn’t fault Polk for continuing to prosecute medical marijuana patients while the Jones case worked its way through the courts.

“If I believed we were prosecuting the law as designed, and that we were following the law, I would continue that practice until a court told me I was wrong,” he said. But he added that most courts that have looked at this have decided that use of extracts are covered under the AMMA.

“So we have been honoring what the majority of the courts have said, and not sort of independently evaluating it,” he said.

Amanda Steele, the spokeswoman for Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, said she is “not aware” of any prosecutions similar to the Jones case in her county.

“As long as they have a valid card, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act specifies what [can and] can’t be prosecuted.” she said.

Pima County Attorney’s Office, on the other hand, didn’t even know how it handles cannabis cases for medical marijuana patients.

Amelia Cramer, chief deputy at Pima County Attorney Office, said the office has no way to sort out who has a valid medical marijuana card among those being prosecuted.

Coconino and Yuma Counties did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Navajo County Attorney Brad Carlyon said his office doesn’t prosecute medical marijuana cardholders, though he has tried.

Carlyon said he agrees with Polk’s interpretation of the law – that the AMMA doesn’t cover concentrates, edibles and extracts – but his local courts have disagreed with him, shooting down his cases.

“We had a big full-blown hearing whether the Medical Marijuana Act [applied] – the same as the Supreme Court just heard – and he ruled against us,” he said.

But for those with personal use amounts of marijuana or “cannabis” products, he takes a lighter approach. If he gets a case where a person doesn’t have a medical card – or as he calls it a “get out of jail free” card. He gives them the chance to go get one before their court date and avoid prosecution.

“If they’re going to be habitual users, and there’s a way for them to do it under the law, I don’t have a problem with that,” he said.

This story has been revised to clarify that Jared Keenan does not endorse prosecution of dispensaries.

State parks projects under review due to delays, cost hikes

Sue Black
Sue Black

Plans to expand and improve Arizona’s state parks system are under review as key projects face delays and cost increases.

The projects are drawing new scrutiny in the wake of complaints that led to the ouster of Arizona State Parks and Trails director Sue Black. The agency’s current leadership is reviewing all projects to determine their viability and to ensure all permits and clearances are secured properly, interim director Ted Vogt wrote in a Nov. 30 report to a legislative oversight committee.

The committee is scheduled to review the park projects Tuesday.

Vogt was appointed to head the agency in November after Gov. Doug Ducey fired Black following numerous complaints, including ones by former staffers who said potential archaeological sites were bulldozed to rush development of rental cabins and other improvements.

Only 25 of the 100 cabins planned for various parks through lease-purchase agreements have been installed yet the project’s $1.6 million budget is nearly expended, the report said.

In a Dec. 11 briefing memo that accompanied the report, legislative budget analysts wrote the shortfall in cabin development was “due to higher-than-expected site preparation costs.” The parks system’s report said the agency is evaluating the cabin project scope based on its recent experience installing the cabins at Lost Dutchman, Patagonia and Lake Havasu parks.

Meanwhile, the planned $4 million development of a new rustic camping park known as Rockin’ River Ranch along the Verde River in Yavapai County is lagging. Parks officials said they can’t accurately determine a construction schedule until completion of designs and, before those, a cultural resource assessment of the property.

Elsewhere, plans given an informal go-ahead by lawmakers in 2016 to redevelop camping sites and recreational vehicle stations at Cattail Cove State Park on Lake Havasu along the Colorado River at a cost of $5.3 million are in a holding pattern as parks officials develop the project’s master plan.

The parks report states the scopes of numerous other improvement and repair projects throughout the park system have changed due to various circumstances, including funding constraints.

Of 13 small projects funded with appropriations in the two fiscal years that ended in mid-2017 and mid-2018, only four are complete, legislative budget analysts said.

Stringer survives controversy

Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, answers questions Wednesday about his comments which were interpreted by some as racist. Stringer said he was not a racist but simply was detailing his views on the effects of rapid immigration on the country. With him is the Rev. Jarrett Maupin who agreed to let Stringer explain his comments to leaders of the African-American community in Phoenix. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES
Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, answers questions in June about his comments which were interpreted by some as racist. Stringer said he was not a racist but simply was detailing his views on the effects of rapid immigration on the country. With him is the Rev. Jarrett Maupin who agreed to let Stringer explain his comments to leaders of the African-American community in Phoenix. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES

Rep. David Stringer emerged unscathed following controversy over comments he made about race and immigration earlier this summer.

Stringer and Rep. Noel Campbell, both of Prescott, defeated political newcomer Jodi Rooney in the GOP primary for the two House seats in Legislative District 1.

Stringer ran for re-election despite calls for his resignation from state party leaders after he told a GOP gathering in June that there are “not enough white kids to go around” in Arizona’s minority-laden public schools, a comment widely condemned as racist, but one Stringer insists was taken out of context.

In a 51-second snippet of his speech, which Tempe City Councilman David Schapira, a Democrat running for Superintendent of Public Instruction, posted on Twitter, Stringer says immigration is “politically destabilizing” and “presents an existential threat” to the country.

Stringer said his intent wasn’t to make a racially charged statement but was an attempt at having an honest discussion about race. And while he apologized to anyone he offended with his comments, he said pointing out that 60 percent of students in Arizona’s public schools are children of color is “not a racist comment, it’s a statement of fact.”

After his comments emerged, Arizona GOP Chairman Jonathan Lines and Gov. Doug Ducey called for Stringer to resign, which did not occur.

Instead, hoping to put the controversy behind him, Stringer met with a group of African-Americans to tell them he is working on issues of interest to their community and his comments about immigration and assimilation were misconstrued or misunderstood.

But he didn’t exactly apologize for anything he said, blaming the dust-up on a “Democrat hit piece” that excerpted 51 seconds of a 17-minute speech he gave in which he also spoke about criminal justice, education and touched on his accomplishments during the 2018 session.

And since the 51-second snippet made the rounds on social media, Stringer has doubled down on his remarks in a 60-second radio spot posted to his Facebook page on Aug. 14.

The controversy, however, appears to have had little impact on the race in what is a considered a safe Republican district.

Phil Goode, first vice chairman of the Yavapai County Republican Committee, said Stringer’s comments have instead energized the Tea Party segment of the GOP party in Yavapai County, Stringer’s voting base.

Campbell and Stringer will will face off against Democrats Ed Gogek and Jan Manolis in the Nov. 6 general election.

The district, which includes the majority of Yavapai County, Prescott, Prescott Valley and Chino Valley, and parts of northern Maricopa County, is heavily conservative. Registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats in LD1 by nearly 45,900 voters.

LD1 House By The Numbers

62,949 votes cast


Noel Campbell 43 percent

David Stringer 37 percent

Jodi Rooney 21 percent


Ed Gogek 42 Percent

Jan Manolis 58 Percent

Surrogate parents for students with special needs lacking statewide

More volunteers are being sought to advocate for students with special education needs who have no one in their lives to see that those needs are being met.

Surrogate parents appointed by the Arizona Department of Education are given educational rights over children in need of special education services when their parents’ rights have been severed or are no longer in their lives.

The surrogates typically have some background in working with special education students. They are responsible for signing off on testing to determine if services are necessary, reviewing required individualized education programs for students already receiving services and ensuring that those services are in fact being provided.

Stefanie Sharkey, the department’s surrogate parent program coordinator, said many of the students with surrogate parents come from group homes, and they need someone to represent them through the process as mandated by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

She said the state has only 86 surrogate parents available to serve 468 children currently using the program. But the number of students is growing.

Sharkey said there has been a rise in students who need a surrogate parent, and she anticipates that trend will continue. While the department strives to limit each surrogate’s caseload to six students, she said some have had to take on more.

Meanwhile, the department has struggled to find adequate volunteers in some regions of the state, especially in rural communities.

Cochise County has only one education surrogate. Yavapai County, the fourth largest in the state, has just six.

They’re better off than others, though. Apache, Gila, Graham, Greenlee, La Paz, Mohave, Navajo, Santa Cruz and Yuma counties don’t have any surrogates living within their boundaries.

Sharkey said she has turned to other districts and charter schools to find new recruits, but “no bites yet.” In the meantime, a surrogate in another county would be asked to advocate for a student in an underserved area telephonically or via Skype.

She noted rural communities haven’t produced a significant need for surrogates, but that may not be the case as more children become wards of the state.

In those cases, surrogate parents do not meet face-to-face with the children they are advocating for, and that can be problematic.

On top of the stresses of no longer having a parental figure in their lives and having disabilities that require special services, these children are being assigned surrogates who they’ve never met. Sharkey said in-person interactions at least allow them the opportunity to get to know their advocates. But over the phone or even via video chat, Sharkey said they likely lose that connection.

“It’s just another adult making decisions for them and about them,” she said via email.

Susan Barenholtz stands beside Ory, one of the first young men she advocated for as a surrogate parent. (Photo courtesy of Susan Barenholtz)
Susan Barenholtz stands beside Ory, one of the first young men she advocated for as a surrogate parent. (Photo courtesy of Susan Barenholtz)

Surrogate parent Susan Barenholtz said in-person interactions are “critical” with these children.

By the time they get to group homes, she said, they often don’t have any family left in their life. Barenholtz meets with her students as often as she can to prove she won’t just be another disappointment.

Even then, the road to their trust can be long.

“These kids will not warm up to you for a long, long time because they’ve been hurt so much and they don’t trust anybody,” she said. “They have dozens and dozens of adults revolving around their lives. Every day, it’s a new thing. Another adult comes in, and they don’t trust anything.”

Barenholtz has been a surrogate parent on and off since 2000, and she currently advocates for three young boys.

She sees one student monthly, and her time with him has demonstrated the importance of making that personal connection.

She said he has made significant progress at school, having transferred for a time to a campus tailored to his emotional disability. Now, he’s back at his “home school” where he’s excited to attend homecoming and getting more involved with extracurricular activities.

On Christmas, Barenholtz took him to dinner and a movie. He hugged her goodbye later – it was a big deal.

Barenholtz is one of 50 surrogates in Maricopa County, where many of the program’s student reside.

Derald Cox serves children in Coconino County, which has far fewer surrogates available. He’s one of four, and he was specifically asked to volunteer after another surrogate left the program.

Cox said he is not currently advocating for any students, but he has had eight cases in the past four years.

He said the kids sometimes think he’s there to do little more than sign off on paperwork. And they’re not always wrong.

But after 20 years of public education experience, including 10 years teaching special education students, Cox said he often knows better than others what questions need to be asked.

Sharkey said the legal responsibility to appoint education surrogates falls to schools.

But it takes knowledgeable surrogates like Cox to then follow through and be the “responsible, concerned” parent that is otherwise not in the kid’s life.

You can get more information about the surrogate parent program and apply to be a volunteer here

Teens hear all the wrong messages on Marijuana


News coverage of the recently released Arizona Youth Survey focused on the alarming increase in vaping by the state’s teens. But that wasn’t the only bad news in the survey of nearly 49,000 eighth, tenth and twelfth graders.

Merilee Fowler
Merilee Fowler

The number of teens who said they regularly use marijuana jumped by nearly a third since the 2016 report. And nearly one in three students said they’ve tried marijuana, a 5-percentage-point increase in just two years.

Nearly one-fourth said they had tried highly potent concentrates. One in six said they’d ridden in a car with someone who used pot.

One-fourth of those who use pot regularly said they got it from a medical-marijuana card holder, and another 11 percent said they bought it at a dispensary.

While I’m glad legislators are acting to keep the highly addictive nicotine in e-cigarettes out of teens’ hands, I wish there was the same public response to the rising use of marijuana among teens. Instead, the marijuana industry has been allowed to promote a portrait of pot as medicine, safer than alcohol, a cure to the opioid crisis, a godsend for the elderly (never mind that most Arizona medical card holders are men under 30).

Teens hear this message. They hear that vaping is safer than smoking and flock to it. They hear that marijuana is harmless and use it at record rates.

This needs to change.

You’d expect me to say this. I work every day to keep kids drug free. But what if a former investigative reporter for The New York Times says the same thing? That’s what Alex Berenson warns in his new book, “Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence.”

The scientific literature has turned remarkably against marijuana even while legalization madness has spread across the country. As Berenson notes, the National Academy of Medicine reported in 2017 that “Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use, the greater the risk.”

This is in part because marijuana is so much stronger than it was in the 1970s and 1980s. Then, THC content was generally 5 percent or less. Today, leafy marijuana averages 25 percent THC, and extracts are nearly pure THC. It’s the difference between taking a few sips of beer and downing a bottle of whiskey.

Other studies have shown that teens’ still-developing brains are at greater risk of developing psychoses with regular marijuana use.

Berenson points out that the first four states to legalize marijuana have seen sharp increases in murders and aggravated assaults since 2014 – far higher than the rest of the nation. So much for marijuana mellowing the population.

Marijuana is a dangerous, mind-altering drug. In today’s highly potent forms, it poses risks to adults and children, but the risks are far greater for teens. Let’s no longer let the pot profiteers fill our children’s brains with dangerous messages. It’s time to make sure the truth is told, so the next youth survey doesn’t give us even more to be alarmed about.

— Merilee Fowler is executive director of MATFORCE, a Yavapai County nonprofit striving to eliminate substance abuse. Contact her at [email protected]

The Breakdown: In other news


in-other-newsYavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk has been targeting medical marijuana patients using extracts – until recently anyway. We’ll actually have that story for you this week.

One representative wants to make sure legislative candidates are actually residents of the districts they want to serve.

And, of course, we’ll have the latest on the ever-developing saga of former Rep. David Stringer. What did we learn from hundreds of pages of additional documents last week?

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


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

Voters set turnout record

An official at the Maricopa County Recorder's Office reaches for ballots after votes were counted for the Arizona primary election Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
An official at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office reaches for ballots after votes were counted for the Arizona primary election Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Arizona set a record turnout for a primary election with just over 36 percent of registered voters casting a vote, the official canvass results from the August 4 primaries show. 

The final tally shows more than 1.45 million registered voters chose either a Republican, Democratic or Libertarian party ballot and the Republican and Democratic split is the smallest margin in history. 

Voters chose 752,223 Republican ballots and 694,891 Democratic ballots, which comes out to roughly a 52-48 split. In 2018, Republican ballots outnumbered Democratic ballots by a 12-point margin (56-44). In 2016, that margin stood at 61-38 (R+23), and in 2014, Republicans also led, 63-37.

Ballots are handled after the votes were counted at the Maricopa County Recorder's Office for the primary election Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Ballots are handled after the votes were counted at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office for the primary election Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs certified the canvass Monday morning and noted that about 88 percent of ballots cast came from early voting, “which provides more proof that Arizona’s ballot by mail system works,” Hobbs said. 

Republicans outvoted Democrats by 3,500 for early voting. Overall, Democrats have been narrowing the turnout gap in each of the last few primary election cycles, but it remains to be seen if this also translates to a narrow performance gap in November. 

Arizona was able to accomplish record breaking results even during a pandemic, which is no small feat.

“This was a historic election for several reasons. Preparing for a primary is an immense undertaking, even under normal circumstances. The complexity this year has been compounded by the pandemic. In spite of this, turnout hit a historic high,” Hobbs said.

Yavapai County also set a record for a single county’s turnout in a primary with 51.5 percent, the first time a county crossed the 50 percent threshold. Gila County came in second, hitting a 47.4 percent turnout. Maricopa County reached 851,000 votes this year compared to 696,000 in 2018 and 553,000 in 2016. Maricopa County hit a 35 percent turnout, right on par with the state overall, but in the middle of the pack for all counties. Yuma County had the lowest voter turnout at 26% – 25,000 ballots cast out of 96,000 registered voters. 

Many expect the partisan performance in November to become the slimmest yet in history given recent trends showing Democratic turnout catching up to Republicans who always lead by a wide margin. 

In 2018, Republicans outnumbered both Democrats and others (independent, Libertarian, etc). The final breakdown was 40% Republican, 33% Democratic and 27% other. Pollsters closely consider the turnout from the last general election when coming up with new turnout models. Paul Bentz, a pollster for HighGround, previously told Yellow Sheet Report he’s expecting turnout to look more like Republicans plus 5 compared to 2018’s Republicans plus 7. In 2016, it stood at Republicans plus 7. 

Some election experts mapped out Arizona by county and speculated that the most important races will be in districts in Maricopa County and Yuma County, where turnout is close enough to make them swing counties. 

Yuma County is fascinating – it’s the only county with more registered third party voters than either major party – 30% Republican, 34% Democratic and 36% other – and yet more Republican ballots were cast in the county this year with overall turnout fairly low. 

For the 2018 general election, Arizona reached record overall turnout for a midterm election at 64.85%, and 2012 still holds the record for a presidential election with 74.36%. However 2016 saw a larger number of voters by roughly 300,000. 2016 saw 2.6 million ballots cast and 2018 was slightly less at 2.4 million. 

The November election could very well reach 3 million votes.

There are still roughly 80 days until the election on Nov. 3, but early ballots will be mailed on Oct. 7. Hobbs said she hopes registered voters will continue to vote early or by mail, even despite the ongoing political battle over the United States Postal Service, that President Donald Trump admitted was because of voting by mail. 

“Join the permanent early voter list or request a one time early ballot,” Hobbs said. The voter registration deadline for this election is on Oct. 5 and voters are encouraged to mail ballots back by Oct. 27 to ensure they are received in time for Election Day. Voters can also drop off their ballots at their polling place or vote center.