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2021 is almost over
We’re dipping out for some vacation. But first, a year in review and some bad predictions.
We’re finally, blessedly, in the political slow season. That slow time was more scarce than ever this year, and it’s looking like 2022 will be jam packed, too.
So, we’re going to use this time until the January madness starts to get our backend business stuff in order, plan content once the legislative session hits (another zine!) and reset our lives.
Throughout the session, we’ll publish five days a week instead of four. We’re going to break news and go hard in 2022, and since this is a two-person operation and we don’t expect to have a proper vacation until next December, we’re cutting out for the rest of the year.
With that said, today we’re reminiscing on the big stories of 2021 and looking ahead — as wildly as possible — to 2022. Every time a journalist is asked to “predict” what will happen, they respond with something like “I’m not in the predictions business, but …” and then they make a prediction. So fuck it, we’re just going to make some predictions.
Tomorrow, we’ll open a discussion thread to ask for your favorite Arizona political moments of the past year and a wild prediction for next year. It’ll be fun!
Paying subscribers can access our discussion threads and comments. Sign up now for just $80 per year so you can spout off about your favorite moments of 2021.
After that, we’re off until Monday, Jan. 3. We hope you understand, and we hope you can find time for a real break from the news and political scene, too.
And now to the year’s top stories.
The audit consumes everything
Where to start with this all-consuming hurricane of bullshit that stole 2021 from us?
For those of us who lived the audit for the past year, the audit was so much more than an audit.
It was Arizona as the site for a national conspiracy orgy: #Sharpiegate, bamboo fibers, South Korean aircrafts, shredded ballots as plutonium, nonexistent watermarks, secret paper foldings, Hugo Chavez and the Hickman chicken farm fire.
It was orange jumpsuits and death threats on politicians. It was subpoenas and (almost) voting to jail the Maricopa County supervisors. It was Paul Boyer’s last stand. It was Michelle Ugenti-Rita’s fall from grace. It was the Republic’s best chance at a Pulitzer prize. It was a bipartisan fundraising bonanza. It was a ladder to the national stage and an open invitation to MSNBC. It was a tough break for Mark Brnovich and a sure way to earn the Trump endorsement. It was door-to-door canvassing. It was hard to recruit talent. It was a payday for lawyers and a heyday for late night TV. It was the irregularities in Kelli Ward’s election to AZGOP chair. It was neverending irony. It was mean tweets and blue pens and krakens. It was a MAGA mecca.
It was the death of the Permanent Early Voting List. It was a battle for public records. It was a battle for the heart and soul of the GOP. It was a career-ending leaked rant. It was a leaked result. It was fake documents and fake news.
And it’s far from over. The Arizona audit will again take center stage when the legislature reconvenes in January, and we’re preparing for a whole new round of disinformation and mayhem.
Redistricting grows up
The 2020 census was a dud for Arizona, which expected to see enough population growth to pick up a 10th congressional district before the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission cut up the state’s political boundaries once again.
For whatever reason — and the whole scaring immigrants out of answering the census thing was certainly part of it — Arizona didn’t earn a new congressional district, dashing local politicians’ hopes of crafting their own brand-new, tailored district.
But the redistricting process has so far been a major coup for civility and professionalism in an increasingly hostile and amateur political environment. Tensions are rising as the final maps draw near, but the governor hasn’t unconstitutionally thrown the chair off the commission, so it’s definitely going better than 2010.
Redistricting has a way of forcing politicians to reconsider their fates, and it’s directly responsible for a lot of the brain drain at the Capitol this year — a dozen lawmakers have joined the Great Resignation — as many pine for higher office or realize the job ain’t all it’s cracked up to be and now is a good time to get out.
COVID-19 goes hard in 2021
Oh how naive we all were last year, thinking COVID-19 in 2021 couldn’t be worse than 2020. Such sweet, innocent souls.
The year started with a vaccine developed at breakneck pace, providing a tiny shot of optimism, which was soon drowned out by a host of vaccine conspiracies and rampant anti-vax sentiment that found friends in public office.
Mandates, real and imagined, came alongside vaccines, and lawsuits came after the mandates. Arizona sued over the Biden administration’s attempts to get federal contractors and large employers vaccinated, and the lawsuits are still ongoing.
Arizona colleges instituted mandates, though some later backed off. Arizona cities mostly kept quiet, with only Tucson requiring its employees to get vaccinated, and nearly all of them did, despite GOP state leaders’ rage against the requirement. Phoenix tried to require vaccines, then stopped, but maybe will start again? Who knows.
All we really know is that COVID-19 is sticking around, and we’re in another wave now, one that impacts unvaccinated people at far higher rates than the vaccinated. We can safely bet that 2022 will bring some new pandemic fuckery. Grab a surfboard.
Education at the center of politics
Don’t we seem like big geniuses since we laid out that school boards were becoming a partisan fiasco way back in August? We really saw it coming, but everyone should have (and many of you did).
Since then, school board fever has spread rapidly. Debates over critical race theory and COVID-19 mitigation efforts ignited school board meetings around Arizona, with some parents spouting racist shit and one even threatening to zip tie the local principal. It’s weird out there, and it’s probably only going to get weirder.
A Google Drive with documents about parents who targeted school board members in Scottsdale went viral, though it was later found to be completely legal (not usually a great defense of your actions in the court of public opinion, though). Gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidates rallied outside a school board meeting in November.
On the campaign trail, GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake floated the idea of putting cameras in classrooms to keep an eye on teachers. The other candidates swiftly said the idea was terrible, and so did Gov. Doug Ducey, but don’t expect that debate to go away.
And, in the meantime, a huge amount of school funding hangs in the balance, awaiting legislative action to increase spending limits and allow schools to spend their already-allocated budgets.
Expect a flurry of education-related bills that take aim at school boards and perceptions of what schools are teaching, and a likely return of education bills, like mask bans, that got struck down by the Arizona Supreme Court.
Sinema at center stage
When the whole country knows the name of your state’s senator, you know they’ve taken center stage.
We political junkies can’t make it through an airport these days without being reminded that U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema stood in between the Biden administration and its plans for actually doing something.
Progressive protesters are pissed, and they’ll probably stay mad. They’ve found her in the bathroom at Arizona State University and at a wedding in Bisbee to make their displeasure known. ASU wants to charge the bathroom protesters, but the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office hasn’t yet (they’re still waiting on more information from the university before deciding whether to file charges, we confirmed).
Sinema has fashioned herself a centrist (don’t talk about her deliberately quirky fashion!), a far cry from her political beginnings, but a winning strategy in previous elections. She dodged the press and the public for months. But she made herself a household name in the process, and she made the U.S. Senate negotiate with her. And so far, Biden’s signature Build Back Better plan still hasn’t passed, though the infrastructure bill she championed has.
Could it matter for her reelection? We have no idea — it’s several years away. All we know is, we didn’t really intend to cover her because we care most about state government, and here she is on a top five list.
Honorable mention: Where in the world is Carl Hayden?
It defies logic that a bust of a former U.S. senator, which presumably weighs a fair amount, just went missing and hasn’t returned. It can’t be easy to walk off with a bust of Carl Hayden from the Capitol Rose Garden. The theft was likely caught on camera (we requested the footage). But it’s been three months, and the spot that once showcased Hayden remains empty. The investigation is ongoing, the state public safety department said.
We’ve gamed out a few reasons why a bust would be stolen: addicts need money via smelting, high school prank (we’re looking at you, Carl Hayden High School seniors), got drunk and made a bad decision, hate Carl Hayden, Carl Hayden did something that means he doesn’t deserve a statue, create a mystery that will bother local newsletter writers for months.
But still there are no answers. And now, we’re about to embark on our own quest to put a statue in the Capitol area (foreshadowing!), so we want to know what happened to the missing bust even more. Look, if you took it, just tell us, no hard feelings (the cops probably do have hard feelings, though).
And now for our bold 2022 political predictions:
Lawmakers won’t bother to learn the names of their new colleagues.
Ducey jumps into the U.S. Senate race. We know, we know, he has repeatedly said he won’t. But politicians always say that…
COVID-19 wave four, five and six, at least, and a new strain or three. Really starting to hate the Greek alphabet!
Lawmakers take a lesson from their court loss on the Battle of the BRBs and make a legislative process that’s fair, open and legal (LOL, a newsletter can dream).
Lawmakers will pass a state budget on June 30 after giving Sens. Michelle Ugenti-Rita and Paul Boyer everything they want.
We will have to continue writing about Kyrsten Sinema, who will continue to be protested in increasingly strange places, like while trying on shoes at a JC Penney.
The legislature misses the deadline to increase the school funding cap, throwing education budgets into disarray.
Charlie Kirk runs for a local school board.
The Carl Hayden bust returns, completely intact, just as quietly as it went away.
There will be a big scandal. We’re going with gambling related.