The Daily Agenda: A history lesson on charter cities
Basically they have mini constitutions ... A guy who wishes he were governor ... And we don't recommend Liz Harris' news sources.
Battles over the rights of Arizona’s charter cities come up just enough that the term sounds familiar, but not often enough to remember exactly what the arguments are about.
In the latest example, Republican Arizona Sen. Justine Wadsack proposed a ballot measure asking voters to eliminate charter cities. She conceded that the aim was really at Tucson’s election system, a frequent punching bag for Republican lawmakers.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 1023 failed during a vote in the Senate, but it could come back for reconsideration. A couple of senators said they might support the resolution if the cities they represent are allowed to keep their charter status, Capitol Media Services’ Howie Fischer reports.
To catch you up on the current debate over charter cities and hopefully help you remember what they are going forward, let’s take a step back.
Arizona’s Constitution, since statehood, has included provisions for charter cities. At the most basic level, cities and towns can seek to create their own charters, basically their own constitutions, that give them a bit more local control over how to run their towns.1
“We believe that the founders put that in there intentionally,” Tom Belshe, the executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, told us. “And I just find it ironic that the people who usually are so firm on constitutional law are so flippant about it being removed and saying it doesn't serve its purpose anymore. It serves the same purpose that it always has.”
The charters function as organizing documents that take a broad view of what the city wants to do. They include setting up election timelines, term limits, forms of local governance, local taxes and more.
The state has 19 charter cities now: Avondale, Bisbee, Casa Grande, Chandler, Douglas, Flagstaff, Glendale, Goodyear, Holbrook, Mesa, Nogales, Peoria, Phoenix, Prescott, Scottsdale, Tempe, Tucson, Winslow and Yuma.
Other cities and towns could become charter cities if they want by following the process set up in the Arizona Constitution, but that hasn’t happened recently. Some elements previously only available for charter cities, like deciding whether to have a council-manager system of local government, are now open to all cities and towns, Belshe said, while other issues, like certain sales tax provisions, remain options just for charter cities.
“We're very protective of (charter cities) because our two overarching values of our organization are the protection of local control and of our revenue, so a charter obviously is very key for local control,” Belshe said.
Dustups in the Legislature around charter cities are usually about elections. Charter cities have the ability to set their own election schedules, which sometimes differ from the state’s standard of August primaries and November general elections. The courts have upheld charter cities’ elections: A state law seeking to make local elections conform was shot down by the courts, and Tucson’s ward and at-large council elections prevailed in court.
They haven’t always been election-focused, though. A Tucson provision on destroying guns, for instance, was found to be a matter of “statewide concern” after a lawmaker filed a 1487 complaint. That term, statewide concern, comes into play often during city vs. state battles, with the state arguing certain issues aren’t up to local governments. Another instance involved a plastic bag ban in Bisbee, which was withdrawn after a 1487 complaint before any court action started.
As you can see, there’s plenty of fodder for the state to tangle with cities on local policies in their charters. Even if Wadsack’s resolution to get rid of charter cities stays dead, the push and pull between the state and charter cities will continue.
Court tries to step in: The Arizona Supreme Court issued an execution warrant for Aaron Gunches despite Attorney General Kris Mayes’ withdrawal of the request and a halt to new executions while Gov. Katie Hobbs’ administration reviews execution procedures, the Associated Press reports. In a statement after the court order, the governor said the warrant would allow, but not require, the execution and that her administration does not intend to execute Gunches on April 6, the date set by the court.
Not his job: Arizona Sen. Jake Hoffman, who is in charge of the committee vetting Hobbs’ agency nominees, suggested the governor appoint the previous head of the Department of Child Safety, Mike Faust, to again lead the agency, the Republic’s Mary Jo Pitzl reports. While Hoffman has gone after Hobbs’ nominees in recent weeks, he is notably not the governor and therefore not in charge of selecting nominees for executive agencies.
Leadership shakeups: Senate Democrats chose their new leadership team after two departures. Sen. Mitzi Epstein will serve as Senate minority leader, with Sen. Juan Mendez as assistant leader, Sen. Eva Burch as whip and Sen. Lela Alston as caucus chair.
Another day, another bill roundup: Check out these proposals for new laws.
A Republican bill would slice the amount of time Arizonans can receive unemployment benefits.
A Senate resolution would ask voters to decide whether a previous year’s budget could go into effect if a governor doesn’t approve a new one.
Senate Republicans approved anti-drag bills that Hobbs will veto if they make it to her desk.
Hobbs won’t say whether she backs a GOP proposal to get rid of grocery taxes, an idea opposed by cities.
Making people reapply for jobs is a very Gannett move: After Hobbs booted the entire Arizona-Mexico Commission, some former members said they planned to reapply for their spots despite being surprised by the firings while others, like former GOP gubernatorial candidate Karrin Taylor Robson, said they probably wouldn’t or weren’t sure, the Republic’s Stacey Barchenger reports.
Taking the blame: After watching the ongoing mess over election conspiracies at the statehouse, conservative Republic columnist Phil Boas said he doesn’t blame any individual lawmakers involved but instead Republicans like him who let the party be taken over by the far-right fringe and thought ignoring their influence would diminish their power.
“Our greatest failing will forever be that we let people like Paul Gosar, the Ichabod Crane of Capitol Hill, and Kelli Ward and Steve Bannon and Marjorie Taylor Greene take control of the party of Lincoln and Reagan and Eisenhower and McCain,” Boas wrote.
It’s minority rule no matter how you slice it: After House Democrats’ called out a new unwritten rule requiring them to get 16 GOP representatives to sign off on their bill before it can get a vote, the Arizona Mirror’s Jim Small writes that House Speaker Ben Toma is “little more than a figurehead” who has acquiesced to the chamber being dominated by the far-right freedom caucus. Republican lawmakers have defended the practice online, saying they have to guarantee a majority of GOP votes before their bills can be heard, too.
How to solve a housing crisis: The City of Phoenix voted in favor of an ordinance that would ban discrimination against renters who use government assistance programs, following a similar ordinance passed by Tucson last year, the Republic’s Taylor Seely reports. But the Tucson ban was taken back after then-Attorney General Mark Brnovich, following a 1487 complaint, found it didn’t comply with state law. Mayes is revisiting the decision, which will affect whether Phoenix’s ban can be instituted. Separately, the state is getting an additional $93.5 million, spread across state and local governments, from the federal government to address housing and homelessness issues, the Republic’s Kunle Falayi reports.
New job alert: Cindy McCain will have a new job as the leader of the United Nations’ World Food Program, Politico reports. The apolitical role will still tap into McCain’s political relationships, which would help the program get more resources to address global food needs.
Let it be over soon: The Arizona Supreme Court will quickly consider whether to hear losing gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake’s appeal of her election case, which she lost in Maricopa County Superior Court. The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court ruling, leaving the high court as the last step. The court said it will decide whether to accept the case after an internal conference on March 21.
Back to the courts, maybe: While the state didn’t appeal the court ruling that set the 15-week abortion ban as the prevailing state law on the issue, an intervenor in the case is now asking the Arizona Supreme Court to weigh the case, the Associated Press reports. Dr. Eric Hazelrigg, the medical director of anti-abortion pregnancy centers who is represented in the case by the Alliance Defending Freedom, wants the pre-statehood outright ban to take precedence.
Doesn’t reflect the city: The Phoenix City Council no longer has any Black members, though a group of people is working this cycle to increase representation, the Republic’s Taylor Seely reports. Candidates Kesha Hodge Washington and Kevin Robinson, both up in this month’s runoffs, could bring Black representation to the body. In south Phoenix’s District 8 in particular, a pipeline that previously brought Black leaders to the council, faltered in the past decade.
Left to die: A Guatemalan man crossing the U.S.-Mexico border into Arizona needed to be rescued after having chest pain in frigid mountain temperatures, the Border Chronicle’s Todd Miller reports. Despite having the man’s coordinates, Border Patrol’s search and rescue teams repeatedly wouldn’t help, leaving humanitarians to locate and help the man. After his rescue, a border agent was waiting to arrest him.
School boards vs. lawmakers: A Republican state lawmaker is again going after a local school board member following a Fox News story, an echo of a similar situation in Scottsdale. This time, Sen. Anthony Kern wants Washington Elementary School District board member Tamillia Valenzuela to resign from the board over comments she made opposing a contract with Arizona Christian University over concerns with the religious college’s stance on LGBTQ+ issues.