The Daily Agenda: A last-ditch redistricting letter
Why not just file a lawsuit? ... We're not doing so hot on the water front ... And particularly desperate op-ed.
The Arizona Democratic Party’s latest attempt to attack the Republican-friendly political maps created by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission looks more like an attempt to save face after a brutal round of redistricting and before what is expected to be a brutal election year.
Democrats were dealt a bad hand in the redistricting process last year, and they played it poorly. Now they’re ceding the state House to Republicans, and they’re getting blowback from their base, which wants lawsuits overturning the maps and an election strategy to take control of the Legislature.
Instead, in an 11-page letter containing no new information, the Arizona Democratic Party yesterday called on Attorney General and U.S. Senate candidate Mark Brnovich — of all people — to investigate whether the mapmakers unconstitutionally considered incumbent lawmakers’ addresses when making their maps.
Jeremy Duda @jeremydudaWhat's particularly unclear here is why @azdemparty waited until now to file a complaint they could've filed 4 months ago. Even if the AG finds a violation, there's no way to redraw any districts in time for the 2022 primary. It's too late to do anything for this year.
There’s a strong case to be made that commissioners did consider lawmakers’ addresses. But by filing their findings to the Attorney General’s Office rather than a court of law, Democrats are all but ensuring that it goes nowhere and tacitly admitting that they don’t have any smoking gun proving direct collusion between mapmakers and lawmakers.
The complaint alleges that Republicans on the IRC changed maps to benefit Republican three incumbents: Sens. Wendy Rogers, Vince Leach and Sine Kerr. It also accuses Leach of using his legislative office, staff and resources to sway mapmakers.
The last-minute change to scoop Wendy Rogers’ block out of a Democratic district into a Republican district was especially egregious. Republican Commissioner David Mehl said he proposed the change for a “friend” who was likely Rogers — which would be in direct violation of the Arizona Constitution provision that prohibits the commission from considering the residence of an incumbent or candidate in mapmaking.
It’s also shady that Leach’s assistant and another Senate Republican policy staffer drafted and shopped around an email to local elected leaders supporting a map that would protect Leach — not because it shows he was working with commissioners directly, but because he was using staff resources to do his personal electoral bidding.
But Democrats’ complaints miss the mark in accusing commissioners of drafting the districts solely to benefit Leach and Kerr. In both cases, commissioners didn’t make a one-block tweak to benefit incumbents, they moved whole communities into different districts after hearing from a host of constituents who asked them to make changes. That’s exactly how the process is supposed to work.
That’s not to say commissioners didn’t know how those changes would benefit the incumbents — it would be absurd to believe they don’t know where incumbents live. But in the Leach and Kerr changes, Republican commissioners have a plausible alternative reason for making the changes.
A Democratic party spokesperson offered our reporter a nonsensical explanation of why Democrats are complaining to Brnovich and why they would wait three months after the districts are settled before even filing this letter: They didn’t want to confuse candidates by challenging the maps before the candidate filing deadline, and it’s Brnovich’s job to investigate this stuff.
Rather than force action1, the letter appears designed to create another example of Brnovich “not doing his job” and give Democratic AG candidate Kris Mayes some talking points (and maybe a first project, should she win the AG race). Even if Brnovich took up the cause, it wouldn’t invalidate the whole map. Instead, a court would probably just tell commissioners to redraft a few parts.
Meanwhile, Democrats internally have already written off even attempting to win the state House. In four of the five “competitive” legislative districts, Democrats only fielded one candidate for the two state House seats. It’s a strategy known as a single shot, and it has proven successful for overcoming a voter-registration disadvantage in the past.
But it also means they’re ceding four of those 10 competitive seats to Republicans. Even if they win every safe Democratic seat and win every competitive race for the state House where they fielded a candidate, Democrats will still only have 302 members in the House.
When Democrats’ numbers shrink at the Capitol, they’re going to need a scapegoat. And blaming Brnovich for not investigating alleged Republican improprieties is far easier than doing an honest internal evaluation of what the party could have done better during redistricting and after.
This all sounds pretty dire: The U.S. Department of the Interior might hold back some water it intended to release this year in an “unprecedented move” designed to keep enough water in Lake Powell to generate electricity at Glen Canyon Dam, the Arizona Daily Star’s Tony Davis reports. Meanwhile, the water district in Pine-Strawberry won’t issue new permits because they don’t have enough supply in their system that’s prone to leaks and sometimes runs dry, the Payson Roundup reports. And if you want to step back and understand the past three decades of drought and its effect on our water, check out this guide from journalist Yezmin Villarreal for the Arizona Luminaria.
Literally one job: The Arizona Legislature’s only real job is to pass a budget, but the Senate still doesn’t have enough votes, so lawmakers now are discussing doing a “skinny” budget that carries over the existing budget and adds a couple key items, then taking off on the campaign trail. The House attempted to pressure the Senate to move by clearing the way for the introduction of budget bills in the Rules committee yesterday. Still, no budget.
At least he answered the question: Arizona Rep. Mark Finchem, today’s picture of hypocrisy, doesn’t like early voting, but does early vote himself by dropping off his early ballot in person, the Republic’s Mary Jo Pitzl reports in a story about how the Arizona Secretary of State candidates view early voting. The Democratic candidates supported it, and Finchem was the only GOP candidate who would talk about it with Pitzl. Republican Rep. Shawnna Bolick, who is running for the office, said it was “nobody’s business” how she viewed early voting, and Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita didn’t respond.
Voting law epicenter: PBS News Weekend digested the motivation and legal implications of the new voting law signed by Gov. Doug Ducey that requires proof of citizenship for presidential elections. In the segment, Votebeat editorial director Jessica Huseman discusses that law and others in Arizona and elsewhere, like the ones banning private donors from funding election-related procedures. In states that banned these kinds of funds, state and federal dollars have not replaced the money lost from private donations for election administration.
Stop the count! Count the votes!: For the first time ever, the Salt River Project will recount the votes in its recent elections after a software problem that the utility’s corporate secretary said didn’t affect the outcome of any races, the Republic’s Ryan Randazzo reports. Some of the races were close, and even people who won a seat said they wanted a recount to ensure accuracy.
Better than nothing: Maricopa County will use $17 million in COVID-19 relief funds for some affordable housing projects, including one that converts a central Phoenix hotel into permanent housing and two new developments with affordable units, the county announced yesterday.
A non-azleg bill to keep an eye on: Same-sex marriage is still illegal on the Navajo Nation, though Navajo Council Delegate Eugene Tso’s bill could change that, reviving the debate over marriage rights for the country’s largest holdout, SourceNM’s Patrick Lohmann reports.
Campus clash: Some Jewish students and community groups are calling on Arizona State University not to bring Palestinian activist speaker Mohammed El-Kurd to campus for an event paid for with student fees, saying El-Kurd’s comments have been anti-Semitic and otherwise offensive, the Phoenix New Times’ Elias Weiss reports.
Gosar is big-name enough now for the NYTimes: Three Republican challengers want to dethrone U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, and some of them are making strong arguments with locals who want someone new to take over for the six-termer, though they’re unlikely to oust the incumbent, the New York Times’ Jack Healy reports.
We don’t talk about Brno: Democratic AG candidate Kris Mayes argues in an op-ed that AG Mark Brnovich isn’t doing his job anymore, and the other GOP candidates for the office aren’t calling him out about it.
We can give advice: The City of Phoenix might add a public health adviser to the city payroll if the Phoenix City Council approves the new $200,000+ position, inspired by COVID-19, KJZZ’s Christina Estes reports.
If our side gigs as lifeguards don’t pan out, maybe we’ll throw our hats in the ring for this lucrative new city job. Or, hear us out, you could fund this newsletter and make sure we have no formal power in government. It’s your choice!
Republican lawmakers want to make sure that if the State Bar of Arizona investigates a lawyer and doesn’t find they committed a crime or ethical breach, the investigated attorney can recoup costs for their legal fees, investigation costs and “any loss of future earnings and damage to the attorney's reputation.”
Senate Bill 1566, sponsored by Republican Sen. Vince Leach, is another shot in Republican lawmakers’ longstanding war with the State Bar of Arizona. Leach argued this particular idea sprung from what he calls the “weaponization of the Bar” via politically motivated bar complaints into a dozen lawyers at Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office, including the one against Brnovich that ended in a settlement agreement. Opponents argued it would have a chilling effect on the nonpartisan group that is supposed to investigate rogue attorneys.
The law has some precedence — in many kinds of civil cases, the prevailing side can seek lawyers’ fees if the losing side brought the case without substantial justification. But we have a hard time imagining lawmakers crafting similar legislation to cover criminal defendants — if the police accuse you of a crime and prosecutors lose in court, defendants should be made whole for their lawyers’ fees, time and reputation.
The bill has already cleared the Senate is ready for a vote from the full House.
We’re laughing at the mutual desperation that created this op-ed, in which former Congressman and current gubernatorial hopeful Matt Salmon and former Maricopa Sheriff and current Fountain Hills mayoral Joe Arpaio team up to reminisce about the good old days of Arpaio’s Tent City.
Matt Salmon @MattSalmonAZMy new op-ed with former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio → https://t.co/Q3wdsR8WXD https://t.co/bdJzdCxcum
It’s worth noting that despite threats from Democratic attorney Marc Elias, who has sued several other GOP states over their redistricting processes, Democrats have not filed a single legal challenge to Arizona’s legislative or congressional maps.
A previous version of this piece included some bad math that declared if every Democrat in a competitive district won, Democrats would only have 29 members in the House. They can win 30 seats — which is not enough to flip the House, but enough to tie it.