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The Daily Agenda: Guerrilla politics hit the Legislature
The legal fees are extensive ... Time flies when nothing changes ... And guns might get a little cheaper.
A crew of failed candidates who attempted to overturn election results and install themselves in office instead is trying to force lawmakers to investigate and impeach Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.
The team of election deniers, QAnon conspiracists and preppers seized on an often-glossed-over provision of the Arizona Constitution and Arizona House rules last week in a failed attempt to force the House to investigate Hobbs for “dereliction of duty” and send a recommendation to impeach her to the Senate.
It didn’t work, obviously. But their strange petition of grievances citing House rules and state constitutional provisions sent us down a rabbithole that’s worth talking about.
A host of obscure, seldom-used rules exist at all levels of government. But sometimes, a group or person will stumble upon and abuse the arcane provisions to promote their pet grievances.
In Kentucky last year, a similar impeachment petition led lawmakers to form a committee on impeaching Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear because of his COVID-19 restrictions, though the committee ultimately took no action. And after seeing the tactic, progressive activists used it to try to impeach a Republican state lawmaker there who was accused of domestic violence, which also resulted in no action. (Kentucky law specifically allows for impeachment petitions, but requires the petitioners to pay the legal costs for their opponents in failed impeachments.)
Another example of using bizarre tactics stemmed from a group started in Arizona that tries to file “surety bond” claims against school districts to protest mask mandates in moves that look similar to sovereign citizen strategies, NBC News has reported. And then there are the “sovereign Moors” who have used obscure (and meritless) legal theories to claim possession of people’s homes in what amounts to “paper terrorism,” as the New York Times wrote late last year.
Several of last week’s petitioners were among the 20 people who filed an initially anonymous complaint to the Arizona Supreme Court last year asking the court to toss out more than a dozen election outcomes they didn’t like — from Gov. Doug Ducey’s 2018 re-election to House Speaker Rusty Bowers’ 2020 win — and install their crew in a host of offices instead. (Needless to say, that didn’t happen either.)
Those who signed onto the petition to lawmakers include make-believe Tucson Mayor Rayanda Eldan, fake U.S. Rep. Daniel Wood and pretend Maricopa County Sheriff Brian Steiner. Others who signed on to the petition to impeach Hobbs appear to be religious zealots and preppers preaching end-time conspiracies.
Citing an Arizona Constitution provision stating “the right of petition, and of the people peaceably to assemble for the common good, shall never be abridged,” and House rules that declare the chamber “shall read and consider” any such petitions, the group repeated in their petition to lawmakers the same argument about Arizona’s voting machines being uncertified that they had tried in court last year.
Bowers came as close to throwing it in the trash as possible: He ordered it “placed on file” in the House — meaning the House acknowledged it received the petition. The whole move happened in a split-second mumble over the microphone last Tuesday and generated zero controversy.
A Democrat said Bowers gave the caucus a heads-up that the House had received the petition and warned that if they objected to “placing it on file,” they would have to actually read the whole thing on the House floor and debate it.
The source said Dems decided to play it cool rather than have “bonkers shit read into the record,” thereby giving the petition the attention it seeks. They were more surprised that election-denying Republicans didn’t object to placing it on file so that they could debate it and speculated that GOP lawmakers were caught unaware about the petition.
The House Chief Clerk’s Office told us they understood many state constitutions have a “petition of grievance” clause, and other statehouses’ rules require lawmakers to actually do something with these petitions — like assign it to committees or at least read it aloud and in full. But the Arizona House rules are vague, so it leaves the chamber discretion to basically ignore it unless someone objects.
On their own, these forays into rarely-used technical provisions don’t usually net news coverage, or even warrant it. But they show the increased prevalence of extreme tactics and how fringe groups try to use the government’s rules against it.1
We wrote last week about how lawmakers regularly ignore their own attorneys who warn that a bill may run afoul of the Constitution. Legal battles in court are expensive, and the state covers attorneys’ fees for plaintiffs if it loses.
We noted in a footnote that we once tried to add up the cost associated with ignoring solid legal advice. As we said, it was incredibly difficult to arrive at any kind of figure for the exact costs of all the lawsuits.
But we want to give you just one example of recent court losses stemming from practices that lawmakers previously were warned was probably unconstitutional.
We’re talking about the Battle of the BRBs. Two lawsuits from different groups took aim at some budget bills and provisions in last year’s budget, which lawmakers packed with non-budget items. The Arizona Supreme Court decided against the state on one lawsuit, and another is still working through the courts.
In the case brought by the Arizona School Boards Association, the group was awarded $172,631.01 in attorneys’ fees and costs by the courts. Spokeswoman Heidi Vega said ASBA agreed to a slight discount on fees from the costs incurred at the Arizona Supreme Court because they wanted to avoid further briefings and delays in getting the money.
In a separate lawsuit from the City of Phoenix, the state lost at the Maricopa County Superior Court, but the case is now in the appeals process, the city said. But in the original decision, the court awarded the city $183,000 in fees and costs, city spokesman Dan Wilson said.
So that’s more than $350,000 for budget-related lawsuits in one year. That cost doesn’t account for any appellate-related court fees for Phoenix, should the city win.
And it doesn’t include any time or money the state spent defending the law. Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office did not respond to our requests for an estimate of the state’s costs on these two lawsuits.
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Late-night news from yesterday: Allister Adel, formerly the Maricopa County Attorney, spent her last day in the office on Friday in the hospital and was still admitted at Mayo Clinic Hospital as of yesterday for undisclosed reasons, the Republic’s Robert Anglen reports.
We’re the future of the lie: PBS’s “Frontline” and ProPublica teamed up on an investigative documentary called “The Plot to Overturn the Election” that aired yesterday and featured Arizona prominently. The piece follows ProPublica reporter A.C. Thompson as he chases the origins and players of the Big Lie across the country, eventually landing in Maricopa County, where he found Republican politicians still pushing for decertification, even after their own flawed, biased audit found President Joe Biden won Maricopa County.
“What began as a plot to overturn the last election has evolved into something much bigger. A mass movement that is already shaping elections to come,” Thompson concludes.
And a rare Brno interview: Capitol scribe Howie Fischer got his hands on a copy of that “diversion agreement” the state Bar slapped on Attorney General Mark Brnovich last month after Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and the Arizona Board of Regents separately filed Bar complaints against him saying he’s breaking ethical rules by suing them and fighting them in court, since he’s their lawyer, too. The agreement required him to spell out how he will handle conflicts of interests with government agencies he represents when he believes they’re breaking the law, Fischer writes. The Supreme Court is separately looking at drafting ethical rules for positions with inherent conflicts of interest, like the AG’s Office, Fischer notes.
How was this two years ago?: The Republic’s Richard Ruelas profiled Lauren Leander, the nurse who stood toe-to-toe with pro-COVID-19 protesters in that viral photo shot outside the Arizona Capitol in the early days of the pandemic. And while Leander became famous after the photo, the protester shown waving a flag in front of her is still unidentified. If you want to help the Republic find him, here’s how. As for Leander, she quit nursing after the media attention from the photo died down because she couldn’t take the stress of the pandemic anymore, and she took up Reiki instead, though she’s now considering going back into nursing. The photo changed her life dramatically, though she said she didn’t recognize the brave face in the photo at first.
Dropped the ball: A former top civilian Army leader once based at Fort Huachuca who is in prison for child sex abuse charges evaded oversight from the State of Arizona and the U.S. Army for years before his sentencing, allowing more abuse and national security risks, the Associated Press’ Michael Rezendes reports. Some of the adopted sons of David Frodsham have since filed civil lawsuits against the state for the missed red flags that allowed Frodsham to foster, adopt and keep custody of many children over the years.
Creating a new county ain’t cheap: House Speaker Rusty Bowers told Maricopa County supervisors that he won’t back a proposal by Republican Rep. and fake elector Jake Hoffman to split Maricopa County into four parts. In a letter he sent earlier this month that Republic reporter Jen Fifield dug up, Bowers said the idea of fracturing the county dates back to his first stint in the Legislature in the early 90s, and he didn’t like it then, as it would create more government and cost taxpayers a lot of money.
Well, maybe we should split it up: Maricopa County was the fastest growing county in the nation last year in terms of raw number of residents, according to newly-released data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Los Angeles County’s population decreased the most, though it easily retained its title as America’s most populous county.
Those quirky election laws: The Arizona Mirror’s Jeremy Duda geeks out on a weird quirk of election reports that required a political action committee opposed to Republican secretary of state candidate and election denier Mark Finchem to report spending $1.4 million on emails, despite not having actually spent $1.4 million on emails.
Good thing he’s not an Arizonan: The former president of the State Bar of Arizona condemned U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas over the conspiracy-promoting texts that his wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, sent encouraging Donald Trump’s chief of staff to fight to overturn Trump’s loss in 2020. In the Arizona Daily Star, Amelia Craig Cramer argued the justice should be impeached if he doesn’t recuse himself from any cases related to January 6 or his wife.
We can write a paragraph like this every day: The Sunnyslope area of Phoenix is seeing increased street homelessness, and a group wants to open a 100-bed shelter there to provide a place for people to live and get services, but neighbors could tank the project before it even breaks ground, the Republic’s Jessica Boehm reports. Meanwhile, the state still has hundreds of millions in rental assistance funds that haven’t been spent yet. The process to apply for and receive those funds needs to be sped up because plenty of renters are behind on rent and need help, Courtney Gilstrap LeVinus, president and CEO of the Arizona Multihousing Association, writes in an op-ed. And because our housing markets are so wild right now, even people with assistance for rent and down payments can’t find a place to live, Arizona Public Media’s Megan Myscofski reports.
A rollercoaster day: Yesterday, the state’s signature-gathering website went down, though it was back up later in the day. Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’ office said the outage was caused by a hardware malfunction. Though the tech outage lasted less than three hours, it was plenty of time for Hobbs’ opponents and the AZGOP to ding her for the failure and Brnovich .
The office you have > the office you’re running for: Brnovich still faces an investigation into bogus election conspiracies, and his GOP opponents for the U.S. Senate seat are now accusing him of slow-walking the matter because it’s politically expedient, the Republic’s Yvonne Wingett Sanchez reports. He helped certify the election results, so finding that those results were suspect would be an about-face, they say.
Gotta pass it to find out what’s in it: It’s not clear if House Bill 2492, which beefs up proof of citizenship requirements to vote and is possibly unconstitutional, will actually force more than 200,000 voters who registered before 2004 to re-register, as Democratic opponents of the bill have claimed, the Republic’s Ray Stern writes. Proponents of the bill told lawmakers it won’t force people to re-register, but the bill is so vaguely written it’ll probably take a lawsuit to sort it out.
Is it just us or are there a lot of lawsuits?: A lawsuit from three social equity license applicants could delay the state’s lottery drawing for the last 26 marijuana dispensary licenses, the Phoenix New Times’ Katya Schwenk reports. Previous lawsuits over the social equity licenses haven’t derailed the program yet, but the most recent one alleges the Arizona Department of Health Services didn’t adequately vet applicants, which could result in licenses needing to be revoked someday.
Some gun sales could be exempt from sales taxes2 if the Arizona Senate approves a bill that removes sales tax from gun resales and firearm safety equipment.
Arizona Rep. Steve Kaiser’s House Bill 2166 passed the House and made it through Senate committees, so it awaits a full vote of the Senate. He amended the bill to satisfy senators by making the exemption for reselling instead of all firearms, Capitol press corps dean Howie Fischer writes.
Debate over the bill centered on whether sales tax actually prevents anyone from getting a gun right now or whether the firearms industry need tax breaks to boost businesses, neither of which seem to be the case.
Arizona laws exempt all sorts of products from sales taxes, but notably, feminine hygiene products and diapers are still subject to TPT. And a bill run this year to exempt those products got no traction.
Nothing made us laugh yesterday except for our own jokes (which are already throughout this newsletter), so instead we’ll share with you this pretty photo from Roger Naylor of the desert getting some much-needed rain. Let’s all enjoy the last few days before we hit 100 degrees.
We realize this is the same tactic that disc golf loving public records warrior Jeremy Thacker has tried to use to force the City of Phoenix to address his host of questions about how much water city golf courses use, but there’s something endearing about obscure laws being used in a public records battle that doesn’t quite translate to politically motivated impeachments.