The Daily Agenda: It's about to get real in the Senate
Definitions of hostage may vary ... Reactions to federal funds may vary ... And international gun laws may vary.
After months of the Arizona Senate Government Committee approving dozens of bills to abolish voting options and beef up election security in response to the cloud of disinformation surrounding the 2020 election, those bills are about to meet their first real test.
The bills are no longer in the friendly domain of Republican Sen. Kelly Townsend’s committee, which has turned into a weekly election-conspiracy forum, and are now heading to a vote from the full Senate, where the slim Republican majority means any single Republican can kill legislation.
Senate President Karen Fann is holding a closed caucus meeting1 Tuesday to take the temperature of her caucus when it comes to election legislation, and some Republicans are already warning that what came out of the committee won’t necessarily pass muster before the full Senate. Republican Sen. T.J. Shope, for example, told us recently that he hasn’t voted in person since 2004 and won’t vote for anything that “diminishes my right to an early ballot.”
It’s safe to say that he’ll kill legislation to eliminate the early voting list. But it’s less clear where Republicans who haven’t drunk the fraud Kool-Aid draw the line on more subtle attacks on voting.
There are bills coming before the full Senate to prevent cities and school districts from holding all-mail elections, to bar counties from using vote centers, to eliminate mail-in ballot drop boxes and to give the Legislature greater authority over elections (though not the authority to disregard them, as some Republican legislators wanted).
Those will be the real test. After 15 months of calls from their base to DO SOMETHING about the 2020 election, even Republican lawmakers with strong backbones are under a lot of pressure to vote for some of the more ill-conceived but less offensive bills about election security. We’ll likely see what they’re willing to pick a fight over next week.
Meanwhile, the cost of the Senate’s “$150,000” audit of the 2020 election in Maricopa County continues to skyrocket as legal bills pile up in battles to keep documents secret in the “most transparent audit in American history.”
The latest tally is more than $4 million, per the Republic’s Mary Jo Pitzl, though it’s worth noting that most of that is on the county side, as it had to pay for new voting equipment to replace what auditors had messed with. (And remember, the Senate still hasn’t paid at least $100,000 to the company formerly known as Cyber Ninjas for the “work” it performed.)
Karen Fann @FannKfannThis is exactly what happens when Secretary of State and Recorder Fontes does not follow the laws and BOS does not obey subpoenas https://t.co/AIQAQIwAN4
And in the House, the 2020 election is still reverberating despite House Speaker Rusty Bowers’ best efforts to quash the madness. He told the Republic’s The Gaggle podcast that a former top aide to Donald Trump recently called him to urge him to allow a hearing on Republican Rep. and secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem’s bill attempting to overturn the election that happened two calendar years ago.
Needless to say, Bowers didn’t budge. But when facing the kind of relentless pressure that Bowers and other Republicans have since 2020 to do something, it’s a lot easier to say no to overturning an election than a host of smaller changes that will undercut public participation in our democracy.
Should help during the Great Resignation: Maricopa County employees will now have paid parental leave. The Board of Supervisors approved the leave policy yesterday, which allows up to six weeks of leave for any employees who work more than 20 hours per week and have worked at the county for at least a year. Both parents are able to use the benefit.
Doubling down: Arizona Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita stands by her choice to call school officials “educational terrorists” as she voted against raising the aggregate expenditure limit, but wouldn’t quite say whether her comment applies to teachers on KTAR’s Gaydos and Chad yesterday. She said the name refers to “anyone and everyone who is holding our kids hostage.” And she said school board elections should be partisan, which she claimed would help with the backlash against schools.
A fear confirmed: More than half of the applications for social equity licenses for marijuana dispensaries were backed by or tied to Big Pot companies and investors, Phoenix New Times’ Katya Schwenk reports. The 26 licenses, which are supposed to go to people who have been negatively impacted by the war on drugs and those in low-income areas, are worth as much as $15 million, the industry estimates. A contract obtained by the New Times showed a shell company would pay a social equity applicant $50,000 for the lucrative license. When the state draws from the more than 1,500 applicants in a lottery this spring, it’s likely that at least some of these licenses will go to Big Pot.
Overseeing yourself rarely works: A bill with bipartisan support could install an independent governing board to oversee the Arizona State Hospital, which Arizona Sen. David Gowan argues would create better conditions for the hospital’s patients, the Republic’s Mary Jo Pitzl reports. Journalist Amy Silverman’s reporting last year for the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting showed various problems at the hospital for people with serious mental illness.
The fate of some candidate signatures gathered online is in the balance: Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs took their feud to court yesterday, where a Maricopa County judge heard arguments over a case that will decide whether Hobbs’ office can take the E-Qual system offline for updates. The judge said she intends to rule quickly, the Arizona Capitol Times’ Nick Phillips writes.
Anti-vaxxers recognize anti-vaxxers: Hacked data from a crowdfunding platform shows that more than 1,600 Arizonans donated more than $100,000 in total to the Canadian trucker protest over vaccine mandates, the Arizona Mirror’s Jerod MacDonald-Evoy reports.
A good sign: Arizona’s ICU bed occupancy rate is lower than it has been in six months as the omicron wave continues its decline, KJZZ’s Katherine Davis-Young reports. Though hospitals are “cautiously optimistic,” they’re still busy.
Great protest photos here, too: When the New York Times writes about how your county’s supervisors voted against accepting federal COVID-19 funds, you better believe it’ll get the people going. And in Bisbee, the big media attention led to more than 100 protestors showing up at the Cochise County Board of Supervisors building both for and against the decision, the Herald/Review’s Shar Porier reports. Reactions ranged from “wake the fuck up, people” to “it’s insane to not take the money during a pandemic.”
For someone who left TV, she sure likes being on TV: Republican gubernatorial candidate and former TV anchor Kari Lake released a campaign ad that she intends to run (minimally, considering the low-dollar ad buys so far) on “corporate news” programs, where she talks about how the viewer is watching fake news. She then claimed 12News didn’t air her ad as scheduled, which would be illegal because broadcast stations can’t censor or refuse to run political ads, per FCC rules. But, 12News pointed out, Lake bought time for either Monday or Tuesday during the 10 p.m. news, and it ran on Tuesday instead of Monday. Don’t expect Lake to apologize or even explain her own fake news, though. She posted an “update” tweet to say the ad would run Tuesday and claimed the station would “probably see a ratings bump” because of it.
Prepare for a wave: The National Labor Relations Board decided that an individual Starbucks store can unionize instead of requiring all stores in a certain geographic area to vote collectively, a win for Starbucks workers in Mesa — and likely those at other stores nationwide — whose vote count was on hold as the company argued its position.
Now’s not the time for the sidelines: Marlene Woods, Grant Woods’ widow, implores Democrats with money to start throwing it around in primary battles in an op-ed for the Republic. The former Republican said the fear of playing against a fellow party-member could mean allowing a weaker candidate to get to the general, sacrificing a seat to a Republican at a time of peak anti-democracy sentiment in the GOP.
Spending your vacation time in a Mexican jail: Nogales city employees can now donate their unused paid time off to a fellow city employee who is detained in Mexico, thanks to a policy change made by the Nogales City Council, the Nogales International’s Angela Gervasi reports. The employee and his wife traveled to Nogales, Sonora, to buy medication for their child, and were detained because the woman left her service weapon for her job in her vehicle. Gun laws are very strict in Mexico, and the couple brought the gun by accident, but they’re now stuck in Mexico while the legal process plays out.
The tiniest schools: The Black Mothers Forum started its own microschools, where groups of up to 10 children are taught by two “learning guides,” at houses, churches and nonprofit locations, KTAR’s Griselda Zetino reports. They get most of their funding from the state. While initially designed with students of color in mind, they’ve expanded to all backgrounds and now have multiple locations in the Valley. The group’s founder, Janelle Wood, got a shoutout from Gov. Doug Ducey in the State of the State, and the forum got more money from the state to expand its microschools.
Fine, we’ll take it: The City of Phoenix expects to have a surplus of $76 million, and different council members have diverging ideas on how to spend it, from police hiring and retention to combating homelessness, KJZZ’s Christina Estes reports.
Just kidding, we would never take millions from the government (not like anyone’s offering, but still) because we’re independent journalists who cover the government. That’s ethics! We’re supported by readers like you who decide to pay us $8 a month to keep local journalism truly local.
A long time coming: U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland visited Arizona this week to talk about using federal infrastructure funds to help settle Indian water rights claims, the Arizona Mirror’s Shondiin Silversmith reports. Some tribes have waited on these settlement funds for decades, Haaland said on her visit.
Yes to fish, no to sofas: The Salt River Project cleans out our canal system annually, then restocks it with fish (out of what looks like a fish cannon) that help control weeds in the water, KJZZ’s Ron Dungan reports. And during their cleanings, they find stuff like couches, shopping carts, bicycles and scooters, which — we’re sure you know this, but just in case — do not belong in canals that provide water to millions of residents.
We’re forcing an Arizona tie so we can tell you about this bear: A bear called Hank the Tank is breaking into California homes to find food, which Washington Post columnist John Paul Brammer argues is strange delight akin to the llamas who went on the lam in the Phoenix area in 2015 in a viral animals-on-the-loose chase. Bring back the llamas, we say! We all need something to collectively root for locally again.
This year, House Bill 2711 would allow towns with less than 17,000 residents to require licenses for short-term rentals, as well as add limits to the number of such rentals in their towns.
Arizona Rep. Brenda Barton, the Republican sponsor of the bill, told the House Land, Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee that the towns she represents face acute problems with short-term rentals. While she voted yes on the 2016 short-term rental bill because she believes in private property rights, she told the committee now that “sometimes capitalism needs a guardrail.”
The bill is of major importance to Sedona, where more than 10% of housing stock is now vacation rentals. The number of these rentals has played a role in the town losing population and experiencing affordability problems in the past decade, Sedona Mayor Sandy Moriarty told the committee.
“Visitors, no matter how well they behave, are not neighbors,” she said.
The committee approved the bill last week on a 10-1 vote, and it awaits a full vote of the House.
Peter Thiel understudy Blake Masters, released a campaign ad where he talks about how America is a country (won’t argue with you there, Blake). He then rattles off the name of prominent Americans like Davy Crockett, Mark Twain and Chuck Berry. And then he bleeps out the names of … someone, presumably, with a black bar over his mouth, perhaps a reference to censorship or cancel culture or something.
This ad has all the hallmarks of a guy who’s just addicted to saying words: He keeps saying “they” and “these people” who don’t like America. He wants NPR to talk about “American greatness.” He hates that people are “obsessed with tearing down the statues.”
Don’t even get us started on closed caucus meetings, which are technically allowed under the law, but which were banned by legislative rules until 2015, when House Republicans voted to allow caucuses to meet in secret, which they said would be used sparingly to discuss “sensitive topics.” (Democrats at the time tried to take the high ground on the issue, opposing the rule changes in the name of transparency. Except they had been having secret closed caucus meetings in violation of the rules for years.) Since then, the meetings have become common practice. Last year, the Senate closed its caucus meetings entirely, using COVID-19 as a guise.
Correction: As an astute reader noted, the Senate changed its rules in 2020 to officially allow for closed caucuses, though the Senate said it would use the ability sparingly and not to talk about routine bills. Then Senators barred reporters from every caucus meeting that year.