The Daily Agenda: It's hard to get on the ballot

One of six referendums gets enough signatures... Let's talk about plastics... And unfortunately more audit news.

Education groups delivered two moving vans of petitions to the Secretary of State’s Office yesterday to force a public vote on Gov. Doug Ducey and Republican lawmakers’ $1 billion income tax cut plan. 

The so-called “flat tax” proposal was Ducey’s crowning achievement seven years after he first ran for governor on a pledge to cut income taxes to “as close to zero as possible.” It would mostly benefit the wealthy, and would knock off around $7,000 in taxes for those who earn more than 500,000, or a mere $7 for those earning $30,000 or less. 

Before the law goes on hold until voters can uphold or reject it in the November 2022 election, the petitions must undergo a spot-check to ensure the signatures are valid. 

But opponents of the law reported collecting more than 215,000 signatures, giving the referendum a massive 82% cushion for the 119,000 valid signatures required, the Republic’s Mary Jo Pitzl reports

Critics also sought to refer two other tax laws to the ballot. One just barely made the cutoff, with just short of 124,000 signatures. Unless about 96 percent of those signatures are valid, which isn’t likely, that effort is dead. 

They failed to gather enough signatures to hit the third tax cut they targeted, highlighting how difficult it is to get someone to stop in a grocery store parking lot and “sign all three” as the campaign slogan went. 

Meanwhile, a separate referendum campaign threw in the towel yesterday, having failed to collect enough signatures from voters to refer a trio of election law changes to the ballot. 

One of those election laws cuts the permanent from the Permanent Early Voting List, and requires voters to use their early ballots at least once every presidential election cycle or be dropped from the list. Another prohibits elections officials from receiving outside funds to help pay for the election, as Facebook and other groups did this year. The third urges election officials to adopt “fraud countermeasures” like QR codes on ballots, and limits the secretary of state’s authority to defend election laws (but just until Katie Hobbs is out of office). Those laws go into effect today. 

So, five out of six attempted referenda likely failed. But even that seeming victory of delivering far more than the minimum necessary to refer the flat tax plan to the ballot is tenuous. 

The Free Enterprise Club has filed a lawsuit against the referendum on the flat tax, oral arguments for which are scheduled for next month, Capitol scribe Howie Fischer reminds us

Of course, if the lawsuit fails, lawmakers could take the sneaky way out by repealing the flat tax and then replacing it with something similar, as they did when opponents of a massive election law that included the original “ballot harvesting” ban gathered enough signatures to force a vote on the law in 2014.

The plastics industry is making a big push to kill a provision in the federal budget package that would raise taxes on the material used to produce new plastics. 

Who cares and what does this have to do with Arizona politics?

Well, a reader flagged a series of nearly identical pro-plastic tweets making the rounds in Arizona Democratic circles, wondering why a handful of Democratic Arizona lawmakers are calling on U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly to protect the plastic industry. 

Democratic Rep. Cesar Chavez kicked off the campaign, tweeting talking points from the American Chemistry Council, which represents a host of plastic producers and is working overtime to kill the provision.

Consultant Luis Acosta-Herrera followed up with more of the same. Tucson legislative candidate Ryan Shead added another. Consuelo Hernandez, a Tucson school board member and younger sibling of Reps. Alma Hernandez and Daniel Hernandez, put something on Facebook and later Twitter. Alma Hernandez retweeted them all. 

But why? For that, we turned to one of our trusty political insiders who does this type of thing. They explained that there’s big money in getting elected officials and other high-profile politicos to tweet your message and ramp up pressure on a local member of Congress.

The way this usually works is that a national organization will contract with a national public relations firm, which will then subcontract with a local political firm that can call in favors with local politicos for tweets and more.

The more sophisticated firms will even assign point values, the source said. A lawmaker tweeting about your issue might be worth five points, while a regular person is worth one. 

It’s called grasstops lobbying — a play on the phrase grassroots, but instead of ordinary citizens, it leverages pressure from high-profile political “influencers” on social media who tweet or write newspaper editorials or who have the gravitas to get meetings with a U.S. Senator.

It happens all the time on both sides of the aisle, and it’s big money for the public relations and consulting firms that can trade favors for tweets.

For his part, Chavez acknowledged he didn’t write the tweet. He first said he didn’t remember who asked him to tweet it, then he did remember, but refused to name them, only saying it was a colleague, and not a PR firm. 

So who’s getting paid to get all these Democrats to tweet against a Democratic-proposed plastic tax? 

We can’t say for sure, but in this case, all signs point to Hernandi Group LLC, the consulting company that the Hernandez siblings started. Neither lawmaker returned a call from our reporter yesterday and didn’t answer texts explicitly asking if their company is on contract for the plastics industry. We’ll let you know when we hear back. 

We love writing about a good mystery. To come along for the ride, it costs $7 per month to support our work.

Rest assured: Attorney General Mark Brnovich has started investigating the claims made by the Cyber Ninjas’ audit report. He asked Maricopa County to preserve records and sought evidence from the Senate. He said the audit report “raises some serious questions” and that his office would be thoroughly reviewing information. His office wouldn’t tell the Republic’s Stacey Barchenger whether the investigation is civil or criminal.

My report is better than your report: Meanwhile, Maricopa County said it will put out a formal response, where its elections experts will dive deeper into the allegations raised in the Cyber Ninjas’ report. This report will address auditors’ questions about “anomalies” and detail the early ballot and tabulation processes, as well as voter ID issues. 

One vacancy (almost) down, a handful more to go: Legislative District 10 will soon have a new senator to fill the vacancy left when former Sen. Kirsten Engel resigned to run for Congress. Democrats in the district advanced three names — Rep. Stephanie Stahl-Hamilton, former lawmaker and ex-Corp Comm candidate Tom Chabin and Larry Waggoner. 

Fake news is fake: Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan spoke out against a Gateway Pundit article that claimed to have a copy of the audit report that called for decertifying the election, but he didn’t quite call it a hoax. Logan told Republic reporter Jen Fifield that he didn’t write the line personally, but perhaps someone who worked on the report at some point did. Logan said it wasn’t in the version presented to the Senate and he doesn’t feel it’s his job as an auditor to call for a decertification; that’d be the legislature’s decision. (It’s not.)

Even when its state mandated: A federal judge blocked part of Arizona’s latest anti-abortion law, which would have banned abortions because of genetic defects, from taking effect just hours before it would have gone on the books. The judge called parts of the law “troubling” and “state-mandated misinformation,” the Republic’s Stacey Barchenger wrote. 

It’s Kyrsten versus Democrats: As the government shutdown timer ticks down, Democratic U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is Democrats biggest obstacle to passing their 3.5 billion budget plan. She told President Joe Biden again yesterday that she’s still not on board, per Politico. She’s due back in the White House today. 

Clearly they’re not worried about re-election: Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer and Supervisor Bill Gates cut an ad, paid for by the anti-Trump republican group Defending Democracy Together, that trashed the Cyber Ninjas and the state Senate and urged Republicans to speak up. 

“You can’t worry about your electoral prospects because we may not have a democracy by the time you have a re-election,” Gates says. 

We missed this story a few days ago, but it’s good: Masks are required in schools on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, but a private school (Rancho Solano) and a charter school (Great Hearts) located on tribal lands aren’t following the tribal government’s orders, the Republic’s Yana Kunichoff reports. The schools wouldn’t say why they aren’t following the tribe’s mask mandate. 

We’re sure she’ll listen: A group, including two state lawmakers, rallied yesterday to call for Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel to resign. It’s the latest in a string of pressure campaigns aimed at Adel’s office based on her handling of protest charges and a lack of transparency. State Rep. Diego Rodriguez and Sen. Martín Quezada joined the news conference and called on Adel to resign, reports the Republic’s BrieAnna Frank

Remember SlimySteve.com?: Capitol Times’ Kyra Haas broke down the Arizona Supreme Court case in which Republican Rep. Wendy Rogers faces a defamation suit from a talent agency that employed her one-time congressional opponent, former lawmaker Steve Smith. She implied the agency engaged in sex trafficking, and the agency sued.  

Arizona ain’t one of those states: Some states are trying to stop prison gerrymandering, the practice of counting prisoners, who often cannot vote, in their prisons rather than their homes, for redistricting purposes, NPR reports

There’s a new nerdy podcast in town. The Maricopa County Office of the Public Defender and the county library district teamed up for a podcast called “Know Your Rights,” which launched this summer. Podcast episodes discuss all sorts of elements that relate to our legal rights, like mental health rights, conservatorships (#FreeBritney), protest rights, juvenile justice, bicycle laws, LGBTQ+ rights, rights restoration and more. A forthcoming episode will dive into the “devious licks” TikTok challenge (essentially, stealing shit from schools) and how it led to criminal charges for Arizona students. You can find it on most major podcast apps and at this link

Surprising no one, former President Donald Trump endorsed Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake yesterday. Using a silly amount of random capitalization, Trump noted Lake’s record on Crime, Border, Second Amendment, Military and Election Integrity. He said she would fight fake news and cancel culture. “She will do a far better job than RINO Governor Doug Ducey—won’t even be a contest!” Trump said

We take that back: One man was surprised. Matt Salmon, another Republican gubernatorial candidate who was hoping for the Trump bump, responded to Trump’s endorsement with derision, saying Lake wasn’t a conservative or a Republican and was not a MAGA candidate. He called Lake a “lifelong member of the liberal media who knows how to put on a show.” Lake formerly worked as an anchor at the local Fox affiliate. 

The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission will host a listening tour and presentation at Cactus Shadows Fine Arts Center, 33606 N. 60th St., Scottsdale, with a satellite viewing location at the Tucson Convention Center, Copper Ballroom, 260 S. Church Ave., Tucson. You can also watch along here. 

Republican gubernatorial candidate and Trump endorsee Kari Lake will speak to the Sun City Republican Club at 6:30 pm. at the Sundial Recreation Center, 14801 N. 103rd Ave. in Sun City.