Discover more from Arizona Agenda
The Daily Agenda: No experience necessary
You'd have to be crazy to take that job ... The lobbyists are in charge ... And newspaper publishers were wild back in the day.
Cochise County needs a new elections director, yet again, after the second person to hold the position this year quit.
Bob Bartelsmeyer, an election skeptic that the county hired to run its elections just four months ago, quit abruptly Friday, saying he was returning to his old post as the elections director in La Paz County, the Herald Review’s Terri Jo Neff reported.
The exit couldn’t come at a worse moment. Ballots for a local school bond election and a hospital district election are set to go out Friday to military and overseas citizens. Ballots for regular voters should be hitting mailboxes just about the time Bartelsmeyer’s two-week notice ends. His job was to tally those ballots.
“I mean, this is probably one of the worst case scenarios,” Cochise County Recorder David Stevens told us. “I haven’t really had time to think about it … I guess technically we could cancel the election. But they’re not ours to cancel — they belong to the jurisdictions. Since the ballots haven’t been mailed yet, we have some options. But once those ballots get mailed, the options go away. … This is all uncharted territory.”
The county’s election brain drain is not limited to just the elections director. The only two employees in the office we’re hired just this summer. As Stevens put it, the board would be “insane to put that on them, to say, well, you're the elections manager, you do it.”
Cochise County has become a source of never-ending elections drama since county supervisors attempted to reject the results of the 2022 election (which, it should be noted, Kari Lake won in the conservative county). Here are a few recent headlines to jog your memory:
Hiring Bartelsmeyer was just the most recent major controversy — he’s an election skeptic and seemed ill-equipped to push back against the base instincts of the conspiratorial board of supervisors there.
And now we have some serious questions about that $10,000 relocation bonus in his contract.
Hiring an experienced election director in Cochise County won’t be easy. Stevens is an election skeptic, the board is controlled by election deniers and the voters in Cochise County are just as primed to believe elections are rigged as anywhere in America. The previous elections director sued the county for creating a toxic work environment — and these days, any job in elections can quickly get scary if you’re the center of the conspiracy.
Why on Earth would anyone who isn’t an election denier want to run Cochise County’s elections?
And, of course, there aren’t many election-denying election officials to choose from. So whoever the county hires is probably going to have to learn on the job.
The fact that the county likely won’t be able to hire anyone with experience actually running elections isn’t great, Stevens says, but it’s also not the end of the world. Running an election requires a lot of learning on the job — Bartelsmeyer at least had that going for him, even if his work history was a little spotty.
The second problem, that nobody who believes the 2020 election was free and fair will likely want to work for Stevens and the Cochise County Board of Supervisors, also doesn’t seem to bother Stevens. We asked Stevens if he thinks that believing the elections are rigged should be a disqualifying factor for an elections director candidate.
“Obviously not because I hired Bob (Bartelsmeyer),” he responded.
In fact, having “election skeptics” like himself running elections is actually better, Stevens argued, because they have the trust of election conspiracists in the public.
The people of Cochise county deserve better than inexperienced conspiracists running their elections. Officials who believe — in the face of all evidence — that the other side is rigging elections should not be left in charge, no matter how many checks and balances are built into the system. The temptation for them to attempt to level the playing field is too great.
Stevens hinted he may have someone in mind to fill the job, saying he heard from a former county recorder employee1 who was interested in the gig. They had some experience in election administration, though not technically directly running elections, he noted.
We’re excited to see who’s brave enough to take on such a task, and we hope for the voters’ sake that they’ll be able to do the job — a big part of which now includes standing up to the county board when they want to disregard the will of the voters and not certify an election
But we’re not optimistic. Given the political environment Stevens and the board have created, you’d have to be crazy to take that job. Maybe that’s the point.
But in case you’re feeling crazy, here’s the job posting.
CORRECTION: Yesterday’s Agenda incorrectly stated that outgoing Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates was backing former lawmaker Kate Brophy McGee to fill his post. While the two are ideologically aligned, Gates said he’s not endorsing anyone for any office right now.
Lobbyists run the show: Gov. Katie Hobbs leaned heavily on the lobbying corps when building her office, the Republic’s Stacey Barchenger reports, hiring a bunch of people who had at one time or another lobbied for progressive causes. Revolving door hires are completely common in gubernatorial administrations, but still raise questions about governor staffers’ ability to remain independent of their former employers’ influence. In other news about lobbyists, Ray Stern questions Sen. J.D. Mesnard’s fundraising for his father, who was injured in a homemade airplane crash (another man died), noting that many of the donors are lobbyists.
“I'm not sure what I could have done differently," Mesnard told Stern. "I didn't benefit from it in any sort of way."
Not his first investigation: The Pima County Board of Supervisors is considering launching an outside investigation into Sheriff Chris Nanos’ decision to pause an inquiry into the sexual assault of a female deputy by her supervisor at a Christmas party, Arizona Public Media’s Hannah Cree reports. The supervisor was arrested and charged, but Nanos’ office didn’t investigate the victim’s claim that other higher-ups knew it was happening and did nothing. Nanos returned the favor to the board yesterday, announcing he would no longer allow his deputies to provide security at the board’s meetings “effective immediately,” Green Valley News’ Kim Smith reports.
"Why would I want my team to be subjected to all of the politics? It's bad enough I have to be subjected to it," Nanos said.
Too many offices, not enough cafes: As Phoenix officials continue their incremental progress on a longstanding vision of transforming the city’s canals from an eyesore to a hip urban paradise, critics worry the latest piece of the plan that the City Council approved — a mixed-use seven story high rise on Central Avenue near the Light Rail — will give up too much public space to private entities, the Republic’s Taylor Seely writes. In other canal news, animal experts aren’t sure why there were 19 dead ducks in a canal in Chandler, saying it could be a botulism outbreak or it could be human caused, per Fox10’s Phoenix. And in other Light Rail news, Valley Metro wants feedback on its proposed Light Rail extension route along Indian School from Central Ave to 75th Ave.
It’s a lot hotter at the Capitol: Phoenix got a $10 million grant from the U.S. Forest Service to plant trees and do other stuff to create “equitable cooling,” which essentially means making poor neighborhoods less hot. The area around the Capitol is one of the most tree-deprived areas in the city, KTAR’s Serena O’Sullivan notes, and also has some of the highest heat death rates.
For every new subscriber we get today, we will plant another houseplant. Do your part to make Arizona greener!
Horse races are political: Turf Paradise announced it will end live horse racing next month after 70 years. That’ll have a ripple effect on horse racing statewide, as it also means the end of its 37 off-track betting sites in Arizona, AZFamily reports.
Not blackballed from radio (yet): Hank went on KJZZ’s “The Show” with Mark Brodie to talk about his reporting on ASU, Clean Elections and who really controls Arizona PBS.
We’re loving the spooky government buildings beat that the Republic’s Sasha Hupka has been trying to carve out for herself. Her latest is about the Security Building at Central and Van Buren, which was built in 1929 and probably has ghosts. But even more interesting is how the building’s original owner, Dwight Heard, the former publisher of the Republic’s predecessor, the Arizona Republican, paid for it.
“For two weeks, Heard and other wealthy, powerful men behind the construction turned a blind eye while Wirt Bowman, an influential and wealthy national Democratic committeeman who owned several gambling establishments in Tijuana, ran booze, games and girls through the eighth floor of the building.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Stevens had been in touch with a former recorder about the job. Stevens clarified that it’s a former employee in a recorders’ office, not a recorder. Additionally, he quibbled over our use of the words “he argued” that having elections skeptics in the office, saying he only agreed with our supposition that that could be a benefit.