The Daily Agenda: Our first annual awards ceremony
A slow news day makes us dole out the compliments ... It's expensive to become an internet provider ... And they'll let anyone get a Substack.
The Legislature, still budget-less, took off for the week. It was a slow Monday for Arizona news, but it was journalism’s Super Bowl because the Pulitzer Prizes were announced.
No Arizona outlets won the big prizes this year, but we think there are plenty of local stories from last year that need some rounds of applause. So we’re doing our first annual (and possibly last annual) “Agendies,” based solely on our extremely subjective points of view as two journalists who read almost exclusively political news for work.
This list isn’t comprehensive (because it doesn’t include any of our own stories). Winning doesn’t come with any money. We could thrift a trophy from a kid’s soccer tournament and affix your name to it if you need a trophy, though. These are some of our favorite stories and stand-out local reporters, but we want to hear yours, too. Comment with shoutouts to any local reporting that deserves praise!
The day-to-day grind of local journalism — covering a legislative hearing, showing up to the school board meeting, talking to local businesses — will rarely garner awards, but it’s the stuff that keeps your community informed. There’s tremendous value in that, and we hope local journalists never forget it. Anyway, on to the list.
PERPETUAL THORN IN PRISONS’ SIDE: Jimmy Jenkins
Jenkins has earned a reputation inside Arizona’s prisons. His dogged pursuit of truth on the criminal justice beat has pissed off the powerful and offered hope to the hopeless. Whether at KJZZ or the Republic, Jenkins has relentlessly pursued the stories of corruption and incompetence in Arizona’s correction system. Be it whistleblower reports of prison health care scams, Nazi patches worn by prison guards or breaking and tenaciously following the news of former Department of Corrections head Charles Ryan’s armed standoff with police, Jenkins shines light on the dark prison cells that most reporters ignore. As one Agenda reader put it, “He should probably be up for an actual Pulitzer if anyone gave a fuck what happened to incarcerated people or their tax money.”
POLICING THE POLICE: Dave Biscobing
We did a whole edition about the amazing reporting on police and prosecutorial misconduct that Biscobing serves up on ABC15 on a near-nightly basis. He consistently and single-handedly scoops the daily paper on all things Phoenix police, inverting the print-to-TV motion of most news. He is so prolific that we couldn’t possibly link out to all of his greatest hits in the last year, but suffice to say, Arizona is a better and safer state because of him.
THE MONOPOLY MAN’S HOUSING SCAM: Carol Ann Alaimo
Arizona’s housing market is exploding, and renters are often hit the hardest. Alaimo’s reporting in the Arizona Daily Star zeroed in on one of the finest examples of greed and exploitation in the housing market that we’ve ever seen: a California investor and “wealth guru” moving out to Arizona, where housing laws are lax, with a plan to buy up aging retirement communities, slap on a new coat of paint and jack up the price for the seniors living on fixed income. Like all the best scams, the “real-life Monopoly game” that she exposed is perfectly legal. But as her follow-up reporting makes clear, it’s a serious problem that policymakers should address.
THE AUDIT’S NARRATOR: Jen Fifield
A simple observation about the color of the pens being used at the Arizona Senate/Cyber Ninjas audit changed everything. When Fifield showed up to the audit on the very first day and noticed that the so-called auditors were using blue pens in the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, it was the first clue that these people were not only believers of the Big Lie, but wildly unprepared to lead an audit and completely clueless about elections procedures. From beginning to end, she was the most consistent reporter on the audit floor, serving as the eyes and ears of a populace enraptured by the spectacle at the Madhouse on McDowell.
GENERAL EDITORIAL STODGINESS: Robert Robb
While we love reading Laurie Roberts’ latest outrage or Tim Steller’s reported columns on all things Tucson, Robb has become our favorite read in the op-ed pages in recent years. He’s smart, thorough and rather than simplify everything for readers, he wades deep into the weeds of policy and has faith in his readers to keep up. His consistent application of old-school conservative principles and ability to hold up a mirror to today’s Republicanism to show how how many conservatives has turned their back on those ideals makes him one of the few columnists who not only criticizes his own side, but consistently lands punches.
THE LAST FOREIGN DESK: KJZZ’s Hermosillo desk
As the only foreign bureau left at an Arizona outlet, KJZZ’s Fronteras Desk is an easy choice. But the small and scrappy team deserves the prize for consistently turning out fascinating reporting from northern Mexico and showing a side of the border most Arizonans never see (both literally and figuratively). We never knew we cared about the vaquita marina porpoises, but now we’re rooting for the tiny marine mammal thanks to our local NPR station’s international coverage.
NATIONAL REPORTER WE WON’T MAKE FUN OF: Nicole Santa Cruz
We’re locals through and through, so it takes a lot to impress our cynical Arizona sensibilities. But we’ll hand it to ProPublica’s Nicole Santa Cruz, who came to town and immediately dove into the story of Steve Twist, a powerful Arizonan who has stopped lots of criminal justice reform efforts in their tracks.
We limited ourselves to a lucky number seven, but we could’ve gone on forever (and Rachel prevented Hank from nominating himself, which he tried to do repeatedly). Now it’s your turn to add in your faves.
Internet at the speed of government: A Tucson $7 million initiative to create an internet network only helped 995 families access the internet, the Arizona Daily Star’s Sam Kmack reports. Instead of setting up the Community Wireless Program with COVID-19 relief funds, the city could’ve paid for home internet for thousands more for less money. Some city officials derided the program, calling it an “embarrassment.”
The Arizona Agenda could do a whole lot more with $7 million than this. But we don’t need anywhere near that to be successful — we’re just shooting for a regular six figures. Help us get there by becoming a paid subscriber below!
No one’s dream job: Jim Klein reveals himself as a corrections officer who participated in 17 executions conducted by the Arizona Department of Corrections. The former executioner told the Republic’s Jimmy Jenkins that sometimes, the executions would stick in his mind a bit, but that “it wasn’t personal. I wasn't getting any enjoyment out of it. I didn't feel bad about it. It was just a job.”
“People need to understand that we are just like those syringes on the table,” Klein told Jenkins. “The difference is we breathe — we feel. But we are ultimately just tools of the state.”
Legal stunt with an interesting backstory: The quest to disqualify three Arizona politicians tied to the Jan. 6 insurrection didn’t succeed. The Arizona Supreme Court rejected lawsuits against U.S. Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs and Arizona Rep. Mark Finchem that claimed the 14th Amendment disqualified the three men because the supported the insurrection. For a deeper dive on this legal argument, check out Arizona Public Media’s Andrew Oxford’s podcast episode about the topic.
An anti-abortion law you might not know about: A 2021 law that didn’t get a lot of ink at the time prohibits Arizonans from getting abortion pills via mail delivery, Capitol Media Services’ Howie Fischer reports. The provision was tucked into a law banning abortions for fetuses with genetic abnormalities, which is still in the courts, though the mailed pills provision wasn’t challenged. Access to abortion-inducing medications via mail could become more important depending on how Arizona further restricts abortion if Roe v. Wade is struck down, and proponents of the abortion pill by mail law acknowledge it’ll be hard to stop pills via mail.
FrEe SpEeCh: Republican U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters blasted the Arizona Mirror and reporter Dillon Rosenblatt over a story about Masters’ stance on a federal court ruling on contraceptive use, saying that he intends to sue the news outlet. Masters’ benefactor, Peter Thiel, notably sued and bankrupted Gawker and put it out of business, and he threatened the same for the Mirror: “Gawker found out the hard way and you will too.”
Gail the Powerful: Republic opinion columnist Joanna Allhands details how Arizona Rep. Gail Griffin, the chair of the House’s Natural Resources Committee, wields incredible power over water policy, and her power could grow next session. While water is a constant, growing concern for Arizonans, it’s a difficult policy area to wrap your head around, so lawmakers tend to defer to her. And Griffin’s water preferences are largely anti-regulation.
Arizona could learn from this: In Arizona, unlike the rest of the country, rural vaccine rates exceeded more urban ones, largely because Native American tribes got their citizens vaccinated much better than the state did, the Associated Press’ Terry Tang reports. After being hit early in the pandemic, the Navajo Nation put a lot of effort into convincing people to get vaccinated.
Read local first: The New York Times wrote about QAnon adherents who intercept migrant kids at the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona, though you could have read about this issue back in March in the Border Chronicle, whose work we linked to at that time in this newsletter.
Swing and a miss: The Republic’s resident conservative, Robert Robb, takes us through the history of Arizona’s split-ticket, swingy voters while noting that GOP candidates in Arizona continue to beat the Trump drum, it could backfire in the 2022 elections.
You can care about more than one thing: Reuters talked to three dozen women in the “northern suburbs of Phoenix” about the future of Roe v. Wade and found that the women were more concerned about inflation than abortion. The outlet acknowledged that its sample of suburban women was small, but represented a key demographic for both political parties in the midterms and reflected how prices on daily items could play into the election.
Democratic Rep. Diego Espinoza got a bill signed by the Republican governor.
House Bill 2652 got Gov. Doug Ducey’s signature on Monday.
The bill adds provisions to laws on the sales and purchases of catalytic converters in the wake of increased theft of the car parts. It puts further requirements on scrap metal dealers, including putting inspections in place.
The bill received bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.
We’re not even sure where to start on this new Substack by former John McCain campaign staffer Steve Schmidt: The lies? The affair? Sarah Palin? The Russians?
So we’ll stick to the simplest part of his story: His longstanding beef with Meghan McCain, which seems to have been re-sparked when he retweeted a note that her new book, “Bad Republican,” is tanking in paper copy sales with a story about how Cindy McCain didn’t count Meghan as among her “good” kids.
It escalated from there. While McCain hasn’t responded directly on Twitter, Schmidt is telling all about his time with McCain on his new Substack and has put together several Twitter threads telling all about Meghan specifically.
Well, in 2021, no one covered the Arizona "Independent" Redistricting Commission like Jeremy Duda. I'd give him an award if I could.
I don't recall the reporter(s), but I very much appreciated the AZ Republic's takedown (without consequence) of the Arizona IDA and its frequent bond deals with no tie to AZ, but plenty of old fashioned cronyism, favortism, and lack of due diligence on the part of the AZ IDA and its staff. My favorite part was learning that the AZ IDA Board oversees itself, just as Ducey intended.