The Daily Agenda: Take it from a pro
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Today, we asked Democratic attorney Roy Herrera to write a few words about one of the busiest times of year for lawyers like him: the petition challenge window. During this period, campaigns and their attorneys challenge other campaigns and try to disqualify them from the ballot by attacking signatures and other requirements. Roy’s experience in challenging petitions for office, and knocking candidates off the ballot, is extensive — and he expects this year to be among the busiest ever. Here’s Roy:
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be running through courtrooms during one of the most chaotic times of year for election lawyers, election administrators, and judges as we comb through candidate petitions to see who has actually earned the right to be on voter’s ballots in the August primary.
I expect a surprising number of campaigns to die unceremoniously in court long before votes are even cast — early petition signature reviews have shown that the validity rate for signatures is unusually low this year.
Because candidates are running in brand new districts after decennial redistricting, this petition gathering season has also presented several distinct challenges for campaigns.
Many candidates got a late start on signature gathering either because they did not know what district they would be running in or if they would be running at all. There has also been confusion over the amount of signatures that are necessary for candidates to qualify to make the ballot in a particular district, which was only recently remedied by the Arizona Legislature. Additionally, during the end of the signature gathering period, E-Qual, the online portal for signing a candidate’s nominating petition, was unavailable for several weeks for certain candidates.
Candidates have had less time and opportunity to gather signatures. As a result, towards the end of the filing period, many candidates raced to hire one of the few signature gathering firms to gather enough signatures. Some campaigns ended up paying over $20 a signature – a sum that would’ve been unheard of just a few years ago.
Now that the deadline for filing candidate petitions has passed, candidate petition challenges will be filed in Superior Court. They can be as simple as alleging that a candidate did not meet the minimum number of signatures required under the law because petition signers are not registered to vote, don’t live within a particular district or are registered to the wrong party. These kinds of challenges are usually open and shut cases. If a careful review of petition signatures within country recorder registration records shows this to be the case, then it’s game over for the candidate.
Challenges can also be much more complicated; there may be allegations that there was fraud in the signature gathering process. I have seen many cases where it appeared that circulators forged every signature on a particular petition sheet. Challenges may even allege that a candidate lacked the qualifications to serve in office.
My personal favorite was the successful challenge to Kanye West’s presidential candidacy in 2020. In that case, West was accused of being ineligible to run as independent due to his registration as a Republican in another state.
Regardless of the basis of the challenge, all challenges to candidate petitions must be filed by 5 p.m. on April 18. What follows is a chaotic two weeks of very short trials before judges who decide whether a candidate can remain on the ballot. When I say chaotic, I mean chaotic. Given the volume of challenges, in past years, I have found myself with as many as three trials set for the exact same day and time but before different judges.
In the last few election cycles, the sheer volume of challenges filed has increased exponentially. Campaigns increasingly view challenging opponents (or at least reviewing their signatures) as a viable and important campaign strategy. Challenges are relatively low risk (they often cost less than $10,000 in legal fees) and high reward since success means that a candidate may no longer face a serious primary or viable general election opponent.
Knowing this, campaigns are much more focused on getting the highest cushion of signatures possible, especially through the use of the E-Qual system, in order to fend off any possible challenge. Gone are the days of recommending that candidates gather around a 30% cushion over the minimum amount of signatures required. These days, cautious candidates will get at least double the number of signatures necessary.
While the next few weeks will be intense for me and for others involved with elections, this unique period will ultimately decide who voters will be able to vote for. You can expect to hear more about who makes the ballot — and who gets booted — as the deadline draws near.
How to win friends and influence people: It’s legislative budget season, or at least it should be, but Senate President Karen Fann doesn’t have the votes to move a GOP budget because Sen. Paul Boyer is still a no on several big Republican items, Capitol Media Services’ Howie Fischer reports. So instead of wooing Boyer, who is a moderate-ish Republican, she hopes to somehow get Democrats on board with a GOP plan that would almost certainly not appease any of them. The budget discussions come as the state is rolling in the dough, and lawmakers debate where and how to spend the $5.3 billion in surplus that the Legislature’s Finance Advisory Committee identified. As we’ve been saying for months now: We’re never going to get out of here.
“It took us 171 days last year,’’ Fann told Fischer. “It might be taking us 172 this year to get it.’’
Bad news for insurrectionists: Ali Alexander, the convicted felon who claims to have organized the Jan 6 insurrection with the help of Arizona Congressmen Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar (who, as a sidenote, has recently moved to Bullhead City after his district changed), is cooperating with the Department of Justice’s January 6 inquiry, The New York Times reports.
Does anyone just pick the first option?: Arizona Democrats will get to challenge the order in which they appear on the ballot — after Republicans, in most counties — after a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel kicked a case on the topic back to the trial court, which had initially dismissed it. Fischer reports that even if Democrats win, it’s not clear if the case will be settled in time to affect this year’s ballot.
A letter ain’t much: Even though Arizona Attorney General and U.S. Senate hopeful Mark Brnovich wrote a letter about election fraud that didn’t include anything more than innuendo, GOP politicos (including former Arizonan and White House Spokesperson Stephanie Grisham) told the Republic’s Yvonne Wingett Sanchez that he’s still not likely to net an endorsement from Donald Trump because the report didn’t go far enough. But the report could revive some floundering election bills after Brnovich highlighted potential laws to address all kinds of things that aren’t illegal currently. Meanwhile, none of the GOP U.S. Senate candidates have been able to keep up with the massive fundraising hauls that U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly is bringing in.
Guess who Trump likes more: Meanwhile, U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters and GOP gubernatorial contender Kari Lake were guests at Mar-a-Lago last week. While Lake has the Trump endorsement, Masters does not — yet. Meanwhile, Lake slipped back into her old role as a reporter who can’t tell truth from fiction.
The candidate with a wealthy benefactor: Despite formally severing ties to Peter Thiel’s foundation, Masters has used his campaign to promote his mentor’s businesses and slam his competitors, The Daily Beast notes.
“I’m struggling to think of another example of a politician who would owe so much of their success to a single person,” Brendan Fischer, deputy executive director at Documented, told The Daily Beast.
More pot options: The Arizona Department of Health Services drew winners for the final 26 marijuana dispensary licenses intended to go to applicants who would improve social equity in the marijuana industry. About 1,300 applications made it into the lottery for the highly lucrative licenses, many of whom were backed by existing pot companies. And those weed companies did get some of the lottery licenses, though some also went to people who struck out on their own. The most difficult part of the process — actually opening a dispensary — starts now.
So many lawsuits: The new voter proof-of-citizenship law signed by Gov. Doug Ducey could disenfranchise tribal voters in Arizona because some do not have physical addresses or identification that the new law requires, the Republic’s Arlyssa Becenti reports. To keep up with four ongoing lawsuits over Arizona election laws, including two over the new voter ID law, check out this rundown from AZ Law.
Seeking refuge: While state and federal elected officials wrangle over ending the use of Title 42, Ukrainian refugees are showing up at the port in Douglas, Arizona, as local groups prepare for an influx of asylum seekers crossing the border once the public health law is halted, the Herald/Review’s Lyda Longa reports.
A spending stalemate: The federal government owes the Navajo Nation $31 million after years of shortchanging the tribe on funding for its court system, a federal judge ruled in a long-running lawsuit, according to the Farmington Daily Times. Meanwhile, Navajo Nation leaders are at a standstill over how to spend COVID-19 relief funds.
Solar gains: In the least-hot election this cycle (because turnout is low and the system is antiquated) solar advocates won three seats on the Salt River Project board, the Republic’s Ryan Randazzo reports. Local media critic and former lawmaker Greg Patterson did not win a seat, and neither did former Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal.
Covering lots of ground in one speech: In the annual State of the City address, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said she would “never defund the Phoenix Police Department,” celebrated the city’s economic development and talked about how the city’s pensions divested from Russian interests.
What is a “safe” execution?: The state’s renewed quest to execute Clarence Dixon revives claims from attorneys who say the state cannot show it can conduct an execution safely using the lethal injection drug they plan to use, the Republic’s Jimmy Jenkins reports. And Dixon’s attorneys also argue that he is not mentally competent enough for execution.
Air problems: The Federal Aviation Administration told the City of Tempe that the proposed Arizona Coyotes arena and a surrounding entertainment district could impede air traffic in the heavily trafficked flight paths above the district, the Republic’s Renata Clo reports. The district also proposes adding new homes in the area, which would be subjected to noise from heavy flight traffic.
A longread recommendation: As developments encroach on their land in Arizona, the Western Apache turned to running as a spiritual practice to commune with the earth while also fighting against projects that would bring mining or other disruption to sacred sites like Mount Graham, journalist Annette McGivney reports for Runner’s World.
Don’t like all this record-breaking: It’s still a bad time to buy a house, but it’s a great time to sell a house (provided you do not have to then turn around and buy a house).
Losing federal aid is often a death knell: Arizona’s three public universities increased tuition across the board. And the hits keep coming for University of Arizona Global Campus — now, the Veterans Administration told students they might want to go elsewhere, and student advocacy groups say that the federal government should cut off all federal aid access for the campus, the Arizona Daily Star’s Kathryn Palmer reports.
Ban the box: As companies struggle to attract and retain workers, they’re looking more seriously at hiring people with criminal histories who often face tough job prospects after serving their time, the Republic’s Russ Wiles writes.
Blame it on the worker shortage: The Arizona Daily Star’s Sam Kmack writes about another Tucson environmental ordinance that isn’t being enforced, this time about native desert plants. The ordinance, approved in 1997, calls on developers to keep a portion of native plants in place when they develop an area, but no one is ensuring these rules are followed.
Driving down Central is an obstacle course: Businesses that have been negatively affected by light rail construction will continue to be able to access a financial assistance program after the city extended the program until 2024.
We found our new side hustle: Despite paying between $21 and $25 per hour, Phoenix can’t find enough lifeguards to staff and open all its public pools this summer, KJZZ’s Christina Estes reports.
We just might have to moonlight as lifeguards to pay the bills. That is, unless kind-hearted people like you decide to pay for our newsletter instead. It’s cheap!
Arizona senators are worried about banks discriminating — not against people, but against gun companies.
Republican lawmakers are pushing a strike-everything amendment to strike back at a handful of “woke banks” that refuse to do business with a handful of gun manufacturers and organizations. The amendment to House Bill 2473 from Republican Rep. Frank Carroll piggybacks on a previous law that bans the state from doing business with companies that boycott Israel. It would force companies that contract with the state to sign a certification that it does not discriminate against gun manufacturers or associations.
Bankers argued they routinely weigh all sorts of risks — including reputational risk — when deciding whether to serve a client, and as independent businessmen, they should be allowed to run their business any way they see fit so long as they’re not breaking any laws. But Republican lawmakers argued that gun companies having to get a new bank is akin to Jim Crow-era banking discrimination against Black Americans.
The bill still needs to pass the full Senate, then return for a final vote in the House, before it lands on Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk.
Sometimes we laugh because the only other option is despair.
On that note, we tuned in to catch Mark Brnovich, the increasingly desperate Republican U.S. Senate candidate who’s using his position as Arizona attorney general to boost his campaign, on Steve Bannon’s conspiracy podcast as he completed his electoral about-face.
“It is frustrating. It’s frustrating to all of us. Because I think we all know what happened in 2020,” he told Bannon. “I assure you Steve, I understand how serious this is. I understand why people are frustrated.”
Brnovich continued to stoke Bannon’s fantasies about decertification while implying there’s much more to come and touting his bona fides as a candidate. Bannon tried to get an answer to when the investigation will end, and Brnovich promised that when he leaves office, he won’t leave his successor with “a big pile of dog crap” to deal with.