The Daily Agenda: Voters fired some judges
We're impressed so many people filled out the whole ballot ... Ready yourself for some recounts ... And Ward learns nothing.
It’s exceedingly rare for judges to fail their retention elections in Arizona, but this year, three Maricopa County judges were booted from their appointed positions.
Three Ducey appointees — Rusty Crandell, Stephen Hopkins and Howard Sukenic — didn’t get enough votes to stay on the Maricopa County Superior Court bench.
Not all Arizona counties have judicial retention elections. Judges in Coconino, Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties, the appellate courts and the Arizona Supreme Court are appointed in a process dubbed “merit selection,” then on a rotating basis face voters who either say they should keep their jobs or be ousted. In other counties, judges are elected outright.
According to numbers from Axios Phoenix’s Jeremy Duda, only three judges in the past five decades have lost their retention elections. Benjamin Norris was the most recent to lose, in 2014. That means we’re doubling the number of ousted judges in just one election.
Why, exactly, did these three judges lose? For Hopkins, the answer is straightforward: The Commission on Judicial Performance Review said he did not meet its standards, though that doesn’t always mean voters will vote against them. Seven commission members voted that he met their standards, while 15 voted that he didn’t meet them.
Crandell has two “does not meet” votes against him, but 18 votes that he did meet standards. In his case, we looked at judicial voting guides to understand the opposition. The guide from Civic Engagement Beyond Voting, a grassroots advocacy group, notes Crandall’s “ideological slant” and “embrace of the ideologically right-wing Federalist Society,” as well as his filing of amicus briefs in a couple cases, like the Brush & Nib v. Phoenix legal case, where an art studio fought to be able to deny services to same-sex couples.
Sukenic’s reviews were super mixed, with 13 commissioners saying he met standards, but nine saying he didn’t. CEBV noted in its judicial voter guide that the judge’s “temperament seems to be a red flag with 25% attorney respondents rating him unsatisfactory/poor.” His temperament was also flagged by attorneys in 2018, when he last faced retention, the group noted.
It was surprising to see just how close Arizona Supreme Court Justice Bill Montgomery came in his retention election, too, though he got more than 55% votes in favor of keeping him employed, about 15 percentage points below the other two Supreme Court justices up for retention.
Losing a judgeship is so rare, in fact, that we weren’t sure what happens to those judges who are fired by voters. We reached out to Timothy Tait, the director of communications for the Judicial Branch of Arizona in Maricopa County, who helped us out.
The judges’ terms will end at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 2, and they’re treated basically like any other resignation or retirement of a judge, Tait said. The judges’ cases get reassigned to others. Judges usually have two staff members (a judicial assistant and a courtroom assistant, formerly known as a bailiff). Those staffers get reassigned within the courts. And all of the open spots get filled through the merit selection process, ultimately by the next governor.
We’ll be keeping a closer eye on judicial elections in subsequent years, as it seems like voters are paying more attention to them, too. Kudos to everyone who fills out the whole ballot!
Race updates: As of Wednesday night, the intensely close races for attorney general and superintendent of public instruction still are close and look recount-ready. Democrat Kris Mayes is leading by just over 700 votes ahead of Republican Abe Hamadeh for AG, while Republican Tom Horne is up by more than 8,700 over Democratic SPI Kathy Hoffman. In the governor’s race, GOP contender Kari Lake still trails Democrat Katie Hobbs by more than 17,000 votes, outside of recount territory.
Close ones: Prop 309, which would have put in place stricter voter ID requirements for in-person and mail-in ballots, failed narrowly, receiving 49.6% of the vote. And Prop 132, which will require tax-related citizens initiatives to receive 60% of the vote to pass, narrowly won, with 50.7% of the vote.
The last gasps of a losing campaign: While other election deniers across the country conceded their losses, Lake still has not, and her next moves are seen as a “last stand for a battered movement,” the New York Times reports. Lake’s team is preparing a legal case, and some of her election-denying allies, including Trump, have signaled that she shouldn’t concede. (Yesterday, she posted a slow motion montage of campaign clips set ominously to Tom Petty’s “I won’t back down.”) But more mainstream Republicans, like Gov. Doug Ducey and former Gov. Jan Brewer, have signaled that Hobbs won and Lake should step aside.
“Kari Lake has lost the race in my opinion. There’s no way for her to have a pathway. If I was in that position, I probably would concede. Our democracy is so important to what our country and state stands for. We vote people in and we vote people out,” Brewer told the Times.
One way to lose employees: Tom Crosby and Peggy Judd, the two Cochise County supervisors who sued the county’s election director, Lisa Marra, withdrew their case yesterday. In the request to withdraw, the supervisors note that some statewide races may require recounts, and they don’t want their potential hand count to interfere with that process.
Another execution: Murray Hooper, convicted in the 1980 murders of two people in Phoenix, was executed by the state yesterday via lethal injection. During Hooper’s execution, the execution team again struggled to find a vein for an IV, finally inserting one into his femoral artery. The IV problems have happened in all three of this year’s executions, the Republic’s Jimmy Jenkins reports.
Water can’t keep up: Arizona continues to grow while our water supply continues to shrink, leaving some Arizona residents at risk of losing their access to water, KJZZ’s Katherine Davis-Young reports in an ongoing water series by the station. The story zeroes in on the Rio Verde Foothills area near Scottsdale, which is in a precarious water situation without a solution currently.
Maps are important: Arizona Daily Star columnist Tim Steller writes that the lines drawn for Congressional District 6 during redistricting benefitted Republican Juan Ciscomani, who won the narrow race in the competitive district. Steller argues that the line-drawing was “a gerrymander that ever-so-slightly benefited Republicans and may have made the key difference.”
Not these guys: The Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board rejected a proposal last year that would have allowed a constitutional sheriff group with extremist ideas to train law enforcement, but a rule change could soon allow constitutional sheriffs to train officers anyway, should a local agency decide to do so, the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting’s Isaac Stone Simonelli reports.
Common ground: The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer highlights the huge win for Prop 211, which will require disclosures for dark money groups that spend on elections. Despite the intense polarization in Arizona, voters overwhelmingly approved the measure, with more than 72% of voters in favor.
It’s a theme: As we wrote yesterday, the AZGOP is in a state of disarray after its repeated losses and an enduring battle between MAGA and moderates. For other takes on the Republicans’ failures and internal conflict, check out this story from the Arizona Mirror’s Jim Small and this one from the Republic’s Stacey Barchenger. And the Washington Post writes that Democrats made clear that democracy was at stake in Arizona’s elections, with voters delivering a “decisive vote” in favor of it.
Will it help?: The U.S. Department of Justice selected Tucson for a public safety program that will bring in more training and assistance for local police to try to decrease violent crime, the Arizona Daily Star’s Carol Ann Alaimo reports. The city had a record number of homicides last year, with 93 killings.
More money: Arizona’s minimum wage will increase by $1.05, to $13.85 an hour, on Jan. 1, as the annual wage increase is now tied to inflation, the Republic’s Russ Wiles reports. Voters approved the stepped minimum wage increase via initiative in 2016.
Rest in peace: Leo Beus, a longtime Phoenix attorney who co-founded the law firm Beus Gilbert, died this week at age 78. Beus was also a major donor to Arizona State University, and several ASU assets have his name on them, including a large laser.
We have to appreciate the simplicity of the National Review’s headline on Trump’s presidential announcement: “No.” The conservative outlet, no fans of Trump and his antics, lead off the column with:
“To paraphrase Voltaire after he attended an orgy, once was an experiment, twice would be perverse.”
One person who’s still all-in on Trump, though, despite the losses he’s helped deliver to Arizona: AZGOP Chair Kelli Ward. Learning lessons? Not here!