Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The Daily Agenda: Ducey Delivers a Speech

Posted By and on Tue, Jan 11, 2022 at 8:56 AM

The state of the state is still strong ... Don't pull a David Gowan on us ... And Jan Brewer meets a former nemesis

Nothing exemplifies the Ducey administration like the governor screaming “WE WILL CUT TAXES!”

And scream Gov. Doug Ducey did at yesterday’s eighth and final State of the State speech, which Team Ducey billed as a policy-heavy forward-looking final address, but which felt more like a final victory lap touting old policies with and a few new promises sprinkled in.

Perhaps the most significant proposal came at the end of the speech: Sticking $1 billion in the Drought Mitigation Fund over the next three years and a vague promise of building a desalination plant in Mexico. (Not to mention an issue near and dear to our hearts: Speeding up the Interstate 10 widening project.)

The smaller policy proposals Ducey touted include: paying off more debt and “topping off” the state’s rainy day fund; making his regulation-cutting executive orders law; waiving in-state college tuition for military spouses; banning (again) teaching Critical Race Theory in schools; putting all K-12 curriculum online for review; expanding school choice generally; a pay raise for state troopers; increasing the foster stipend for caretakers who are relatives; and banning counties from charging rape victims processing fees for testing rape kits.

Rounding out the governor’s big agenda items for the year are a summer school program to get students up to speed on math, reading and American civics (of all things) and border security. The border security portion of his agenda is multifaceted, including funding for border counties to prosecute human smugglers, building a wall with Mexico on lands “where Arizona can,” (of which there ain’t much) and teaming up with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to create a “American Governor’s Border Strike Force” with the goal of patrolling and securing the border. As with much of this, the details were scarce.

But the speech was just as noteworthy for what wasn’t mentioned. Ducey didn’t bring up the potentially school-closing, teacher-layoff-inducing effect of lawmakers not quickly raising the education spending cap.

And as lawmakers set their sights on massive conspiracy-fueled overhauls to our voting system, Ducey provided no hint of what he wants to see, other than “improving our elections.”

And he didn’t mention anything about COVID-19 mitigation efforts. (In a pre-speech interview with the press, his staff said that mitigation efforts don’t work anyway.)

Attorney General Mark Brnovich was not in the House for the speech despite being on the premises and reportedly asking to change seats so he didn’t have to sit next to Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who also didn’t show up.

One person who does believe in mitigation efforts: Angela Ducey, the governor’s wife, who wore a mask throughout the entire speech. Also masked and in attendance was former Gov. Jan Brewer.

Unmasked dignitaries included gubernatorial rivals Matt Salmon and Kari Lake, and U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (at the invite of one of the two lawmakers who are also on his staff).

And Democratic power couple and expectant parents Sen. Juan Mendez and Rep. Athena Salman also decided to ditch the potential superspreader event. (Mendez is pretty upset about it.)

Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Joanne Osborne got COVID-19 and responsibly skipped the event.

But we can’t help but wonder how many others ignored those sniffles or couldn’t get tested and decided to show up anyway.

Arizona Senate President Karen Fann is cracking down on the fake news with new “media rules and media decorum” policies and a restrictive credentialing process that she said is designed to allow access to only legitimate reporters and news outlets.

Fann insisted in an interview yesterday that the new rules — which limit reporters’ access to the Senate floor and to lawmakers and which cover everything from dressing professionally to asking Fann for permission to interview other senators — are not targeting any one reporter or outlet among the Capitol press corps. (But reporters who break the rules could see their entire news organizations barred.)

“We are not limiting access to any reputable companies,” she said. “There are a lot of people out there and we want to make sure those who are in the reputable media business, that you all have credentials and you absolutely should have access.”

She wouldn’t say, however, what would be a disreputable company. We specifically asked about OANN and Christina Bobb, who helped fundraise for the Senate’s audit and received preferential treatment over actual reporters (the rules would appear to bar her for activism). Fann also couldn’t answer specific questions about several of the more menacing provisions, like barring reporters who bring lawsuits against the Senate, other than to promise it doesn’t mean the Republic, which is suing for public records. (The Senate provided a nonsensical explanation for what kind of lawsuits the policy refers, telling KJZZ’s Ben Giles that the policy would apply to suits that are “not statutorily authorized.” Whatever that means.) But even if the rules aren’t aimed at the “legitimate press” now, we fear it’s only a matter of time until they’re used against reporters who piss off politicians in charge.

Howie Fischer, dean of the Capitol press corps, said he walked new Senate GOP spokeswoman (and former TV meteorologist) Kim Quintero around the House to explain how credentialing and access works there.

The new rules will cramp reporters’ access to the Senate floor, for sure, but Fischer said Quintero assured him that some of the more onerous provisions, such as banning reporters from interviewing senators on the floor, are only meant for TV interviews.

For now, Fischer is signing the forms. (We also signed, though others are holding off.) But if it turns out that Fann’s plan is to bar legitimate news organizations, like then-Speaker David Gowan tried to bar Hank in 2015, the press can always fight, Fischer noted.

“We have the ultimate weapon, which is telling our readers what’s going on,” he said.

Campaign finance by press release: Candidates for state offices sent out press releases over the past week detailing their fundraising hauls, with each proclaiming big contributions and stacks of cash-on-hand. We’re going to wait to cover these numbers until we can see all of the campaign finance reports filed with the Secretary of State’s Office next week. That way we’ll be able to make meaningful comparisons that aren’t clouded with campaign bluster and creative ways to boost totals.

School’s back in session: Omicron won’t cause many changes to Arizona colleges’ plans to reopen this week, the Republic’s Alison Steinbach reports. Arizona State University will place more emphasis on testing and updated its mask policy to be more stringent. The University of Arizona will require better-quality masks for students.

Should’ve happened years ago:
Some federal CARES Act money will go to an initiative to expand access to broadband internet for students at local schools, Cronkite News’ Olivia McCann reports. The Phoenix Digital Education Connection Canopy will put up big poles near schools and give families a device to take home to connect to the schools’ Wi-Fi.You can go to school, but not to court: But the recent omicron surge is causing the U.S. District Court in Arizona to postpone new jury trials this month, Arizona Public Media’s Duncan Moon reports.

They’ll try again later: The Baboquivari Unified School District on the Tohono O'odham Nation went back to virtual classes for two weeks after returning in person last week led to COVID-19 cases, Arizona Public Media’s Emma Gibson reports.

Not the kind of records you want to break: Tucson saw more homicides in 2021 than in previous years as the city confronts an increase in gun violence, the Arizona Daily Star’s Jamie Donnelly reports. Last year broke records, with 93 homicides, topped the previous record of 79 in 2008.

Making drought pretty: Shrinking water levels at Lake Powell have one upside. The dwindling water reveals the stunning landscapes of Glen Canyon, buried by the reservoir that angered some environmentalists — and novelist Edward Abbey — when it was constructed, NPR’s Nathan Rott reports.Take a virtual visit: PBS Newshour visits the new Jan. 8 memorial in Tucson that commemorates the shooting of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords that killed six people. If you haven’t seen the memorial yet, the segment provides beautiful visuals and discusses the symbolism behind the artist’s decisions for the display.

At least it’s not another Substack: There’s a new right-leaning publication launched by a handful of Arizona State University students hoping to bring “intellectual diversity” to local journalism in the Southwest. According to the Western Tribune’s masthead, the staff is entirely male.

“Let’s think big and find more ways to get kids into the school of their parents’ choice,” Ducey said during the parts of his speech that got the biggest applause. “Send me the bills, and I’ll sign them.”

We went through the bills posted so far, and there’s not a whole lot related to school choice … yet. We expect to see more attempts to expand vouchers. But here’s what we have that’s filed:

In Senate Bill 1051, Sen. Kelly Townsend and Rep. Walt Blackman want to define homeschooling as any person with custody of a child hiring any other person or volunteer to provide homeschooling at any location. It would also allow for two or more people to work together to provide homeschooling to multiple children. These concepts sound like microschools.

Townsend also wants parents to be able to sue over violations of the parents’ bill of rights. SB1049 also calls for fines against schools that violate the parents’ bill of rights. And in SB1011, she wants to ban schools from using public funds to join school boards associations.

Separately, Rep. Michelle Udall proposes that Career and Technical Education Districts be allowed to grant associate’s degrees in House Bill 2034.

For a complete break from Ducey-mania today, we recommend learning more about redistricting around the country by playing a round of virtual mini-golf. The Washington Post made a nine-hole mini-golf course of newly drawn districts (none in Arizona) to demonstrate how politicians draw maps to suit their own fortunes.