Wednesday, March 9, 2022

The Daily Agenda: Welcome to the Main Sideshow

Posted By on Wed, Mar 9, 2022 at 11:25 AM

click to enlarge State Sens. Wendy Rogers (left) and Kelly Townsend are not pals anymore. - PHOTO VIA | TELEGRAM
Photo via | Telegram
State Sens. Wendy Rogers (left) and Kelly Townsend are not pals anymore.

It's the primary we all deserve ... What's grosser than restaurant health inspection reports? ... And some wise words from George.

Editor's note: The Arizona Agenda is a Substack newsletter about Arizona government and politics run by Rachel Leingang and Hank Stephenson. You can find their archives and subscribe at

Sometimes, what should be a sideshow becomes the main event. And we’re calling it now: The battle between Arizona Republican Sens. Kelly Townsend and Wendy Rogers will be the race to watch in the August primary.

We’re sure to see grab-your-popcorn antics in this race between two GOP women constantly in the news — the Phoenix New Times is already comparing it to a professional wrestling match — but the primary here says much more than just who can say the most bombastic soundbites. 

To back up, Townsend and Rogers got drawn into the same district during redistricting. Well, Rogers actually was first drawn into a less-favorable district, but got looped into the more GOP-friendly Legislative District 7. Whoever wins the primary will very likely win the seat, given the partisan split of voters in the new district. 

Rogers’ meltdown last week soured Townsend on her former ally, despite the many commonalities between the two right-wing politicians, neither of whom could be considered a moderate by any stretch. They both supported the election audit and decertification. They both want to see scores of changes to Arizona elections after Trump lost the state in 2020. They’re dim on COVID-19 vaccines and masks. They’re more alike than different.

But Rogers stepped too far out for Townsend, who found Rogers’ associations with white supremacists and anti-Semitic actors beyond the pale. She was absent for Rogers’ censure, but called out the senator anyway a day later. And Townsend couldn’t snag the coveted Trump endorsement for her brief congressional bid, so she decided instead to challenge her former ally and endorser. 

Trump endorsed Rogers’ reelection, but, despite the lack of a congressional campaign endorsement, he still has praised Townsend and sent her a signed copy of some background research his people did on her, which she called “touching.”

The primary here will show just how far Republican donors and voters are willing to let their candidates swing to the right. At one point, Townsend would’ve been among the farthest-right of her legislative colleagues; that’s changed. While Rogers’ fires off angry, untethered rants online on the regular, Townsend has more of a political track record — and one that isn’t always neatly aligned with the GOP.

The GOP is going to spend big in Arizona this year. Already, the Republican Governors Association has booked $10 million in airtime as the party tries to regain its stature after its 2020 losses here. 

The top of the ticket will pull in the biggest checks and eyeballs. But Rogers already brought in more than $2 million last year, and her censure likely won’t slow down her largely out-of-state donors. Formerly a perennial election loser, Rogers finally found a way to make it into office and make money by reaching farther and farther outside the bounds of reasonability. If it’s a race that’s all about money, Rogers is the favorite. As the Washington Post put it in a story yesterday: 

“​​Now, after a year of fanning bogus allegations about election fraud and other false claims, she is the most successful fundraiser in the Arizona state legislature.”

But if it’s about more than that, and we think it is, the race will serve as the preeminent battle over how the party manages its personalities who continually create bad headlines and sour moderate voters, who are a key part of the overall electorate in Arizona. While Gov. Doug Ducey’s group ponied up money that helped Rogers win before, we’re curious to see how he and other moderates spend post-censure. 

The Townsend vs. Rogers race isn’t as clean as the framing on races like House Speaker Rusty Bowers, current democracy defender, against election denier David Farnsworth. It’s not Trumpism vs. anti-Trumpism. It’s not election supporter vs. Big Liar. It’s about whether there actually are any boundaries anymore. 

We’re wondering whether GOP donors and voters will begin to see Rogers as a liability to their party and align behind a candidate like Townsend, who’s still far-right enough to win a primary but isn’t likely to get censured for it. 

The first doctor first lady: First Lady Jill Biden toured the San Xavier Health Center on the Tohono O’odham Nation while highlighting disproportionately high colon cancer rates among Native Americans, the Republic’s Stephanie Innes reports.

If we don’t pay for roads, we can have $4 per gallon gas: With gas prices reaching up above $4 per gallon, the Republic’s Russ Wiles offers some pointers on how to get cheap gas and some context for the high prices. And he notes that suspending the federal gas tax, as Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly has proposed, would only save you about 19 cents per gallon. (The Arizona gas tax adds on another 19 cents). 

More about the meme judge: ABC15’s Dave Biscobing digs further into the timeline of Maricopa County Attorney’s Office hiring mean-girl judge Erin Otis — she was overseeing cases as a judge while secretly negotiating for a job at the prosecutor’s office, raising obvious conflicts of interest in those cases, which will likely lead to appeals. 

Back off, Phoenix, we just paid ours: Nearly 20,000 Phoenicians haven’t paid their water bills, and the city is one of the few remaining that hasn’t reinstated water shutoffs for delinquent accounts. The largest unpaid bill is more than $9,000, and some customers haven’t paid a penny in 22 months, the Republic’s Paulina Pineda reports. 

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Another paid holiday?: Activists and public health officials hosted an event to back U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton’s bill to create a “COVID-19 Victims and Survivors Memorial Day,” though speakers at Monday’s memorial event focused less on memorializing and more on “how the pandemic changed businesses and industries or criticized the state’s pandemic response,” the Republic’s Perry Vandell writes.

Patience is a virtue: Republican lawmakers are still trying to fix the whole PC provision mistake but a bill to remove the problematic provision stalled out in the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday.

If you think restaurant health inspections are gross: The Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting’s Shaena Montanari dug into safety violations at Arizona dialysis centers. Needless to say, violations are regular and persistent, enforcement is spotty and fines are minimal. 

“Since 2019, nearly three-quarters of Arizona’s 130 outpatient dialysis clinics were cited for lapses in protocols designed to keep patients safe, an AZCIR analysis of state inspection data shows. Some facilities are repeat offenders, with recurring infection control and safety violations dating back years,” Montanari wrote.  

South Phoenix is so hot right now: After three years of work from community organizers in south Phoenix, the Phoenix City Council approved the “South-Central Transit-Oriented Development plan” which residents say will guide responsible development along the light rail, the Republic’s Megan Taros writes.

It’s pretty tame policy, all things considered: Bills banning same-day voter registration (which Arizona does not have) and warning people their voter registration will be canceled if they move out of state made it through the Senate Government Committee yesterday, University of Arizona Don Bolles Fellow Gloria Gomez notes. 

Kids, just say no: Cochise County launched a publicity campaign to try to dissuade people — often teenagers recruited on social media — from driving smuggled loads of people or drugs across the border for a quick buck, the Sierra Vista Herald’s Lyda Longa reports.  

“The problem we’re having is that these folks are being told by the people who are recruiting them that the faster you go the more likely it is that you’ll get away. When the reality is that the faster you go the more likely it is that you’re going to kill somebody, including yourself,” Cochise County Attorney Brian McIntyre said.

Grants are like band-aids: The Arizona Department of Education launched a new $1,000 grant program for teachers to pay for classroom materials, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman announced yesterday. There’s $14 million available, and the grants are first-come, first-served. 

Hang tight, Brittney: Experts on Russian and U.S. relations don’t expect Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner to be released anytime soon, as tensions between Washington and Moscow heighten, the Republic reports. But Former Democratic Sen. Dennis DeConcini, who briefly chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he once toured a Russian prison where foreigners were held, and at least it was better than conditions for Russian prisoners. 

Let the war of water words commence: Grady Gammage Jr. argues in the Republic that columnist Robert Robb’s piece criticizing Gov. Doug Ducey’s water plan as “half-baked” got it about 75% right, but missed the mark by calling long-term ideas like desalination premature. 

“If we are to continue to attract major employers and in-migration, we need to show how we will thrive beyond just the efficient allocation of the supplies we currently hold,” Gammage writes.

Worth a listen: Gimlet Media’s Crime Show posted an episode by Arizona journalist Sarah Ventre this week, and it’s all about someone else you may know. Joe Watson, a former journalist at the Phoenix New Times who committed a string of robberies to feed a gambling addiction, told his story on the show. Watson has since worked on criminal justice reform efforts and recently left his position as the communications director for the Pima County Attorney’s Office. 

Thanks for the shout-out, Laurie: Republic columnist Laurie Roberts argues Democrats need better candidates to win the Governor’s Office this year after Katie Hobbs is bogged down with the Talonya Adams racial discrimination case and Marco Lopez is caught up in the Odebrecht scandal and nobody knows who Aaron Lieberman is. 

Yesterday, we talked about a weird law that a new bill wants to repeal. Today, we’ll talk about a bill that (probably) won’t become law because it just got voted down.

It’s still relatively rare to see a bill fail on a vote of a full chamber. Instead, most bills that don’t make it into law aren’t ever put up for votes; many don’t even get committee hearings. 

A strike-everything amendment on Senate Bill 1475 sought to give the Arizona attorney general more power to investigate elections. The bill from Republican Sen. Kelly Townsend came at the request of the AG’s office, she said. It would broaden the AG’s office’s authority over election laws to include members of Congress and presidential electors, adding to existing law that gives the office purview over state and local elections. 

Sen. Paul Boyer’s no vote sank the measure. He said it gave the AG power over federal matters that are beyond the state’s reach, according to Capitol Media Services’ Howie Fischer.

But nothing is very truly dead until the legislature adjourns for the year. With the legislature’s track record of stuffing non-budget measures into the state budget, and with any number of other maneuvers, this bill could be revived.

Lord, give us the audacity of the New Yorker who had to be rescued not once, but twice, two days in a row, from Humphreys Trail near Flagstaff. After the second save, the man received some search and rescue education and was told about a winter storm that was on the way. He was “encouraged not to attempt the hike again,” Coconino County Sheriff’s Office said in a press release.

As George W. Bush once said: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”

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