Thursday, April 7, 2022

The Daily Agenda: If You Wanna Make Laws, Join the Legislature

Posted By on Thu, Apr 7, 2022 at 10:25 AM

click to enlarge Arizona Attorney General and U.S. Senate candidate Mark Brnovich delivered a low-energy response to claims of election fraud. Sad! - GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR
Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Arizona Attorney General and U.S. Senate candidate Mark Brnovich delivered a low-energy response to claims of election fraud. Sad!


Brnovich is in his flop era … Everyone wants to win Arizona … And little bit of prosciutto.


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 arizonaagenda.com.

Attorney General and U.S. Senate candidate Mark Brnovich tweeted out a 12-page “interim report” on his investigation into the Cyber Ninjas’ claims yesterday that went hard at the top, saying he has “uncovered instances of election fraud” and discovered “serious vulnerabilities” in our elections system that “raise questions about the 2020 election in Arizona.”

But the 11 remaining pages quickly fizzle into what liberals and MAGAs both mocked as a press release seeking to bolster his slipping position in the U.S. Senate GOP primary.

To be clear, those instances of “election fraud” he mentioned are the routine attempts at fraudulent voting by individual voters — mostly snowbirds voting in two states or people voting for a deceased family member — that happen, and are prosecuted, in every election. They’ve already been reported, and they have nothing to do with the investigation at hand. 

But after you read past the splashy first page, his report is most telling for what it doesn’t say. Brovich’s report does not cite a single other criminal act. And it doesn’t claim there was any widespread fraud. 

And as Republican Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer pointed out in a Twitter thread, it doesn’t say anything about the many hours his team spent debunking countless conspiracies about data deletion, internet connectivity and Splunk logs spread by the Cyber Ninjas’ report, which formed the basis for Brnovich’s investigation. 

In fact, Brnovich’s report doesn’t use the words “Cyber Ninjas” once.

Here’s what the document does say, in each of the four material sections, which Brnovich proposes new laws to address because nothing he cites is illegal:

• The county isn’t turning over documents to him fast enough.

While noting that this kind of large-scale investigation could take “many months if not years” Brnovich condemned Maricopa County for striking a “combative and/or litigious approach” to turning over public records, saying they’re slowing him down. (We still have an outstanding public records request with Brnovich’s office from before we launched this publication. Glass houses.) 

His solution: Pass a bill to give him civil subpoena power.

• Early voting signatures are verified too fast and not enough were rejected.

Without explaining how he came to the figure, Brnovich declares that on one day, elections officials in Maricopa County verified early ballot signatures in just 4.6 seconds on average. (The county, in its response, said Brnovich grossly miscalculated.) He also copied and pasted a section of his brief in the failed AZGOP lawsuit to kill off early voting that argued that former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes rejected fewer ballots than his Republican predecessor. County officials were quick to note that Brnovich didn’t identify a single instance where a ballot signature was erroneously accepted.

His solution: Convince voters in 2022 to approve a legislative referendum requiring voters to print their date of birth and voting ID number on early ballots. Also, beef up the law requiring elections officials to verify signatures and create a new law allowing more partisan observer access to the signature checking process.

• There are no chain of custody logs from some ballot drop boxes.

This is perhaps the most interesting section, yet Brnovich reserves a mere page for his finding that “it is possible that between 100,000 to 200,000 ballots were transported without a proper chain of custody” because elections officials didn’t sign forms or properly document transportation of ballots. Still, he doesn’t allege a law was broken, but rather there were “violations of ballot transportation procedures.”

His solution: The Legislature should pass laws prohibiting drop boxes altogether or governing ballot transportation procedures.

• Elections officials received outside grants to fund elections duties.

The Auditor General’s Office just spent months on a report about this that concluded that everything elections officials did was completely legal, but Brnovich seems to disagree, saying his initial research “raises serious concerns.” 

His solution: Brnovich notes that after 2020, lawmakers banned election officials from accepting outside grants.

Additionally, Brnovich proposes a handful of other election reforms without exactly stating the problem that they’re trying to solve. He urged lawmakers to pass a law requiring the Auditor General’s Office to audit elections, despite disagreeing with their audit of third-party grants to elections offices.

But here’s the kicker: Brnovich told lawmakers they should increase the penalty for election-related crimes like ballot harvesting and tampering with ballot drop boxes —despite not having identified or even alleged there was any ballot harvesting or drop box tampering1.

While election dead-enders like Republican Sen. Wendy Rogers saw right through Brnovich’s posturing, election-denying opportunists like AZGOP chair Kelli Ward quickly pumped out the fundraising pitches. That — and a boost for Brnovich from Trump — is what this is all about. 

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Deep pockets coming to town: Major Democratic funders want to flip one legislative chamber in Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania so that there are more safeguards against election-overturning in 2024, CNN reports. The State Project and Forward Majority are putting up $20 million to spend on 40 races among the three states, with a goal of flipping 25 of them. Meanwhile, a coalition of monied conservatives called the Rockbridge Network wants to take a multi-pronged approach to building more GOP power, including by spending in key states like Arizona, the New York Times reports. The group’s first meeting was in Arizona, and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters spoke to the group at a reception at Mar-a-Lago this week.


Vote the whole ballot:
 It’s not just congressional, statewide and legislative candidates on the ballot in August. Cities around the Valley are electing mayors and council members whose decisions have a close impact on your life and wallet. And city elections could be on the November ballot as well, if runoffs are needed. To get a full rundown of all the city elections around the Phoenix area, check out this Republic story from a team of city reporters.

Not yet: U.S. Rep. David Schweikert voted against a plan to decrease insulin costs and said that there was a “cure” for type 1 diabetes, 12News’ Joe Dana reports. There is not yet a cure for type 1 diabetes, though there is research underway that hopes to find one and has had some promising early results.

Which staff member will be blamed?: U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar promoted his planned appearance at a white nationalist rally on Hitler’s birthday, but then said he was never even invited after the Arizona Mirror’s Jerod MacDonald-Evoy wrote about it.

Tale as old as time: Pinto Creek, a once-flowing, lush area of the Tonto National Forest, now is a trickle at best after the U.S. Forest Service failed to protect it, allowing a mining company to overpump groundwater in the area, which damaged the natural environment and led to groundwater depletion that will take decades to restore, the Republic’s Caitlin McGlade reports. 

Home on the range:
KCUR, the NPR station in Kansas City, went to the Kansas town where former Trump press secretary and one-time Arizona political flak Stephanie Grisham has moved — Plainville, where Trump won handily and still has tons of support, and where Grisham is trying to make sure he doesn’t get elected again.

“People who aren’t immediately recognizable in Plainville stand out,” KCUR’s Frank Morris writes. “Some don’t know who Grisham is. For a lot of people in Plainville, the most important thing is that a relatively young person (Grisham is 45) has moved to this shrinking town and fixed up an old house.”

Not a plan so much as a campaign line: Arizona lawmakers want to spend $700 million on building some walls on the border, but the land at the border is not all state land, KJZZ’s Alisa Reznick and Ben Giles report. It’s a mix of federal, tribal and state lands, so it’s not clear how or where the state would use this money. The plan is more a political gimmick designed for an election year on a top issue for GOP voters than a realistic proposal, the reporters said.

Shocking: Jordan Conradson, a 19-year-old who fashioned himself a reporter while covering the audit for the far-right website Gateway Pundit, was arrested for criminal damage and assault against his girlfriend at her home on Sunday, the Phoenix New Times’ Elias Weiss reports, based on court records. 

Had to re-up the LA Times subscription for this one: Arizona State University’s outpost in Los Angeles is making a more aggressive play for California students who face more selective colleges in the California public university systems, the Los Angeles Times’ Teresa Watanabe reports. College leaders in California say they don’t necessarily view ASU’s presence as a threat, but they pay attention to what the university is doing in their state and how it could affect their enrollment.

The anti-union playbook is so tired: Laila Dalton, a union organizer who worked as a barista at a Starbucks in north Scottsdale, lost her job just before a union vote was scheduled to start and claims she was retaliated against, 12News’ Brahm Resnik reports. Not only did she lose her job, but she was a student through ASU’s Starbucks program, so she will lose her college funding, too.

An Arizona Democrat is a New York Republican: U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly is on a Sinema streak, defying the Democratic party line on several issues, like the lifting of Title 42 and drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, Politico’s Burgess Everett reports. He’s seen as more progressive than Sinema, which is a low bar, and he’s facing reelection in a tough year for Democrats. 

Sal’s gonna Sal: Protestors who were arrested, some of whom were charged as gang members, filed a $77 million notice of claim against Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio and the city, saying DiCiccio is trying to pressure the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office to charge them again, the Republic’s Perry Vandell reports. DiCiccio called the claim an intimidation tactic and eloquently responded with: “F them. It’s as simple as that.”

We’ll give you a dollar if you can define “critical race theory,” lawmakers: Amending the Arizona Constitution to limit the way schools teach students about race and ethnicity or otherwise restricting instruction about race, ethnicity and discrimination would entangle Advanced Placement classes, teachers of those classes say, the Republic’s Endia Fontanez reports. And if AP classes can’t teach out certain topics by state law, those classes could lose their AP designation.

New law, new court, new precedent?: Conservative columnist Robert Robb takes a trip down legal memory lane back to 2013 and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on requiring proof of citizenship for federal-only voters. While many have said the newly approved law with a similar effect has already been litigated, Robb says the new law is different enough — and so is the court — that the outcome could be different, too.

Despite strong opposition from child advocacy groups and some religious organizations, Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill yesterday that protects foster and adoption providers from ramifications if they deny services based on religious beliefs.

The state can’t take any discriminatory action against providers over religious beliefs, like altering tax treatment or withholding grant funds, if a provider declined to work with LGBTQ+ families, the bill says. The Center for Arizona Policy supported the bill.

Republican Sen. Sine Kerr’s Senate Bill 1399 addresses an issue that actually has not happened in Arizona, University of Arizona Don Bolles Fellow Gloria Gomez reports. But other states that have run into problems with faith-based foster agencies because those states have laws in place to prohibit discrimination against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity, Gomez writes.

Critics of the bill said it biased the system in favor of religious groups and would discriminate against others. They warned that it would cost the state money in litigation.

Among the list of familiar Republican names running for Arizona governor is one most haven’t heard yet: Paola Tulliani Zen, whose website is incredible. Zen, who is referred to as Z throughout her website, gives you the full timeline of her life, from her birth in Luino, Italy, to a biscotti empire.

She’s loaned her campaign more than $1 million so far, so the biscott business must be lucrative. We’re entranced by the images of her, with a flag in the background and a dog on her lap, and by a video where she introduces herself to Arizonans.

“We’re gonna trim the fat off this government as I trim off the fat off my prosciutto,” she concludes in a campaign slogan we can get behind.

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