Politics

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

A Closer Look at Federal COVID Contractors Reveals Inexperience, Fraud Accusations and a Weapons Dealer Operating Out of Someone’s House

Posted By on Wed, May 27, 2020 at 2:30 PM

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ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Click here to read their biggest stories as soon as they’re published.

A firm set up by a former telemarketer who once settled federal fraud charges for $2.7 million. A vodka distributor accused in a pending lawsuit of overstating its projected sales. An aspiring weapons dealer operating out of a single-family home.

These three privately held companies are part of the new medical supply chain, offered a total of almost $74 million by the federal government to find and rapidly deliver vital protective equipment and COVID-19 testing supplies across the U.S. While there’s no evidence that they obtained their deals through political connections, none of the three had to bid against competing firms. One has already lost its contract for lack of performance; it’s unclear if the other two can fulfill their orders on time, or at all.

They are among about 345 first-time federal contractors promised at least $1.8 billion in deals by the Trump administration since March, representing about 13% of total government spending on pandemic-related contracts of $13.8 billion, a ProPublica analysis of federal procurement data found. Like the three companies, many of the new contractors have no experience acquiring medical products.

Some of them, including the ex-telemarketer’s company and another firm established by a former White House aide, formed only days or weeks before landing multimillion-dollar government contracts. The U.S. government’s reliance on them, with what appears to be scant vetting of their credentials, represents a major gamble whose outcome could affect how many Americans are infected by the coronavirus and how quickly the U.S. economy recovers.

“We’re putting schedule above quality, to some extent, in this time of great need,” said Trevor Brown, a professor of public management at Ohio State University. “There’s just so much pressure to get PPE into the field, I’m not surprised there’s a relaxing of focus on the quality of the product.”

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District 5 Board of Supes Candidates Grijalva and Hernandez React To New County Regs and COVID-19

Posted By on Wed, May 27, 2020 at 2:00 PM

The Pima County Board of Supervisors has taken several steps in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Pima County, including voting on March 19 to close down all nonessential businesses, and later when the state reopened the economy, voting to implement and then revise new health regulations for restaurants and bars offering dine-in service once again.

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry noted that reaction has ranged from critics who say the county hasn't done enough to those who complain the Board of Supervisors shouldn't do anything at all. Democratic supervisors Ramon Valadez, Sharon Bronson and Betty Villegas said they voted for the regulations to ensure public safety, while Republicans Steve Christy and Ally Miller say the new rules make it harder for beleaguered businesses to reopen. At the request of three GOP lawmakers, Attorney General Mark Brnovich is investigating if the measures imposed by the board exceed their authority. See more details here.

Tucson Weekly asked the candidates running for Board of Supervisors seats this year if they approved of those decisions and if they would have done anything differently. Here’s what the candidates in District 5 had to say.

Adelita Grijalva says the county moved too slowly to close their facilities, such as the libraries, and transition the majority of employees to work from home. - ADELITA GRIJALVA CAMPAIGN
  • Adelita Grijalva campaign
  • Adelita Grijalva says the county moved too slowly to close their facilities, such as the libraries, and transition the majority of employees to work from home.
There’s an open seat in District 5 following the death of Supervisor Richard Elías in late March. The board appointed Betty Villegas to replace Elías, but she is not seeking the seat in November.

The Democratic primary pits two school board members against each other: TUSD Board member Adelita Grijalva is facing Sunnyside School Board member Consuelo Hernandez in the heavily Democratic district, which includes the University of Arizona, downtown and parts of South Tucson and Saguaro National Park West.

Grijalva said the county moved too slowly to close their facilities, such as the libraries, and transition the majority of employees to work from home. If she was on the board, Grijalva says she would have advocated to close down facilities sooner.

Now that businesses are opening back up, Grijalva said the county cannot ignore basic health and safety precautions. She has already witnessed large groups of people gathering at restaurants since the state stay-at-home order was lifted on May 15.

The question about safety guidelines in restaurants continues to be debated. On May 21, the supervisors had to revise their emergency regulations on restaurants and bars after restaurant owners complained the new rules were too burdensome and some state lawmakers threatened to sue.

“As someone who has a background in global health, I know how critical it is for us to let the health professionals take the lead on this process,” Consuelo Hernandez said. “And while I understand the problem the county supervisors face and understand the challenges, it remains critical for us to deal with the situation with the best health and safety interests of our citizens in mind.”
  • “As someone who has a background in global health, I know how critical it is for us to let the health professionals take the lead on this process,” Consuelo Hernandez said. “And while I understand the problem the county supervisors face and understand the challenges, it remains critical for us to deal with the situation with the best health and safety interests of our citizens in mind.”
Grijalva wants to see Pima County ensure sanitation, social distancing, case monitoring and soliciting feedback from the community. Without that, she fears a rushed reopening will cause a need to “reinstate anti-spread provisions” and inevitably cripple our chances of true economic recovery.

She also believes that the communications coming from the Pima County Health Department about COVID-19 need to be more accessible.

“I know that they’re putting it on social media, but if someone has connectivity issues, if they don’t have internet, then how are we getting information out?” Grijalva said. “It really is the responsibility of the county to get the information out, and I feel that while people who are engaged and seeking the information can find it, the vast majority may not be getting the updates that they need to.”

Hernandez said local government needs to do whatever it can to keep residents safe.

“As someone who has a background in global health, I know how critical it is for us to let the health professionals take the lead on this process,” Hernandez said. “And while I understand the problem the county supervisors face and understand the challenges, it remains critical for us to deal with the situation with the best health and safety interests of our citizens in mind.”

Republican Fernando Gonzales did not respond to requests for comment.

Mark Kelly Crushing Sen. Martha McSally in Yet Another Poll

Posted By on Wed, May 27, 2020 at 8:43 AM

Mark Kelly and Gabby Giffords at a memorial for those slain in Tucson's mass shooting on Jan. 8, 2011. - JIM NINTZEL
  • Jim Nintzel
  • Mark Kelly and Gabby Giffords at a memorial for those slain in Tucson's mass shooting on Jan. 8, 2011.
Retired astronaut Mark Kelly holds a 10-percentage-point lead over appointed U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, according to a new survey by one of the state's most respected political consulting firms, Highground Public Affairs Consultants.

More than half the voters surveyed, 51.3 percent, supported Kelly in the poll, while McSally had the support of just 41.3 percent.

Kelly, who is married to former Southern Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, is leading McSally 54-36 percent in Pima County and is doing even better in Maricopa County, where his lead is 57-36. But McSally is outdoing Kelly in the rural counties, leading 60-31 percent.

Given that a Highground poll released yesterday showed that Trump was trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden by just 2 percentage point, Highground CEO Charles "Chuck" Coughlin said that McSally is not being dragged down by Trump but is failing on her own reputation.

“Clearly, for the Arizona voter, Kelly is presenting himself as a better option than Biden, adopting the similar strategy which won Krysten Sinema her United States Senate seat in 2018 of avoiding the progressive partisan label that the Democratic Party’s nominee must shoulder,” said  Coughlin, a onetime advisor to former Arizona governors Fife Symington and Jan Brewer.

Coughlin said McSally was running out of time to change the narrative of the race.

“The social and economic tumult of the past three months would lead one to believe that anything is possible, but the road ahead is narrowing for McSally’s campaign," Coughlin said. "Mark Kelly is a formidable candidate for the Arizona electorate, one could reasonably describe him as the best candidate the Democrats have running in this cycle."

But Coughlin added that there would be big twists ahead.

“With a 20-point lead in Maricopa County and more than 17 point lead in Pima County, many might consider this race all but over," Coughlin said. 'But, that would be a mistake. Our survey released yesterday indicated that 20% of the electorate is blaming China for COVID-19 and 25% still doesn’t know or is blaming no one. Given the recent attacks on Kelly’s business dealings, you can expect the Republican narrative to focus sharply on this issue in an attempt to link Kelly to China and undermine his performance in the dominant media markets of Maricopa and Pima County. McSally will clearly have to up her game with Republican and swing voters in Maricopa and greater Arizona in order to be successful, but as long as Trump is running a competitive race, you cannot count Senator McSally out.”

Highground's methodology:

The N=400 survey was conducted among likely voters 5/18 through 5/22. The poll surveyed likely Arizona 2020 General Election voters who have a history of electoral participation and was balanced to model the likely turnout of voters across party, age, region, and gender. The live interview survey of voters was conducted by HighGround Public Affairs to both landline and cell phone users. The partisan advantage was set at +4% GOP based on previous election trends and expected Presidential Election turnout. The margin of error is ±4.9%.

Claytoonz: I Can't Breathe

Posted By on Wed, May 27, 2020 at 8:35 AM

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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Claytoonz: Skanks For The Memories

Posted By on Tue, May 26, 2020 at 8:30 AM

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Friday, May 22, 2020

The Feds Gave a Former White House Official $3 Million to Supply Masks to Navajo Hospitals. Some May Not Work.

Posted By on Fri, May 22, 2020 at 4:30 PM

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A former White House aide won a $3 million federal contract to supply respirator masks to Navajo Nation hospitals in New Mexico and Arizona 11 days after he created a company to sell personal protective equipment in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Zach Fuentes, President Donald Trump’s former deputy chief of staff, secured the deal with the Indian Health Service with limited competitive bidding and no prior federal contracting experience.

The IHS told ProPublica it has found that 247,000 of the masks delivered by Fuentes’ company — at a cost of roughly $800,000 — may be unsuitable for medical use. An additional 130,400, worth about $422,000, are not the type specified in the procurement data, the agency said.

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Claytoonz: Gravesite Hit Job

Posted By on Fri, May 22, 2020 at 8:30 AM

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Thursday, May 21, 2020

Board of Supervisors Revises Emergency Restaurant Regs

Posted By on Thu, May 21, 2020 at 4:33 PM

“We’ve been struggling with this for some time now and all the while the restaurant business has been struggling even deeper, trying to stay in business while trying to understand with clarity what direction they’re supposed to be following,” said Pima County Supervisor Steve Christy, who voted against the regulations.
  • “We’ve been struggling with this for some time now and all the while the restaurant business has been struggling even deeper, trying to stay in business while trying to understand with clarity what direction they’re supposed to be following,” said Pima County Supervisor Steve Christy, who voted against the regulations.
The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Thursday to revise last week's emergency amendments to the county's health code for restaurants and bars after restaurant owners complained the new rules were too burdensome and Attorney General Mark Brnovich launched an investigation into the rules at the request of local GOP state lawmakers.

Today's vote was along party lines, with Democratic Supervisors Ramon Valadez, Sharon Bronson and Betty Villegas voting for the changes and GOP Supervisors Ally Miller and Steve Christy voting against them.

Some of the most significant revisions include removal of the $500 civil penalty, allowing bartop seating as long as six-foot distancing requirements are met and nixing 50 percent occupancy guidelines if physical distancing allows for higher occupancy.

“I think we have adequately captured all of the information that has been provided. I think our revision that we had Tuesday afternoon was based on a large part from the comments we’ve received here,” Pima County Administrator Huckelberry said before reading the revisions. “With all the notifications suggested I believe we would recommend to the board adoption.”

The board also clarified that parties—not individuals—must be spaced 6 feet apart to be in compliance with the proclamation. The county is still requiring parties not to exceed 10 or more people. Servers are not required to wear gloves and only have to follow current health code handwashing policies, instead of documenting each hand sanitization or glove change.

“The specificity of number (to a party) has been left out on purpose,” Huckelberry said. “Typically it’s two, but it could be (more) if we follow the same language in the policy, it’s up to 10 per party.”

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