The Daily Agenda: Putting The Audit To Rest

click to enlarge JEREMY DUDA, ARIZONA MIRROR
Jeremy Duda, Arizona Mirror

It's probably wishful thinking ... All about Hell Week ... And a Tennesseean lawmaker we wish lived here instead.


The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, joined by County Recorder Stephen Richer,
went through the Cyber Ninjas’ report beat by beat for more than five hours yesterday, and the county released a 93-page report debunking all but one claim made by the Ninjas.

It took the county more than three months to issue its detailed response, but the results are thorough. The county’s elections department declared 22 of the Ninjas’ claims misleading, 41 inaccurate and 13 outright false. The full report, called “Correcting the Record,” is available on the county’s website.

Throughout the lengthy hearing, Richer, and less frequently a supervisor or two, made pointed remarks about the Ninjas and the Arizona Senate for perpetuating false claims about the 2020 election, while elections experts with the county addressed the specifics of allegations about Sharpies, signature verification, duplicated ballots and more. We won’t go through each claim here, but the Republic’s Jen Fifield has a rundown of some of the big ones.

The county did find a handful of cases of potential voter fraud — mostly people allegedly forging their deceased spouses signatures to vote on their behalf — as happens every year, and forwarded the cases on to the Attorney General’s Office for investigation and possible prosecution.

As the hearing wrapped, Supervisor Bill Gates, who was chosen as the new chairman yesterday, said the county needed to move on and focus on upcoming elections.The one allegation against election officials that the county agreed was accurate: 50 ballots were indeed scanned and counted twice, Elections Director Scott Jarrett said, noting that this did not affect a single race. It was an “honest mistake” made by a temporary county worker, he said.

By the way, the Cyber Ninjas still haven’t turned over public records related to the audit, and the Arizona Supreme Court denied an appeal attempt from them yesterday. That makes checking their work harder.

“We’re done. This is the end of the 2020 election. We have addressed the issues. We have debunked them,” Gates said.

But, if Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward’s Twitter feed is any indication, believers in the repeated falsehoods about the 2020 election won’t be quick to let the matter die.

And we should also note that today, the day after a hearing about an election that happened more than a year ago, is the anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection, and Arizona’s ties to the event, what led up to it and its aftermath are well-documented. Now, for instance, two of our federal representatives, U.S. Reps. Andy Biggs and Debbie Lesko, want hearings about how insurrectionists were treated in jail.

So, is it over? Is this the last we’ll hear about the Arizona audit? Will lawmakers heed the call from the supervisors not to push for election law changes based on a faulty report? Will cooler heads prevail?

LOL. This is Arizona.

Are we done covering the audit? Hopefully mostly, though as it continues to affect what our state leaders do, we’ll keep calling it out. Come along for the ride, friends!

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Lawmakers spent this week yucking it up at hip downtown Phoenix bars and restaurants, putting the squeeze on Arizona's lobbying corps one last time before the legislative session kicks off. That’s because, during the session, there’s a ban on lobbyists contributing to lawmakers’ campaigns.

Lobbyists call the week before the session begins "Hell Week" because they're expected to show up to dozens of events with checks in hand. It's hell on their pocketbooks and hell on their schedules.

Arizona law bans lobbyists from contributing to lawmakers' campaigns during the legislative session in an attempt to stop vote-selling and bribery.

Of course, there are many ways around the law — lobbyists aren't barred from contributing to political action committees run by lawmakers during the session,1 for example, nor are the clients lobbyists work for barred from contributing to lawmakers’ campaigns during the session. Hell Week is another one of those completely legal affront on the spirit of the law.

Lobbyists hate it. We received dozens of invitations to Hell Week fundraisers this week from our lobbyist sources, almost always accompanied by snarky complaints that they have to go or quips about why they won't go.

The public doesn’t love it, either: Asking a bunch of lobbyists for money right as lobbyists start asking for help passing their clients’ priorities looks gross, even if it’s legal.

Battle of the BRBs beats buzzer: Coming in under the wire with the legislative session starting next week, the Arizona Supreme Court will release its full opinion on the Arizona School Boards Association et al v. State case, aka the Battle of the BRBs. As a brief refresher, the court ruled that the way lawmakers “logrolled” unrelated provisions — like school mask mandate bans, challenges to the secretary of state’s powers, and a new special audit-related committee — into the state budget was unconstitutional. The case threatens to upend the way the GOP has been crafting budgets in recent years, and lawmakers hope the opinion provides some insight into how they can make a budget without breaking the law going forward. The court will file the opinion here today at 10 a.m.

We may be sick of COVID-19, but it’s not sick of us yet: There’s a bunch of new COVID-19 stories as omicron continues its swift spread through the state, so here’s a rundown of the latest:

It’s Y2K all over again: The state’s online system that allows people to sign petitions for candidates running for office glitched out after the redistricting process redrew districts and began disqualifying voters from signing petitions in new districts, the Arizona Mirror’s Jeremy Duda reports. And it may not be fixed in time to matter for some candidates who rely on the system to get on the ballot.

More accessibility is always better: The legislature will now include smart automated captions on legislative proceedings viewed online via a new system, legislative leaders announced on Wednesday. It will be used for all floor proceedings and committee hearings, they said.

Legislative race updates: Trey Terry, a member of the Agua Fria Union High School District board, is running as a Republican for the House in the new Legislative District 29. He previously ran for House in 2018, losing in the GOP primary. On the Democratic side, Sen. Lisa Otondo announced she won’t run for reelection and threw her support to Brian Fernandez, the newly appointed representative and son of former lawmaker Charlene Fernandez. Otondo told the Yellow Sheet Report that she wanted to spend time with family after the death of her brother.

He’s back again: Brnovich wants to again restart the process needed to execute two Arizonans who are on death row, Frank Atwood and Clarence Dixon, the Republic’s Jimmy Jenkins reports. To start, Brnovich asked the Arizona Supreme Court to set briefing schedules, after which he plans to file warrants for execution for the two men.

Ice Town Didn’t Cost Ice Clown His Town Crown: Town employees in Gilbert (note how we said town, not city — an important distinction for the largest town in the country) didn’t use town resources for political purposes or agendas, an investigation concluded, according to the Republic’s Joshua Bowling. The investigation came after claims to the contrary from Judicial Watch surfaced.

New neighbors: More than $5 million has gone to Arizona from the feds for assistance in resettling Afghan families who have arrived in the state in recent months, the Arizona Mirror’s Laura Gómez Rodriguez reports. The state expects to see more than 2,000 Afghan refugees by April.

Arizona Sen. Kelly Townsend takes aim at city and county vaccine rules in two new bills that arose with vaccine mandates in Tucson and Pima County.

In Senate Bill 1052, Townsend seeks to make it illegal for government entities and “any person doing business in this state” to require Arizonans to “submit to a medical procedure, including a vaccination, if a potential complication from or adverse reaction to the medical procedure may cause a person’s death.” This would span far beyond just COVID-19 vaccines, though — many entities require other vaccines that have, on very rare occasions, resulted in death.

The City of Tucson drew fire from GOP officials, including Ducey, over the way it handled requests for vaccine exemptions. The city vetted the requests instead of taking them at face value and granting them, in defiance of a state law. That inspired another bill from Townsend.

In SB1053, Townsend wants to make it a crime for an employer to not grant religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccination requirements. It would be a Class 2 misdemeanor.

Just like we were jealous of the New York City journalists who got to cover the hilarity of their mayoral race (complete with a Prius driving on a sidewalk and a ton of rescue cats), we’re now jealous of the Tennessee journalists who get to cover a GOP state lawmaker who tried to de-pants a referee at a high school basketball game.

The apology itself is a masterpiece:

"Unfortunately, I acted the fool tonight and lost my temper on a ref. I was wanting him to fight me. Totally lost my junk and got booted from the gym. I’ve never really lost my temper for all to see, but I did tonight and it was completely stupid of me. Emotions getting in the way of rational thoughts are never good. I hope to be able to find the ref and ask for his forgiveness. I was bad wrong."

The Arizona Agenda is a political newsletter by independent journalists Rachel Leingang and Hank Stephenson. Find more of their reporting on SubStack.