The Skinny: Republicans Push Wars On Voting, Education At Statehouse

With a pandemic on, the Arizona Legislature is enjoying less oversight from the public than usual (and that isn't all that much to begin with), so the narrow Republican majority is doing all it can to mess with voting rights, cut taxes for the wealthy and screw over schools.

We've yet to see the tax plans, though the latest rumors suggest there will be a billion-dollar tax cut over three years and a move to a flat tax that will, as usual, give breaks to Arizona's wealthiest residents and hose the rest of us.

On the school front, SB 1452, which is a massive voucher expansion, has already passed the Senate on a 16-14 party-line vote and is now awaiting action in the House of Representatives. Arizona voters rejected a similar measure at the ballot box in 2018, but most GOP lawmakers are always happy to undermine traditional schools.

Speaking of ignoring the will of voters: SB 1783 would create an "alternative" tax bracket to let wealthy Arizonans dodge the income-tax surcharge on Arizona's top earners created by the voter-approved Prop 208, passed by voters last year to boost education spending. That bill also passed the Senate on a party-line vote and is awaiting action in the House of Representatives.

Then there's the war on voting. One of the worst voter-suppression bills this year passed the Senate this week, again on a 16-14 party-line vote. SB 1730 would require voters who cast ballots by mail to include an affidavit that has some kind of supporting documentation, such as the voter's driver-license number, a copy of a utility bill, a bank statement or some other piece of paper.

Given that three-fourths of Arizonans now vote by mail, this is just an effort to suppress the vote by finding chickenshit ways to disqualify ballots or make it more difficult for someone to send their ballot back in the first place.

It's also totally unnecessary. Voting by mail has been happening for nearly three decades in Arizona and has been growing in popularity, especially during this last year of a pandemic. In all that time, there have been no documented cases of major fraud occurring with voters casting fake ballots. It just doesn't happen.

This legislation, sponsored by state Sen. J.D. Mesnard, is driven by one thing: Republicans have started to lose statewide races to Democrats and have a narrow margin in the Arizona Legislature. In all likelihood, the Independent Redistricting Commission will redraw lines restoring the GOP advantage in legislative districts—there's a reason Gov. Doug Ducey stacked the judicial commission that chooses the nominations of the IRC members with his pals—but the GOP has to make it harder for Democrats to vote if they're going to hang onto power in Arizona. The only other alternative is running candidates that are more appealing to voters, and why would Republicans take that route?

The Skinny mentioned last week that three-term Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik had picked up a primary opponent when University of Arizona academic advisor and KXCI community radio DJ Miranda Schubert launched her campaign to unseat him.

Now a third Democrat has their eye on the Ward 6 seat: Andrés Portela, who works as a policy and community development director for Kozachik's colleague, Ward 1 councilmember Lane Santa Cruz. A Sierra Vista native who attended Buena High School, Portela said on Facebook that he is running "as a progressive Democrat with an emphasis on H.O.M.E. Housing, Opportunity, Mobility Justice and Environmental Justice." We'll see how that plays out with his platform, but at first blush, it seems pretty similar to what Schubert is talking about on the campaign trail, which means the two challengers could end up splitting the anti-Koz vote.

So far, no Republicans have filed to seek a seat in November.

Candidates have until April 5 to file nominating petitions—assuming, of course, that the Arizona Supreme Court doesn't uphold a state law that would require Tucson to move its election to line up with presidential and midterm elections. Arguments in that case have wrapped up and a decision from the high court is expected soon.

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