The Skinny


Sen. Jeff Flake's name popped back up in the national news last week as someone who might potentially flip on the question of expanding background checks to gun shows, Internet transactions and other advertised sales.

Both CNN and the Associated Press had stories that suggested Flake was considering voting for legislation similar to the Manchin-Toomey amendment that he helped kill via filibuster in April.

Supporters of the legislation need at least five U.S. senators to flip on the question of expanding background check on gun sales that don't go through a federally licensed firearms dealer.

Flake's name comes up when supporters of background-check legislation talk about trying to resurrect their proposal.

That's partly because Flake is close to Gabby Giffords, who has been lobbying hard for the expansion of background checks, and partly because the Arizona republican saw his approval numbers (as surveyed by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling) take a dive in the wake of the vote, with 51 percent of 600 Arizona voters surveyed disapproving of Flake's job performance and just 32 percent saying they approved of the job he was doing.

The same poll showed 70 percent of Arizonans supported the idea of "requiring background checks for all gun sales, including gun shows and the Internet."

Flake has given the appearance of being open to the legislation; in a handwritten letter to the mother of a victim of the Colorado movie-theater massacre that was delivered before the vote on the Manchin-Toomey amendment, Flake said "strengthening background checks is something we agree on."

And CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash came away from an interview last week reporting that Flake "told CNN he is willing to reverse his opposition to expanding background checks for guns if the Senate bill's sponsors change a provision dealing with internet sales."

Bash continued: "Flake said the only reason he voted no was because of his concern that the requirement for background checks on internet sales is too costly and inconvenient, given the way guns are often sold among friends in his state of Arizona and others."

Shortly after that CNN report appeared, however, Team Flake said he was sticking with his support for alternative legislation that changed reporting requirements regarding the mentally ill.

Flake spokeswoman Genevieve Rozansky told The Skinny that the CNN report "didn't address the many concerns Senator Flake had with the Manchin-Toomey amendment—his concerns with Manchin-Toomey go beyond the Internet provision. Senator Flake voted for the Grassley amendment, which included his legislation strengthening existing background checks with regard to the mentally ill."

In various interviews, Flake has said he opposed the Manchin-Toomey amendment because it created too much paperwork for average folks who wanted to sell second-hand guns and that people would have been required to do background checks if they did so much as text a friend or send a Facebook message during a gun sale.

Without a transcript, it's tough to say exactly what was said in Flake's interview with CNN to give the news organization the impression that he was open to changing his mind on Manchin-Toomey. (And it's not like CNN gets everything right.)

But Flake does tend to leave people who lobby for additional gun regulations with the impression that he's open to compromise. Pam Simon, the former Giffords congressional aide who was shot twice in the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting rampage at Giffords' Congress on Your Corner event that left six dead and 13 wounded, has spoken with Flake several times about background checks.

"He is smiling and charming and you're never quite sure which way he's going to lean," Simon says.


Gov. Jan Brewer told the press on Friday that lawmakers might as well stop sending her bills because she's not signing anything until she gets a budget that includes the Medicaid expansion she's been fighting for since she delivered her State of the State speech.

State Rep. Bruce Wheeler, a central-Tucson Democrat who serves as minority whip in the House, says Brewer's move is overdue.

"It's about time," Wheeler says. "Nothing was moving. Now this will certainly spur something to start happening.

The stalemate over Medicaid expansion has held up budget negotiations this year. So far, GOP leaders haven't even gone through the pretense of running a budget through the appropriations committees in either chamber.

We'll see what happens next. Brewer's threat comes a bit late in the session; since she's signed a lot of key bills so far, so many lawmakers feel as if they've already gotten what they want.

But the budget, which is entwined in the Medicaid expansion, is the big job left to get done and Brewer has the ability to wait out lawmakers on that one.

On the other hand, we're also hearing that some deep pockets who oppose expansion may be gearing up to do some spending against GOP lawmakers who are crossing party lines to support it.


Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller, the freshman Republican who represents the Catalina Foothills, Oro Valley and Marana, wants to have special study sessions on Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry's proposed budget.

The three Democrats on the Board of Supervisors shot down Miller's proposal at last week's board meeting, with fellow Republican Ray Carroll supporting Miller.

Bronson told The Skinny that study sessions weren't necessary because the board already holds budget hearings that allow the supervisors to question department heads about spending.

"I think the process is transparent and open," Bronson says. "I do outreach to my constituents about what is important to them."

Supervisor Richard Elías said that in addition to the budget hearings, he has meetings in the community to discuss the budget, so he doesn't see the value in additional study sessions.

Miller didn't return a phone call from the Weekly. But Miller is still talking to AM radio host Garret Lewis and used an appearance on his show to undermine Carroll.

When Lewis asked Miller if anyone had voted with her on the motion for study sessions, Miller appeared to doubt that Carroll had really voted with her.

"I didn't hear anyone, but I was told that Ray Carroll was silent, and a silent vote automatically counts as a yes vote," Miller said.

That gave Lewis the opportunity to rip into Carroll: "That freakin' guy, who has the gall to call out local companies ... that guy is too lazy, along with rest of them to do their job? ... This guy is a joke!"

Lewis continued to rampage against Carroll until Carroll surprised him by calling in. As Carroll tried to explain that he had supported Miller—and had called for study sessions in the past—Lewis berated him and demanded to know why he hadn't voted in favor of the study sessions.

"I voted for the study sessions to happen," Carroll said. "The vote was 3-2. We lost."

Carroll suggested during the interview that Miller should try talking to him and the other supervisors to get their support before future votes.

Ray, don't feel too bad that Ally doesn't want to talk to you. She won't return our calls, either.

Reached after the show, Carroll said the record showed that he supported Miller's proposal for study sessions.

"I seconded the motion," Carroll said. "(Board Chairman) Ramon Valadez said the vote was 2-3. How can you say I didn't vote for it?"

Carroll said he didn't want to get into the details of his interactions with Miller, but it sure sounds like tension is growing down on the 11th floor.

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