By Corinne Murdock
Taxpayer-funded League of Arizona Cities and Towns (League) apparently penned two opinion pieces on behalf of Pinal County mayors and supervisors praising Representative David Cook (R-Globe), email records reveal. What’s more, the League asked Cook to offer any edits and approve at least one of the pieces before they ran.
It appears the League’s primary lobbyist, Nick Ponder, contacted Cook about two opinion pieces for Pinal County officials: one on behalf of their supervisors, and one on behalf of their mayors. In emails obtained by AZ Free News, Ponder reached out to Cook for the final say on one of the pieces concerning Pinal County mayors. The subject line for some of the emails concerning that piece read: “Mayor’s Letter for Cook[.]”
The mayors’ opinion piece lionized Cook as a “brave legislator” who stood up against tax cuts and supported water sustainability.
“Thankfully, we have State Representative David Cook representing us in the Arizona state legislature. He is one of a handful of brave legislators with enough courage to stand up to the power brokers at the State Capitol in Phoenix. Rep. Cook is forcefully speaking out about the destructive impact the proposed tax cut will have on our rural communities and he is fighting to protect us. […] Equally important, Rep. Cook joins us in supporting policies which address our water challenges here in Pinal County. Securing long-term sustainable water solutions will ultimately cost the state billions of dollars. Considering Arizona’s water future and its pending costs, Rep. Cook is right to stand up and fight a permanent tax cut valued at nearly $20 billion over the next decade. Those are dollars the state will sorely need to fund future water solutions. We wish to make it perfectly clear to all our municipal residents: We stand with Rep. Cook in protecting our public safety budgets and bringing funding to Pinal County to help mitigate our state’s long term water shortage.” (emphasis added)
The League is funded principally by taxpayers. Casa Grande Mayor Craig McFarland, Coolidge Mayor Jon Thompson, Eloy Mayor Micah Powell, Florence Mayor Tara Walter, Globe Mayor Al Gameros, Hayden Mayor Dean Hetrick, Kearny Mayor Jamie Ramsey, Mammoth Mayor Patsy Armenta, Miami Mayor Sammy Gonzales, Queen Creek Mayor Gail Barney, Superior Mayor Mila Besich, and Winkelman Mayor Louis Bracamonte were signed onto the letter.
Email records show that Ponder reached out to Copper Area News Publishers for publication in the Superior Sun, Copper Basin News, and San Manuel Miner. Arizona Capitol Times published the opinion piece.
In another email, Ponder forwarded Cook an email chain about the Pinal County supervisors’ opinion piece. Pinal County Communications and Marketing Director James Daniels had submitted the piece to the managing editor of the Casa Grande Valley Newspapers.
After that, Daniels forwarded the correspondence to others, including County Supervisors Association of Arizona Executive Director Craig Sullivan – he shared it with Ponder, who then shared it with Cook.
The piece focused on how much the Pinal County supervisors supported Cook.
“Representative David Cook has always fought to protect the interests of the residents of Pinal and Gila counties, whether by securing resources to build roads or to develop water supplies, and we are very grateful to see his hard work to ensure that any tax reduction package passed by the legislature is designed so that the state remains on solid financial footing going into the future,” read the letter. “We are very concerned that in the legislature’s desire to do something ‘big and bold,’ what will get lost is doing things right. Therefore, we applaud Representative Cook’s leadership to shape a tax package that strikes a wise balance – providing meaningful tax relief, reducing state debt, and ensuring the state has the resources to meet its obligations to Arizonans into the future.”
Pinal County Supervisor Steve Miller and Gila County Supervisor Tim Humphrey signed onto the letter.
The piece appeared in The Arizona Republic, Pinal Central, Copper Basin News, and Superior Sun.
AZ Free News inquired with the League about their involvement in the writing of these opinion pieces, as well as who initiated the idea to create them. The League’s administrative assistant confirmed that the appropriate staff members received our inquiries, but they didn’t respond by press time.