Forest And Wildfire Management Hearing Set Ahead Of Draft Report

Forest And Wildfire Management Hearing Set Ahead Of Draft Report

By Terri Jo Neff |

The public is invited to attend the final hearing of the Arizona House Forest and Wildfire Management Ad Hoc Committee during which several updates will be provided on the Telegraph Fire that ravaged more than 180,000 acres last year between Superior and Miami.

The bi-partisan committee, headed by Rep. David Cook (R-Globe), will meet Nov. 21 to hear from Jeff Eisenberg of University of Arizona Cooperative Extension of plans by U of A for a study of the long-term costs of the Telegraph Fire, which burned for four weeks in June and July 2021 and contributed to damaging post-fire flooding during the monsoon. 

As previously reported by AZ Free News, the Arizona Legislature invested $100 million in a wildfire relief package in June 2021. The Ad Hoc Committee was formed a few months later to make recommendations for potential changes to state and federal laws and regulations related to the management of wildfires in Arizona.

Members, which include Reps. Andres Cano, Tim Dunn, Gail Griffin, and Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, will also hear on Nov. 21 from Dr. Melanie Colavito and Dr. Andrew Sanchez Meador, both with Northern Arizona University, about a similar long-term costs study they conducted following the 2010 Schultz Fire northeast of Flagstaff in the Coconino National Forest. 

The agenda further includes a status report by U.S. Forest Service professionals on the progress of repairs to myriad ranching infrastructure damaged by the Telegraph Fire. Committee members also intend to discuss a draft committee report and possible recommendations leading into the new legislative session beginning in January.

Public hearings have previously been conducted by the Ad Hoc Committee in Globe and Flagstaff in an effort to hear directly from those impacted by recent wildfires and post-fire flooding.

Cook previously stressed the need for the Arizona Legislature to examine forest and wildfire management policies and practices “to assess potential improvements that will minimize the impact of these fires on Arizonans and our environment.”

The hearing starts at 2:30 p.m. in HHR 3 at the Arizona House of Representatives in Phoenix.  A livestream will be offered at this link.

Magnus Resigns As Top Border Official After Controversial Tenure

Magnus Resigns As Top Border Official After Controversial Tenure

By Terri Jo Neff |

Former Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus resigned Saturday, less than one year after being confirmed as commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), capping a tumultuous and controversial tenure for the longtime city cop.

His resignation was effective immediately, less than one week after the General Election in which border security, or insecurity, was a hot button topic along the southwest border.

The timing of Magnus’s departure raises serious questions about the priorities of President Joe Biden and U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to whom Magnus reported.

Mayorkas always expressed public confidence in Magnus, despite intense public objection to the nomination. And neither Biden nor Mayorkas appeared concerned month after month with the increase in the number of large shipments of fentanyl and other illicit drugs making it through the CBP-controlled ports of entry.

In fact, there was little comment from the White House after CBP announced its FY2022 statistics last month. It showed more than 2.2 million “encounters” or apprehension by U.S. Border Patrol along the southwest border, along with more than 172,000 encounters with “inadmissables” at the southwest ports of entry.

Those statistics do not include the estimated 600,000 – 700,000 “gotaways” who were never apprehended at or near the border.

As previously reported by AZ Free News, Magnus came under renewed scrutiny in recent weeks for his lack of attendance at key CBP meetings.

The final straw, however, may have been Magnus’s tone deaf response to a very public incident when outnumbered USBP agents were forced to deploy less-than-lethal munitions to quell an incursion of several hundred border crossers near downtown El Paso on Oct. 31.

Magnus issued a statement the next day in which he noted the CBP Office of Professional Responsibilitywhich is an internal affairs type of unitwas “reviewing this incident.”

Nowhere in his statement did Magnus bother to comment on whether all agents emerged from the situation uninjured.

Yet it appeared Biden was not willing to suffer any political egg on the face until after last week’s General Election. It was not until Nov. 11 that the first outward signs of discord became public, when it was reported that Magnus rejected an ultimatum from higher up officials in the Department of Homeland Security that he resign.

That same day, his official CBP Twitter account was reportedly archived and his access was blocked.

It is unclear whether the resignation demand was made directly by Mayorkas, but Magnus finally submitted his resignation Nov. 12. It was accepted the same day by Biden, according to a White House press release.

Many eyebrows were raised when Biden nominated Magnus back in April 2021 to head the agency’s 60,000 employees at U.S. Border Patrol, CBP’s Office of Field Operations, and Air & Marine Operations. The agency is also in charge of facilitating international travel and trade.

Organizations such as the Western Sheriffs Association criticized the nomination, pointing out Magnus had no management experience with such a large and critical federal agency.

Others, such as the National Border Patrol Council, pointed to the fact Magnus never worked in federal law enforcement.

There were also concerns about the occasional public disdain Magnus expressed toward the role federal border policies play in protecting national security. Having Magnus at the helm of CBP was seen as proof for some who live and work along the U.S. southwest border that Biden had no concern for their communities reeling from an unending influx of border crossers and illegal criminal activity.

The criticism continued after Magnus was confirmed in December 2021. He was seen as preoccupied with internal issues and establishing a strong esprit de corps rather than ensuring CBP officers and USBP agents have the resources and support needed to do their job.

The announcement of Magnus’ resignation provided no reassurance to CBP’s employees nor the public that new leadership has been identified. For now, it is assumed Deputy Commissioner Troy A. Miller will once again serve as Acting CBP Commissioner, a position he held for nearly 12 months until Magnus was confirmed.

Miller’s official biography shows he began his federal law enforcement career nearly 30 years ago as a Customs Inspector. He has held a number of CBP positions in the years since, including Director of Field Operations for CBP’s New York Field Office where he oversaw a district that included John F. Kennedy International Airport and the New York / Newark container seaport.

Some Legislative Caucus Leaders Chosen

Some Legislative Caucus Leaders Chosen

By Terri Jo Neff |

Opening day for the first regular session of the 56th Legislature is Jan. 9, and the various legislative caucuses are wasting no time getting ready.

On Nov. 10, the Senate Republican Caucus and both Democratic caucuses announced the results of their internal election.

Sen. Warren Petersen was voted in as Senate President after reportedly beating out Sen. David Gowan by one vote. Taking part in the vote were the 15 Republican candidates who clearly won their seats in the General Election along with current LD2 vote leader Steve Kaiser.

In addition, three other Republican candidates (Sen. Nancy Barto, LD4; Robert Scantlebury, LD9; and Gary Garcia Snyder, LD23) were allowed to vote even though they were not leading in their respective races.

Serving with Petersen will be Sen. Sonny Borrelli as Senate Majority Leader and Sen. Sine Kerr as Majority Whip. It is unclear whether any of the declared Republican write-in candidates for LD22 Senate participated in last Thursday’s vote.

Also on Nov. 10, the Arizona Senate Democrats elected Sen. Raquel Terán as Caucus Leader. Her Assistant Leader will be Sen.-elect Mitzi Epstein, with Sen. Lela Alston serving as Democratic Caucus Chair and Sen. Rosanna Gabaldón as Whip.

Meanwhile, the Arizona House Democrats elected Rep. Andrés Cano as their Caucus Leader with Rep-elect Lupe Contreras as Assistant Leader. Rep. Melody Hernandez and Rep. Marcelino Quiñonez will serve as Co-Whips.

The House Republican caucus initially announced its leadership vote for Saturday, but that was put off until Nov. 15 due in part to three legislative districts still being too close to call.

In LD13, the first seat was handily captured by current House member Jennifer Pawlik, a Democrat. But as of press time about 250 votes separate Republicans Liz Harris and Julie Willoughby for the second seat.

In LD16, Republican Teresa Martinez won the first seat, while fellow Republican Rob Hudelson is less than 700 votes behind Democrat Keith Seaman for the second seat.

In LD17, the three top vote getters are separated by only 1,309 votes, with Republican Rachel Jones currently up 833 votes on Republican Cory McGarr, who in turn is up only 476 votes on Democrat Dana Allmond.

Governor’s Race Remains Tight As Voters Wait For Ballots To Be Tabulated

Governor’s Race Remains Tight As Voters Wait For Ballots To Be Tabulated

By Terri Jo Neff |

As of press time, Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake was close to Katie Hobbs, with only 32,200 or so votes separating them, with 350,000 more ballots awaiting tabulation statewide.

It has long been believed that Election Day votes—in person and early ballots dropped off at a voting center—will break in favor of Republican statewide candidates. But there have been complaints from Lake’s campaign that tabulated ballots thought to be from pro-Lake parts of Maricopa County are being held back.

This has kept Lake at a thin margin behind Hobbs going into Saturday night, despite the current Secretary of State’s lack of involvement in widescale public events and Hobbs’ lack of a publicized platform during the campaign.  

One consideration is that many of the 17,000 “drawer 3” ballots cast in-person on Election Day, which were not immediately tabulated due to printer toner issues, have been set aside at Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center  (MCTEC). Those ballots have been projected as likely coming from pro-Lake voters.

Lake and her campaign have remained positive, expressing confidence that the ballot remaining to be tabulated will break for her and the other statewide Republican candidates.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mark Kelly gave a victory speech on Saturday, although his Republican challenger Blake Masters called on Arizonans to wait until all ballots are counted.

And for his part, Attorney General nominee Abe Hamadeh alleged that the Election Day printer toner issue in Maricopa County was directed against Republicans.

Outgoing Arizona Rep. Mark Finchem has also declined to concede his race for Arizona Secretary of State, although Adrian Fontes had a nearly 120,000 vote lead. He would need roughly 70 percent of the remaining votes to hold even with Fontes.

One person who did concede already is Democrat Martin Quezada, who acknowledged Kimberly Yee as the winner of a second term as State Treasurer by a margin of more than 225,000 votes.

And as previously reported by AZ Free News, Arizona’s second populous county is warning that Pima County’s election results may not be determined for several more days.

Meanwhile, elections officials in all 15 counties were required to begin a state-mandated hand count audit. That audit involves a predetermined number of randomly selected sampling of early ballots cast and election day in-person ballots cast.

But those hand counts can only occur if the political party chairs in each county provided the names of participants by a pre-election deadline. And then the participants must actually show up to conduct the audit.

During the 2020 Primary Election in August, there was no hand count audit performed in Apache, Graham, Greenlee, or Santa Cruz counties due to a lack of participation.  

An effort by some Cochise County officials to conduct a 100 percent hand count audit of all ballots hit a roadblock when the Arizona Court of Appeals and the Arizona Supreme Court declined to hear the matter on an expedited basis.

Instead, the court of appeals set several deadlines for December to hear the arguments from Cochise County’s two Republican supervisors and Republican County Recorder as to why they have authority to hand count more ballots than what is required in state law.

The appeal stems from a Pima County judge’s ruling that hand counting all ballots conflicts with language in state law for a “random” selection of ballots. A Nov. 15 meeting has been called by the board in hopes of modifying their full hand count directive to one calling for the audit of only 99.9 percent of ballots.

Attorneys for the board contend this complies with the randomness concern. One outstanding question is how Recorder David Stevens, whom the board has tasked with the expanded hand count audit, will get his hands on the ballots which are currently in the legal custody of the county’s election director, Lisa Marra.

Cochise County Attorney Brian McIntyre, himself a Republican, authored a Nov. 10 letter to Marra’s attorney outlining several “potential criminal acts” that could result if attempts are made to take the ballots from Marra’s custody without a court order.

McIntyre’s letter was copied to Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels, who has not taken a public position on how his deputies will respond if the expanded hand count moves forward.

Nikola In Pilot Testing With Walmart, SAIA As Founder Awaits Sentencing In Fraud Case

Nikola In Pilot Testing With Walmart, SAIA As Founder Awaits Sentencing In Fraud Case

By Terri Jo Neff |

Just weeks after its founder was convicted of federal fraud charges, Phoenix-based Nikola Corp. (NKLA) announced Third Quarter 2022 financial results showing higher than expected revenues and a narrower than expected quarterly loss.

On Thursday, Nikola Corp. reported revenues of $24.2 million, GAAP net loss per share of $0.54, and non-GAAP net loss per share of $0.28. The company also revealed it produced 75 heavy-duty Nikola Tre battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) at its plant in Coolidge, outpacing the 50 BEVs which came off the assembly line last quarter.  

Nikola also announced pilot testing of its Tre BEVs is underway with Walmart and SAIA, and that 63 of its trucks have been delivered to dealers.

“During the third quarter we continued to produce and deliver Nikola Tre BEVs to dealers and customers,” said new Nikola President, Michael Lohscheller. “We also made significant advancements in developing our energy business, announcing our intent to develop access of up to 300 metric-tons per day of hydrogen and up to 60 stations by 2026, and our collaboration with E.ON in Europe.”

Founded in late 2014 by Trevor Milton, Nikola seeks to transform the transportation industry by designing and manufacturing zero-emission BEVs  and hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). The company is also a leader in EV drivetrains, vehicle components, energy storage systems, and hydrogen station infrastructure.

As AZ Free News previously reported, Milton was stripped of any role in the company in 2020 following an investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission into allegations Milton repeatedly lied to investors, prospective investors, and the public about Nikola’s research and development progress as well as sales contracts in an effort to increase the company’s share price.

Then-CEO Mark Russell sought to move Nikola forward from the scandal, agreeing the company would pay a $125 million civil penalty to the SEC. Russell retired this summer, putting Nikola in the hands of Lohscheller, who previously served as CFO for several top automakers, including Mitsubishi Motors, Volkswagen Group USA, and German-based Opel/Vauxhall. Lohscheller was promoted in 2017 as CEO of Opel, where he helped plan the company’s move toward being an electric-only brand by the end of this decade.

Meanwhile, company officials fully cooperated with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York which took Milton to trial Sept. 12 on four fraud charges.  The nearly month-long trial ended with the jury deliberating for less than seven hours before convicting Milton of two counts of wire fraud and one count of securities fraud.

A not-guilty verdict was handed down on another count of securities fraud.

Milton, who avoided pretrial detention by posting a $100 million bond, was granted permission by a federal judge to remain out of custody his until Jan. 27, 2023, sentencing. He is facing up to 20 years in prison, with prosecutors calling for a “significant” prison term in light of numerous warnings to Milton about his misrepresentations.

Nikola has recently announced several highpoints, including:

  • Acquiring land in Buckeye for the construction of a hydrogen production hub with project partners. The company is working through zoning and permitting processes and has already ordered some long lead-time equipment;
  • A multi-year purchase order for 100 Tre BEVs by Zeem Solutions, which specializes in fleet truck leasing;
  • A stock-only purchase of California-based Romeo Power, which is expected to result in a large savings for Nikola on battery-pack costs;
  • An intent to develop access of up to 300 metric-tons per day of hydrogen and up to 60 dispensing stations by 2026. The company sees potential benefits from the Inflation Reduction Act.