Tuesday’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that non-essential travelers will be allowed to enter the United States via land and ferry Ports of Entry (POEs) starting sometime next month if they present “appropriate documentation” of being fully vaccinated for COVID-19 is welcome news for businesses and communities across Arizona.
“Cross-border travel creates significant economic activity in our border communities and benefits our broader economy,” U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement, which did not include an effective date other than sometime in early November.
In 2019, Mexicans were estimated to have spent about $1.4 billion in Arizona. While Mayorkas called the travel of tourists and others who come to Arizona for various reasons “nonessential,” many business owners around the seven CBP Ports of Entry in Arizona say the revenues associated with regulated crossing is anything but.
“Taking this step to welcome vaccinated tourists will be an essential push to strengthen all border communities that heavily rely on international commerce,” according to the Nogales-Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce, which noted the county’s economy has been “heavily impacted” by the travel restrictions.
Those COVID-19 travel restrictions at POEs were initially put into effect in March 2020 as a public health measure. Essential travel -medical, educations, employment- was later allowed but President Joe Biden has continually extended the non-essential travel ban, despite data showing the ongoing closure was decimating the economies of Arizona border communities.
Critics also pointed to the fact that air travel between the two counties has been allowed for months. Mayorkas’ announcement, which also applies to POE access into the United States from Canada, came just days before an Oct. 21 deadline on non-essential travel was set to expire.
The irony of the White House announcement, however, has not been lost on one Arizona business owner.
Constanin Querard of Grassroots Direct, LLC noted that the policy change means “fully vaccinated people who want to come in legally can now get in as easily as unvaccinated people who want to come in illegally.”
Meanwhile, the Biden Administration’s refusal to fully reopen the Ports of Entry to land travel before now is having an unexpected beneficial impact for one group.
The Douglas POE in Cochise County is an economic driver in a community controlled and governed by Democrats for decades. But according to Robert Montgomery, the devastating economic impact of the non-essential travel restrictions has been a boon for the Cochise County Republican Committee.
Montgomery, chairman of the CCRC, told AZ Free News that many “very frustrated lifelong Democrats” have been checking out the Republican platform. And they like what they see, particularly on the issues of abortion, gun rights, and illegal immigration, Montgomery said.
This is resulting in more Conservatives getting involved in local public office, from school boards to the city council, and Montgomery says the list of Republican precinct committeemen is growing.
He added that the transition from blue to red voters in border communities “is not unique to Cochise County; it’s happening across southern Arizona and the southwest U.S. border,” he said.
Silly Season is that time when professional sports teams announce major trades, resignations, and firings. It starts in Major League Baseball later this month when the World Series is finished, and will be on full display within NASCAR once the season-ending checkered flag waves at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 7.
This fall, the 55th Arizona Legislature is having its own version of Silly Season, with myriad vacancies that will change the dynamics of the House and Senate when the second regular session starts in January 2022.
One of those vacancies is slated to be filled any day now by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors following last month’s resignation of Rep. Aaron Lieberman (D-LD28) who is running for Governor. Lieberman’s replacement will be selected by the county board once it receives a list of three nominations from the precinct committeemen of the Democratic Party of Maricopa County.
Sen. Kristen Engel (D-LD10) has also resigned to focus on her campaign for Congressional District 2. The Pima County Board of Supervisors has already received three nominations from the Pima County Democratic Party precinct committeemen for Engel’s replacement, one of whom is Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton (D-LD10).
Stahl Hamilton is seen as the favorite when the county board votes Oct. 19, meaning the Pima County Dems would then have to repeat the precinct committeemen nomination process to fill Stahl Hamilton’s seat in the House.
However, not all of the vacancies will be connected to campaign efforts.
Rep. Randy Friese (D-LD9) announced in March he was running for CD2, which would have pitted him against Engel and Rep. Daniel Hernandez in the Democratic Party primary. Friese, who is a physician, dropped out of the race in September, citing personal and professional considerations. He recently confirmed his intention to leave the Legislature in the next few weeks.
Once Friese’s resignation is formally tendered then the Pima County Democratic Party precinct committeemen will meet once again to nominate three replacements for the Pima County Board of Supervisors to choose from.
In early September, Rep. Bret Roberts (R-LD11) announced his resignation effective at the end of the month due to a planned family move out of state. His district covered portions of Pima and Pinal counites, but it will be the Pinal County Republican precinct committeemen who will nominate three replacements for the Pinal County Board of Supervisors to choose from.
Of course, the most shocking resignation occurred in August when Sen. Tony Navarrete (D-LD30) was arrested for multiple felonies related to child molestation. The vacancy of Navarrete’s seat was filled by Rep. Raquel Teran (D-LD30), whose replacement in the House has not yet been announced by the Pima County board.
But it does not take a lawmaker’s resignation to mix things up at the Legislature.
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-LD23) announced earlier this month she is stepping down from one of the most influential legislative assignments – chairperson of the Senate Government Committee. She told Senate President Karen Fann that she will continue serving on the Appropriations, Commerce, and Finance committees, and stands “ready and committed” to election reform, one of the key subjects handed by the Government Committee.
The unexpected announcement by Ugenti-Rita, who is running for Arizona Secretary of State, has already led to backdoor discussions and public posturing by some senators hoping to sway Fann’s decision on who replaces Ugenti-Rita on the Government Committee as well as who Fann names as the committee’s new chair.
Meanwhile, last month’s death of Rep. Frank Pratt (R-LD8) will trigger another round of recommendations by Pinal County’s Republican precinct committeemen to the Pinal County board to fill Pratt’s seat.
Longtime Republican state lawmaker Frank Pratt died Tuesday after a long illness. He was 79.
“Frank Pratt did it all – public servant, business owner, rancher, farmer and family man,” said Gov. Doug Ducey, who ordered flags at all state buildings lowered to half-half on Wednesday to honor the Florence native. “He was one of the good guys, and we’re lucky he called Arizona home.”
Pratt, who lived in Casa Grande, was first elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in November 2008 to serve the citizens of what was then Legislative District 23. After district boundaries were redrawn, Pratt went on to win a House seat in November 2012 of what is now Legislative District 8 across parts of Gila and Pinal counties.
In 2016, Pratt handily beat his Democratic Party opponent to serve LD8 as state senator. Then last November, he won election to return to the House.
Pratt earned extra admiration from his fellow Republican caucus members earlier this year for the dedication he showed during the legislative session, participating daily in House business despite his illness.
“The honor, integrity, and high ethic by which he conducted himself in his service is incomparable,” House Speaker Rusty Bowers said Tuesday in announcing Pratt’s passing. “He loved what he did and wouldn’t let anything stop him from doing it. He never quit.”
Pratt chaired a variety of committees at the Legislature, including the House Judiciary, Senate Transportation and Technology, and the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources. He was named Legislator of the Year by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce in 2010, and he enjoyed the support of groups like the National Rifle Association and Fraternal Order of Police over the years.
Among those issuing condolences is the Home Builders Association, which called Pratt “a true statesman who looked out for the interests of Pinal County and above all this great state.” The Greater Phoenix Chamber also weighed in, noting Pratt’s “demeanor, leadership and friendship will be sorely missed at the Capitol.”
A statement from the Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association recalled Rep. Pratt’s love for his community and all of Arizona. “We are incredibly grateful for his service and leadership,” the group tweeted. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Janice and his family.”
Sen. T.J. Shope, who served LD8 with Pratt, tweeted that everyone is better off because of his friend’s hard work on behalf of Arizonans.
“Whether it was on his ranch or farm, his successful business, or in the Legislature, he conducted himself with the type of honor & dignity we should all aspire to,” Shope said.
Pratt’s term runs through the end of 2023. In the coming days, the Arizona GOP chairperson will provide formal notice of the vacancy to all elected Republican precinct committeemen (PC) of the Pinal County portion of LD8 where Pratt lived.
Those PCs will have 21 days to nominate three Republican electors who meet the statutory requirements for the seat and who reside in the LD8 area of Pinal County. The Pinal County Board of Supervisors will appoint one of those nominees to fill the remainder of Pratt’s term.
Members for the Arizona Senate Committee on Government will take up two bills Thursday which seek to amend state election laws, including one that would force county election officials to remove some inactive voters from the Permanent Early Voter List (PEVL).
Being on the PEVL ensures an Arizona voter is automatically mailed an early ballot -also referred to as an absentee ballot- for any election in which the voter is eligible to vote. A voter can then return their completed ballot by mail or drop it in an official ballot box on or before election day.
Most Arizona counties reported 60 to 80 percent of all votes cast in the 2020 General Election were mail-in ballots.
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-LD23) is seeking to amend Arizona Revised Statute 16-544 which governs eligibility for the PEVL. Her bill, SB1069, would require counties to cull their PEVL of certain voters who do not consistently utilize early balloting unless the voter completes and returns a special form.
The senator, who chairs the Senate Committee on Government, has been outspoken in her belief that changes are needed to Arizona’s election laws in order to restore voter confidence in the process. Her bill would help identify voters who no longer live in Arizona, are perhaps incarcerated, or who may even be deceased.
ARS §16-544 currently requires a voter to be dropped from the PEVL upon the voter’s written request or if the voter is no longer registered or eligible to vote. The county recorder will also remove a voter from the list if an early ballot mailing has been returned undeliverable and election officials have been unable to contact the voter.
According to the proposed bill, the county recorder or other elections officer would also be required to notify a voter of impending removal from the PEVL if the voter “fails to vote using an early ballot in both the primary election and the general election for two consecutive primary and general elections for which there was a federal, statewide or legislative race on the ballot.”
To remain on the PEVL, the voter would have to return the county’s notice within 30 days and provide their address, date of birth, and signature. There is no provision in SB1069 for allowing a voter to submit a signed letter with the same information.
Also on Thursday’s agenda for the senate committee meeting is SB1083, which seeks to amend ARS §16-661 governing when an automatic recount is mandated during a primary or general election.
Currently there are six trigger points for an automatic recount based on the type of office and the number of votes cast in a particular race. There are also several exemptions to automatic recounts, including elections for school district governing boards, community college district governing boards, fire district boards, fire district chiefs, fire district secretary-treasurers, other special district boards, and precinct committeemen.
But SB1083, sponsored by Ugenti-Rita as well, would remove the exemptions. It would also simplify the vote margin for when an automatic recount is triggered by doing away with five of the provisions. Instead, the bill would set an across-the-board automatic recount margin of one-half of one percent of the votes cast in a race.
There has been no First Read on SB1083 as of Jan. 19.