The federal government and state governments across the country should be doing everything they can to ensure election integrity going forward. Over the past few years, the Arizona legislature has taken this to heart. But the Left has been fighting against every legitimate election reform that comes from conservatives. Not only are they filing lawsuits in court, but they’ve been deploying a new tactic that threatens the First Amendment.
Lawsuits Against Election Integrity Bills
In 2021, the Arizona legislature passed, and then-Governor Ducey signed into law SB 1485—a law designed to clean up Arizona’s early voter list. Then in 2022, state lawmakers followed that up with HB 2243 (to ensure regular voter list maintenance) and HB 2492 (to ensure that only U.S. citizens are voting in our elections).
These are commonsense laws that everyone should be able to get behind, but the Left gave up commonsense years ago…
On Thursday, the Chandler City Council established a nondiscrimination ordinance (NDO) to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
Two years in the making, the NDO prohibits the denial of public accommodations, employment, and housing on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The council passed the NDO unanimously.
Nine citizens submitted their support of the NDO ahead of Thursday’s meeting; only two submitted opposition. Among those who testified in favor of the NDO were women claiming to be Christians and a business advocacy nonprofit, Local First Arizona, who insisted on the NDO’s potential for increasing city revenue. Chandler Pride, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, complained that the NDO didn’t go far enough.
Chandler Pride co-founder Jude Schroeder argued that the NDO shouldn’t have religious exemptions for nonprofits. Schroeder argued further that the enforcement mechanisms and punishments weren’t strong enough.
“Chandler residents served with tax dollars are not to be discriminated [against] by anyone for any reason,” said Schroeder.
Those who violate the NDO won’t be eligible for city contracts or grants. The NDO doesn’t apply to small businesses and private membership clubs.
Mayor Kevin Hartke assured citizens that the NDO came with plenty of religious exemptions.
“It makes a statement and it’s a statement I believe has always described Chandler,” said Hartke.
The NDO carves out an exemption for “bona fide religious organizations or persons who hold bona fide religious views.”
At the start of the council meeting, several citizens lamented that the current council agenda didn’t reflect the current issues or will of the people: other than the DEI policy, allowing backyard chickens, and expanding the number of days citizens may shoot off fireworks. The first citizen to speak expressed a desire for the council to focus more on addressing the inflation crisis and looming police hiring shortage. Almost a quarter of Chandlers’ police force is slated to retire in the next few years, and the pace of hiring hasn’t accommodated for that.
The council spent over $56,000 last year for the study to back this NDO. A survey of 33 percent of staff revealed that most city staffers are satisfied with the city’s diversity at present.
60 percent believe the city recognizes staff diversity, while 15 percent disagreed; close to 80 percent believe the city values different backgrounds, while 10 percent disagreed; 55 percent believe the city encourages different viewpoints, while close to 20 percent disagreed; 60 percent believe the city supports diverse teams, while 15 percent disagreed. The remaining percentage of staff were neutral. On average, 68 percent expressed a positive outlook on the city’s diversity outlook and integration, compared to 13 percent expressing a negative outlook.
Similarly, more city employees had a positive outlook on the city’s accessibility and availability of DEI education, events, and practices: 55 percent positive, 9 percent negative, and 17 percent neutral, and 18 percent didn’t know.
17 percent of employees disagreed with DEI implementation, 25 percent were neutral, 45 percent agreed, and 12 percent didn’t respond.
Chandler’s NDO aligns with those established by localities across the nation, and resembles the antidiscrimination laws established by states. Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws resulted in the targeting of several Christian business owners. One, a baker named Jake Phillips, declined to make a wedding cake for a gay couple and then declined to make a gender reveal cake for a transgender individual. Another, a website designer named Lorie Smith, declined to design wedding websites for same-sex couples.
Phillips won his Supreme Court (SCOTUS) case concerning the wedding cake, but remains in court for the gender reveal cake. Smith will appear before SCOTUS early next month to argue her case.
Arizona nearly banned sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. House Speaker Rusty Bowers (R-Mesa) introduced a bill to do so, though it never advanced to a committee.
In addition to this latest policy, Chandler’s other DEI efforts launched in 2020, prompted by the death of George Floyd, came to fruition this year. The city sponsored and hosted its first LGBTQ+ event, produced a video series highlighting Black families living in Chandler, and hosted its first Asian community conference.
Last Tuesday, hundreds of concerned Gilbert citizens enlivened a town council study session with vocal opposition to funding any rail project — not even a survey.
Most of the council expressed confusion about the citizens’ discontent, denying intent on establishing a commuter rail in the town. Councilwoman Kathy Tilque stated repeatedly that there were no plans to bring a commuter rail to Gilbert, and that it probably wouldn’t ever happen. Mayor Brigette Peterson and councilmembers Scott Anderson, Yung Koprowski, and Scott September echoed Tilque’s sentiment throughout the study session, which neared two hours.
“I’m just trying to figure out why we have so many upset people thinking we’re spending taxpayer dollars to bring a commuter rail here,” said Tilque.
Earlier this year, the council proposed a $289,000 consulting contract for a feasibility study on establishing a commuter rail. Council discussion on the subject revealed similar divisions that persisted in last week’s discussions.
When Peterson repeated that Gilbert hasn’t issued plans to build a commuter rail, the citizens shouted “Lies!” Peterson insisted she was telling the truth, further claiming that Gilbert wouldn’t have any say over the establishment of a commuter rail on existing rail lines. Vice Mayor Aimee Yentes rebutted that the town’s actions over the years conflicted Peterson’s claim.
Yentes told AZ Free News that the council’s denial of commuter rail planning was “semantics,” pointing out a February 2018 development agreement, Resolution No. 3955, that Peterson signed onto while a councilwoman. That development agreement described the possibility of a light rail as well as a commuter rail, further conflicting with another one of Peterson’s claims in a July statement that the term “light rail” was used by outside groups and individuals, and that “there are no plans, discussions, or any considerations to construct or extend a light rail” to Gilbert.
The development agreement further noted that the town of Gilbert would be responsible for the cost of future development of a transit station at Cooley Station Village Center. According to a 2018 study on commuter rails conducted by the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG), nearly all commuter rails require a dedicated local sales tax to operate.
During the study session, Yentes asserted that the community’s discontent stems from the council’s unwillingness to take a definitive stance for or against a commuter rail, not a misunderstanding over the town’s role as one of several decision makers on establishing a commuter rail.
“Clearly they’ve been planning for it. They’ve done studies. They’ve dedicated transit stations. They’ve entered into a development agreement that tried to bind us to it. There’s lots of things that Gilbert can do to either plan to do it or be a thorn in their side,” said Yentes.
Yentes proposed an ordinance to prohibit the use of town resources for the furtherance of commuter and light rail development. That would also prohibit additional taxes and application of funds to carry out related studies. It will be voted on during next Tuesday’s town council meeting.
Yentes warned that the city of Phoenix’s commuter and light rails “cannibalized” their transportation budget to the extent that the city couldn’t fix potholes, prompting citizens to pass an additional sales tax in 2017 to cover those expenses.
Tilque called Yentes’ proposed ordinance “dishonest representation” since future councils may overturn it. However, that’s something that new leadership may do at any given time with any ordinance, which Yentes pointed out.
One citizen, Brandon Ryff, told AZ Free News that Tilque’s opposition to the ordinance came across as doubting citizens’ intelligence. Ryff expressed frustration over the conflict between Peterson’s remarks and actions concerning a commuter rail, citing the 2018 development agreement.
Ryff also criticized commuter rails as outdated, “19th-century” technology, pointing out the consistent drop in ridership throughout major cities in Arizona and other states. He contrasted the decline in ridership with the consistent uptick in crime. In Phoenix, crime rates have nearly doubled since 2016; a majority of those crimes were aggravated assault and drug offenses.
“We laugh at it and say that [a commuter rail] looks like a solution looking for a problem,” said Ryff. “For whatever reason and whatever motivation, our town council is defying all logic concerning crime statistics and progress. I can’t help but feel this is related to money from somewhere. Someone is influencing these people to behave this way. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Another citizen, Tyler Farnsworth, remarked to AZ Free News that their opposition was a positive example of engaged citizenry, yet most of the council portrayed it as a negative. Farnsworth commended Yentes’ proposed resolution barring their tax money from funding town rail projects.
“The Mayor and several members of the Council were visibly and vocally annoyed that citizens chose to show up and speak their mind,” said Farnsworth. “We just want to be heard. We want our tax money to be spent wisely. I hope the meeting was a wake up call to this Council. We are watching. Welcome to democracy in action.”
On Tuesday, the Gilbert Town Council announced a $289,000 consulting contract for a feasibility study on establishing a commuter rail. The commuter rail, a mode of public transportation at the core of major metropolitan areas like Chicago and New York City, would likely be located somewhere within the Heritage district. The council moved to consider the contract during a later study session.
The proposal comes at a time when transit crime rates have reached an all-time high in areas where they have the most use such as New York City, San Francisco Bay Area, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. Multiple studies link the presence of public transit such as light rail and commuter rail to an increase in crime and decrease in surrounding property values.
Vice Mayor Aimee Yentes asserted that the goal of the study wasn’t to establish feasibility, but rather to whip up something with “pretty pictures” that would distract from the facts behind commuter rail and inspire public support. Yentes accused Washington, D.C. lobbyists of pushing an agenda for financial gain at the loss of taxpayers and locals, mocking President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” campaign slogan as well.
“I think quite frankly we’re taking crazy pills if we think people are going to be excited about commuter rail,” said Yentes. “The complete boondoggle that this will be not just for this community, but for this state. We are literally observing California living this nightmare. I can’t point to a state that Amtrak is not being heavily and deeply subsidized by taxpayers despite 75 percent decline in their ridership. I can’t point to a state where we have a good model that makes any amount of sense for this. We’re going to put the foot on the pedal because we’ve got ‘Build Back Bankruptcy’ dollars that are going to be flooding the jurisdictions?”
Yentes also pointed out that all commuter rails require a local sales tax in addition to all the state subsidies and federal monies they receive. She predicted widespread community backlash.
“I think this is insane,” said Yentes. “I don’t think it’s a matter of timing. There is no good timing for broken 19th-century technology. I think this is a broken model and I think there’s a lot of buyer’s remorse in other states that have gone down this track.”
In addition to commuter rail, the transportation expansion would eventually become transit centers accommodating other types of transit: bus, bicycle, micromobility, and rideshare. Town research explained that such an initiative had been in the works since 1993.
Vice Mayor Aimee Yentes said she has “a lot of problems” with the proposed transit center, specifically the commuter rail, calling it “premature.” Yentes said that the scope of the project for stakeholder involvement wasn’t clear, and that the stakeholders’ work were oriented toward designing and planning rather than community outreach to assess desire and need.
Councilwoman Yung Koprowski insisted that the community at large was aware of the city’s intention to establish a commuter rail based on published documents made available to the community.
Yentes disagreed. She said it was one thing for these initiatives to be laid out in planning documents, but that the reality was the community weren’t involved in them. She said that only an “inner bubble” of the community kept an eye on planning documents.
“I think if I asked 100 of my neighbors if they know a commuter rail is coming to Gilbert, I think approximately zero of those people would be aware,” said Yentes.
Koprowski then clarified that this council decision would be the “first step” to get background and decide whether to move forward with the transit center.
Koprowski owns a transportation planning and civil engineering firm, Y2K Engineering.
Councilman Scott Anderson expressed doubts that the transit center would happen, citing Amtrak’s exclusion of Gilbert as a station location in previous reports and agreeing with Yentes that it was premature. Development Services Director Kyle Mieras revealed that Amtrak recently expressed support for a station location. He added that federal funds would be available to back the project.
“We wanted to show support for this and get ahead so if and when Amtrak or commuter rail does come forward, we’ve at least studied this and in a position where we’re going to come out ahead of it, so we’re skating to where the puck is going not where it’s been,” said Mieras.
Mayor Brigette Peterson added that the Amtrak southwest representative was shocked at Gilbert’s exclusion from viable locations. Peterson divulged that Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said that Gilbert was “way ahead” of their city when it came to establishing commuter rail, noting that the town had two areas open for stations, citing Cooley Station as an example.
“If Amtrak comes knocking with those federal dollars, is Gilbert on board to do that?” asked Peterson.
Koprowski noted that the feasibility study would offer some conclusion as to whether commuter rail was feasible and, if not, how the two potential areas could be repurposed. Yentes challenged the council to define its standard of feasibility.
The House Transportation Committee approved SB1356, legislation to give Maricopa County residents a vote for or against a transportation tax and excise tax plan. The committee passed with bipartisan support, with the exception of three: State Representatives Neal Carter (R-Queen Creek), Kevin Payne (R-Peoria), and Leo Biasucci (R-Lake Havasu City).Two didn’t vote either way: State Representatives Brenda Barton (R-Payson) and David Cook (R-Globe).
Arizona Free Enterprise Club Vice President Aimee Yentes expressed opposition to the bill, noting that 40 percent of the money was allocated for public transit. Yentes explained that the 1985 transportation tax plan was successful because it built freeways, but that over the decades the plan shifted from essential infrastructure like roads and freeways to “transit,” despite a steep, increasing decline in its use. That number sits at half a percent currently.
“As we’ve seen post-COVID, that ridership number has fallen off a cliff. There are actually more people who don’t own a vehicle that take a car to work than actually use public transit. That’s kind of astonishing,” said Yentes.
Yentes also noted that the bill sets aside funding for something already covered by statute: “regional programs.” She said the definition of that term was problematic because it doesn’t distinguish street intersection improvements but, rather, “arterial roads and regional programs.”
“It really is a catch-all that can be used to siphon off local city slush funds for whatever: complete streets, air quality,” said Yentes.
The bill sponsor, State Senator Tyler Pace (R-Mesa) said that the bill’s rejection, either by the legislature or by Maricopa County voters, would necessitate the Arizona legislature to find the funds for transportation projects themselves. Pace insisted that the committee members shouldn’t nitpick at the provisions of the bill because the greater good concerned Arizona’s legacy of quiet, fast roads superior to those of other states.
State Representative Richard Andrade (D-Glendale) compared SB1356 to previous efforts to expand and extend the state’s two major highways: Loop 101 and the I-17. Andrade argued that creating more public transit like light rails would increase their use.
Those in opposition explained that they weren’t confident this bill would actually meet transportation needs. Carter said that he supported infrastructure, but said that the legislation had room for improvement. Carter said his reservations included provisions for expenditures related to air quality, and the expansion beyond a 20-year authorization.
Payne expressed displeasure that legislators impacted by the bill weren’t included in stakeholder meetings. He explained that his constituents were requesting another bus route down Bell Road, for example, and that he couldn’t vote for the bill in good conscience because of that.
Echoing Carter and Payne’s statements in his “no” vote was Biasucci. Biasucci argued that the legislature should utilize its $4 billion in surplus instead of passing the costs on to taxpayers.
“I think this is, really, how it needs to be done: the money should come from the general fund to be spent on major projects, I’m talking billions of dollars’ worth, in my opinion. For me, when we’re sitting on this huge surplus, it’s hard for me to say, ‘Yes, I agree with a tax increase or an extension,’” said Biasucci.