A judge will decide next week whether Arizona voters will see an initiative on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot to approve what the Arizona Free Enterprise Club calls “radical” election procedure changes.
Judge Joseph Mikitish of the Maricopa County Superior Court has set Aug. 5 for a hearing on an Order to Show Cause as to why he should not grant a request by the Arizona Free Enterprise Club (AFEC) to invalidate more than half the signatures submitted earlier this month on initiative petitions for the proposed Arizonans for Free and Fair Elections Act (AFFE Act).
Mikitsh’s hearing stems from a lawsuit filed July 22 by AFEC, which argues the AFFE Act would upend Arizona’s election administration and voter registration laws, curtail current safeguards with the initiative and referendum process, and reduce candidate contribution limits while promoting more taxpayer subsidies to certain ‘Clean Elections’ candidates.
According to AFEC’s lawsuit, the political committee Arizonans for Free and Fair Elections (ADRC Action) filed an application in February with Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs for a serial number necessary to commence a petition drive in hopes of getting the Arizonans for Free and Fair Elections Act on the statewide ballot for the 2022 General Election.
Then on July 7, Hobbs was presented with nearly 52,000 petitions sheets containing a purported 475,290 signatures of qualified electors, of which at least 237,645 must be deemed valid to get the AFFE Act on the general election ballot.
But state law requires that all circulators who are not Arizona residents along with all paid circulators regardless of residency must register as circulators before they may begin collecting petition signatures. The circulators must also affix their unique circulator registration ID number to each petition they circulate.
AFEC contends, however, that more than 1,000 of the circulators who collected signatures for the AFFE Act initiative were non-compliant with at least one state election law. Some of the compliance issues involved incomplete registration forms while other circulators allegedly did not write their “full and correct registration number on both sides of the sheet,” as required by law.
The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring Hobbs to disqualify all petition signatures obtained by circulators who were not registered in compliance with state law. It also asks Mikitish to bar the state’s 15 county recorders from verifying any signatures on petitions in which the circulator’s registration number was not properly affixed.
“Petition signatures obtained by individuals who failed to strictly comply with
one or more provisions of applicable law are legally insufficient,” the lawsuit states. “Injunctive remedies are necessary to prevent irreparable injury to the
Plaintiffs and to ensure that the Defendant fully and effectively discharges the duties imposed upon her by state law.”
The lawsuit does not supply a tally of the disputed signatures, but AFEC’s Executive Director Scot Mussi said Monday that well over half of the signatures submitted by ADRC Action were collected in violation of Arizona law.
“That should be more than enough to invalidate this initiative,” Mussi said.
Among the provisions of the Arizonans for Free and Fair Elections Act is one which would restrict legislative election audits such as the one Senate President Karen Fann approved last year. It would also allow same-day voter registration
In addition, it would prohibit any law being enacted calling for voters to show identification when dropping off a mail-in ballot at a polling station or election center.
Another provision of the Act is a requirement that elections officials accept tribal IDs when registering voters and confirming their voting eligibility, even though county recorders do not have access to tribal membership databases.
Election-related legal challenges are heard by the courts on an expedited basis. Mikitish’s show cause hearing comes more than three months before the Nov. 8 election, but the case must be resolved by the end of August to ensure the counties have sufficient time for printing and delivery of early ballots and ballots which are sent to voters under the Uniformed and OverseasCitizens Absentee Voting Act.
Even if the AFEC legal challenge fails, many elections observers doubt that voters will approve the initiative. The problem, they note, is that the Act includes so many different provisions that voters will find enough objectionable that they will reject the whole initiative.
Co-plaintiffs in the case are AFEC’s Mussi and Aimee Yentes, both of whom are registered voters in Arizona. Meanwhile, Arizonans for Free and Fair Elections (ADRC Action) has been named as a Real Party in Interest in the lawsuit.
AFEC is an Arizona nonprofit corporation organized and operated for the promotion of social welfare, within the meaning of IRS Code of 1986, section 501(c)(4). The organization engages in public education and advocacy in support of free markets and economic growth in the State of Arizona.
Arizona State University (ASU) decided to cancel a prominent conservative program’s first annual fundraiser scheduled for next month, and there are conflicting explanations behind their decision. The event was arranged to honor prominent community leaders Dan and Carleen Brophy; 100 percent of the event proceeds were to go to the program.
Three different reasons for the event’s cancellation were given to different parties involved in the event. The first two related to technicalities: the uptick in COVID-19 cases, and one unnamed faculty member’s failure to follow ASU rules. The third had to do with a more contentious topic: the featured speakers.
ASU’s decision means that the program, Political History and Leadership (PHL), may not obtain funds it anticipated from the event, which was to take place at the Desert Botanical Garden. Each guest would have paid $250 for attendance, and tables of eight would’ve pulled in $2,000. The PHL Program is part of the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies.
AZ Free News learned that ASU informed several of the featured speakers that the event was canceled due to the increase in COVID-19 cases.
Scientists hypothesize that COVID-19 likely functions as a seasonal disease. Last year, the case counts for February were nominal after the holiday spike.
AZ Free News also learned that ASU President Michael Crow wasn’t aware of the event or its cancellation, and that ASU would reschedule. However, emails obtained by AZ Free News indicated that the ASU administration was responsible for canceling the event.
ASU spokesman Jerry Gonzalez told AZ Free News a slightly different story. Gonzalez said that a faculty member broke the university’s scheduling protocol. When we asked which protocol was broken, ASU said it didn’t have any more information to provide.
“The event at the Desert Botanical Garden was canceled due to a breach of scheduling protocol by a faculty member in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies,” said Gonzalez. “The university welcomes the opportunity for this event to be rescheduled following the required protocols.”
AZ Free News also inquired of the ASU Foundation, which was in charge of receiving the program funds earned from the event and approving any event planning. They didn’t respond to any of our emails.
A third potential reason surrounding the event cancellation had nothing to do with logistics. Some reported that they were informed that the event was canceled due to controversy over the choice of guest speakers: Congressman Andy Biggs (R-AZ-05) and former Utah congressman and Fox News contributor Jason Chaffetz.
In a press release, Arizona Free Enterprise Club President Scot Mussi derided ASU based on the claim that they canceled the fundraiser over Biggs and Chaffetz.
“It is outrageous that Michael Crow and ASU would cancel an ASU Foundation Fundraiser because they oppose the views and philosophy of the featured speakers attending the event. It is becoming clear that woke cancel culture has taken over every office at the University,” said Mussi. “ASU doesn’t have a problem with liberal activists and public officials appearing at the school for various events. It is well known that Democrat politicians, including US Senator Kyrsten Sinema, have in the past or currently work for the University at taxpayer expense. It only becomes a problem when the speaker is a conservative. If Michael Crow is going to surrender to the ‘cancel culture’ mob, then he is no longer fit to be ASU President and should resign.”
Those registered for the PHL event will receive full refunds.
Earlier this month the Arizona Supreme Court agreed with a lower court’s ruling that parts of 4 of the 11 budget bills signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey this summer are unconstitutional on procedural grounds. The reaction from business owners and community leaders was swift, with many left wondering when and how lawmakers will address the dozens of provisions dropped from those budget bills.
Among those provisions was a prohibition on a county, city, or town from issuing COVID-19 ordinances that impact private businesses, schools, churches, or other private entities, including mask mandates. Other prohibitions would have kept K-12 schools from requiring vaccines with an emergency use authorization for in-person attendance and ensured public universities and community colleges could not mandate COVID vaccines and vaccine passports.
The Arizona Free Enterprise Club (AFEC) describes the Justices’ recent opinion as “devastating” and “a big blow to the people of Arizona.” The organization has drawn attention to the uncertainty and frustration across Arizona at a time when the pandemic impacts are still being felt in the state’s economy, and as individual freedoms are under attack.
As a result, the AFEC is leading the call for the Arizona Legislature and the Governor to immediately address the critical reforms that the Supreme Court struck down.
“They must exhaust every option possible, including special session, to protect Arizonans from more COVID mandates and the bigoted teachings of Critical Race Theory,” according to AFEC. “But make no mistake, while this ruling is devastating, it will not stop the battle over these critical issues. There’s just too much at stake. Because if the uncertainty and frustration caused by these issues are allowed to continue, it would be the most devastating news of all.”
Rules for thee, but not for me. Apparently, that’s the lesson a growing number of Arizona public schools want to teach students in the coming year. (Perhaps they’re looking to replace science, since it appears they’re not interested in following that anymore.)
At the end of June, Governor Ducey signed HB2898, which included a provision prohibiting a city, town, county, school board, or charter school governing body from requiring students or teachers to wear masks.
Senate President Karen Fann will try one more time this week to pull together the 16 votes needed to pass the budget bills, something she could not do Wednesday when one of the 30 senators did not come to work.
The Republican-majority Senate stands in recess until 11 a.m. Thursday at which time several bills are scheduled to be considered, most of which are budget-related. There was hope Wednesday that the 16 Republicans would pass the bills, but Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita’s daylong absence quashed that option.
Fann and Majority Leader Sen. Rick Gray need the entire Senate Republican caucus on board, so if it appears the 16 votes are not a sure thing Thursday then Fann can simply recess her chamber until June 10, a plan put into place Wednesday night after House Speaker Rusty Bowyers chose to recess his chamber for several days.
In the meantime, the fate of the months-long negotiated spending budget, tax cuts, and plan to transition Arizona to a flat rate income tax remains uncertain, according to budget-watchers. And that may not bode well for the flat tax plan which Republicans have sought for years.
“Right now, the flat tax proposal is still being negotiated among members to address a couple of concerns,” according to Scot Mussi, head of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club. “The first concern is the alleged impact on cities and towns due to revenue sharing. Cities are arguing that the tax cut will result in a massive cut in shared revenue from the state.”
But Mussi pointed out that flat tax supporters, including AFEC, believe cities are enjoying budget surpluses -in some cities quite sizable surpluses- and continue to receive a large infusion of new revenue from the taxation of online remote sales.
“The second concern was that the proposed tax package included a tranche of special interest tax breaks, which groups like ours oppose,” Mussi said. “It is our understanding that most of these tax breaks, including one for low income housing and another for wealthy investors, will be removed from the plan.”
But Mussi says groups like AFEC continue to support this year’s budget plan -minus the special interest tax breaks.
“Currently, Arizona has one of the highest income tax rates in the nation and we are uncompetitive compared to our low tax neighbors. The proposed tax plan goes a long way toward addressing this problem,” he explained.
With uncertainty over whether Fann has the 16 votes in the Senate and House Speaker Rusty Bowyers has his 31 votes, Mussi says the budget negotiations are likely not over.
“There is still a lot of horse trading occurring, much of which will continue,” he said. “Some of the demands still being made related to the budget is to rein in some of the pork barrel spending, make tweaks to the tax plan to address concerns with the cities, and to address other policy issues such as election integrity and school choice.”
And what about Fann and Bowyers trying to poach support from a few Democrats if not all Republicans are on board soon? Mussi believes the only budget bills Democrats may vote for would be the Education Budget which includes K-12 spending increases. But the legislative leaders are likely to have a hard time getting any further support across the aisle for the rest of the budget, Mussi said.