Bill Empowering School Board Members To Fire Superintendents Advances

Bill Empowering School Board Members To Fire Superintendents Advances

By Daniel Stefanski |

Republicans and Democrats have generally been divided on ideas to improve Arizona’s public and charter school systems for the benefit of children and their families, but one bill advancing through the state legislature might have a chance at becoming law.

On Tuesday, the Arizona House passed HB 2291, sponsored by Representative David Cook, with a bipartisan 35-25 vote. According to the overview provided by the House, this legislation “authorizes a school district governing board to terminate the superintendent’s employment contract if prescribed criteria are met.” The prescribed criteria in the legislation, that would give the governing board the green light to remove a district superintendent, are if it was “determined by the governing board that the superintendent violated governing board policy; or one or more schools have been assigned a D or F letter grade for at least three years.”

In a release sent out by the House, Representative Cook praised the passage of this bill, saying, “HB 2291 is written to empower local school board members to make decisions that are best for their school districts while being able to protect their limited funding for education that they control. I’m glad to have bipartisan support for this legislation, because making sure that our schools are serving their students and parents is not a partisan matter – it’s something we all believe needs to happen.”

There were four co-sponsors for this legislation – two Democrats and two Republicans. Democrat Representatives Alma Hernandez and Lydia Hernandez co-sponsored HB 2291, along with Republican Representatives Laurin Hendrix and Michele Peña.

Earlier this session, Representative Cook’s bill passed out of the House Education Committee with an 8-2 bipartisan vote, and out of the House Rules Committee with a unanimous 8-0 vote.

The Arizona School Administrators Association, the Arizona Education Association, and the Arizona School Boards Association came out in opposition to this legislation as it was progressing through the Arizona House.

HB 2291 will now be considered by the Arizona Senate.

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.

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.

Democratic PAC Invests Over $120K Into GOP State Representative That Defends Unions

Democratic PAC Invests Over $120K Into GOP State Representative That Defends Unions

By Corinne Murdock |

Since last summer, a Democratic political action committee (PAC), Revitalize Arizona, has invested over $120,200 into State Representative David Cook (R-Globe). Their latest investment was nearly $12,500 in communications advocacy, reported on Monday. 

In total, Revitalize Arizona invested 250 percent more into Cook than in the next-highest candidate from 2021 and this year, all of whom were Democrats.

Altogether, Revitalize Arizona spent about $128,500 in favor of Democratic candidates from 2021 to present — about $20,800 more for eight candidates. 

Over the past decade, Revitalize Arizona has spent well over $1 million opposing Republican state and local-level candidates. By comparison, the PAC spent approximately $10,000 opposing one Democratic candidate in 2020: State Representative Richard Andrade (D-Glendale). 

Revitalize Arizona funds began flowing to Cook last June, after Cook was the only Republican to join Democrats in voting against legislation that would’ve prohibited cities and counties from requiring prevailing wages or union labor as a condition of receiving a bid or contract. 

Revitalize Arizona, a Tempe-based PAC, is chaired by Israel Torres, a partner in the Torres Consulting and Law Group, which chairs the same address as the PAC. The PAC funneled $48,000 to the group in 2020, totaling over $122,100 over the past decade. It also paid Torres Multicultural Communications, previously known as Torres Marquez Communications, over $681,200 over the past decade, with the majority paid out to the firm in 2019: nearly $646,000. 

All of their funds come from another PAC run by Torres: Residents for Accountability. That PAC receives its funds largely from unions. Among its funders from the past two years are the Arizona Pipe Trades 469 PAC, affiliated with a union, and Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC) Action Fund PAC, affiliated with a social justice nonprofit. Over the past decade, a number of other union-affiliated PACs have funded Residents for Accountability.

The PAC has a history of investing in Democratic polling companies such as the D.C.-based Lake Research Partners, whose past clientele have included President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Janet Napolitano, Sheila Jackson Lee, AFL-CIO, and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Arizona.  

They’ve also invested in Democratic polling company SKD Knickerbocker, from which Anita Dunn hailed — Biden’s senior advisor and former President Barack Obama’s communications director. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to

At Least 24 Percent of Arizona Legislators Funded By 50 Percent or More PAC, Lobbyist Money

At Least 24 Percent of Arizona Legislators Funded By 50 Percent or More PAC, Lobbyist Money

By Corinne Murdock |

AZ Free News sampled 46 legislators’ latest campaign finance reports of the state legislature and found that 22 of 47 legislators sampled received 50 percent or more of their campaign contributions from either lobbyists or PACs. 

PACs and lobbyists have significant footing in the legislature. That would explain why the first week of January is known as “hell week” within the legislature — not because they’re in preparation for the new session kicking off, but because lobbyists are scrambling to fundraise for legislators. Arizona law prohibits legislators from receiving lobbyist campaign contributions while in regular session. 

The following are state legislators that receive 50 percent or more of their campaign funds from PACs and lobbyists combined: 

In the House, Richard Andrade (D-Glendale), about 51 percent; Ben Toma (R-Peoria), about 56 percent; Lorenzo Sierra (D-Avondale), about 62 percent; Steve Kaiser (R-Phoenix), about 64 percent; John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills), about 64 percent; Rusty Bowers (R-Mesa), about 64 percent; Diego Espinoza (D-Tolleson), about 66 percent; Joanne Osborne (R-Goodyear), about 74 percent; David Cook (R-Globe), about 75 percent; Justin Wilmeth (R-Phoenix), about 79 percent; John Fillmore (R-Apache Junction), about 83 percent; Tim Dunn (R-Yuma), about 87 percent; and Kelli Butler (D-Paradise Valley), about 96 percent. 

In the Senate, Vince Leach (R-Tucson), about 53 percent; T.J. Shope (R-Coolidge), about 56 percent;  David Gowan (R-Sierra Vista), about 71 percent; Rosanna Gabaldon (D-Sahuarita), about 73 percent; Lupe Contreras (D-Avondale), about 75 percent; Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City), about 79 percent;  Tyler Pace (R-Mesa), about 82 percent; Sine Kerr (R-Buckeye), about 90 percent; and David Livingston (R-Peoria), about 91 percent.

Of note, all of Gowan’s 32 contributions came from outside of his district — 28 came from Maricopa County. Additionally, $5,000 of Gowan’s $8,950 non-lobbyist contributions came from Phoenix Coyotes owner Alex Merulo.

Butler received over $10,000 from the Tucson branch of one of the largest labor unions in the country: the United Food and Commercial Workers (UCFW). Her PAC contributions totaled $13,000, and $150 of her individual contributions were from lobbyists. There were several inactive lobbyist donors among the individual contributions totaling $250. In all, Butler’s total contributions were over $13,700.

Wilmeth’s ten non-lobbyist donors included three inactive lobbyists and one wife of an inactive lobbyist. 

Five legislators sampled reportedly received less than 10 percent of funds from PACs and lobbyists: Morgan Abraham, about 4 percent; Quang Nguyen, about 7 percent; Judy Burges, about 7 percent; Amish Shah, about 7 percent; and Joseph Chaplik, about 8 percent.

There were several legislators sampled that we couldn’t review because their reports haven’t been filed yet — even though they were due well over two months ago.

State Representative Alma Hernandez (D-Tucson) still hasn’t filed her campaign finance report due April 15. Hernandez has been late consistently since her first year in office (2018), accruing $3,500 in fines altogether. Her latest campaign finance report, which she has yet to file, is 76 days late and she owed $1,675 currently — her highest single fine to date. It took Hernandez 69 extra days to file her 2021 cumulative finance report: it was due January 15, but she filed it March 25. 

Just over half of Hernandez’s individual donors from her last report, the cumulative one for 2021, were from out of state and made up the majority of those contributions: $5,980 versus the $3,920 from Arizona. Among them were several prominent figures in the Jewish community including acclaimed author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel’s son, Elisha Wiesel, as well as Broadway star Jonah Platt.

State Senator Stephanie Stahl Hamilton (D-Tucson) did file her report on time — but like Hernandez, over half of the individual contributors on her latest campaign finance report were from out of state. 

It appears that the Hernandez siblings are alike when it comes to campaign finance reports. Since the year his sister took office, Hernandez grew increasingly tardy with filing the reports. For two separate 2020 reports, he accrued over $5,100 in fines. His 2021 cumulative report was filed late by 67 days, and he was fined $1,450 for that. Both the Hernandez siblings are 76 days late on their first quarter report.

Another perennially tardy filer is State Representative César Chávez (D-Maryvale). Like Hernandez, he is 76 dates late and owes $1,675, but for his senate campaign’s first quarter report. Chávez was also late by 58 days to file his senate campaign’s 2021 cumulative report, owing $1,225. 

Similarly to Hernandez, Chávez has a history of late filings, the highest of which were 121 days late to file his 2020 pre-general election filing, 163 days late to file his 2016 pre-general election report, and 953 days late to file his 2016 first report for the fourth quarter and post-general election report.

One interesting campaign finance report came from State Senator Wendy Rogers (R-Flagstaff). The report totaled nearly 600 pages, with 586 dedicated to individual contributions alone that totaled nearly $360,000. No lobbyists could be discerned among the over 7,000 contributors, and over 1,600 of them were Arizonans. A vast majority were retired, nearly 4,500 of them, bolstered by the self-employed and small business owners.

Only one PAC donated to Rogers: the Save America PAC gave one contribution of $5,000 in January.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to

Maricopa County Transportation Tax Advances to House Floor

Maricopa County Transportation Tax Advances to House Floor

By Corinne Murdock |

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. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to