Republican state legislators representing Scottsdale condemned a local superintendent for racist remarks that recently made national headlines. Scott Menzel, the Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) superintendent, called the white race “problematic.”
Republicans representing District 3 — State Reps. Joseph Chaplik and Alex Kolodin, along with State Sen. John Kavanagh — urged Menzel to issue an apology and resign.
“The racist words and sentiments Menzel publicly expressed have no place in Scottsdale schools,” stated the trio. “Menzel’s racist views not only compromise his ability to lead, but he has made himself the center of a controversial spotlight that will only distract from learning.”
The three legislators also asked the SUSD Governing Board to remove Menzel. They noted that SUSD has faced mounting criticism in recent years over its incorporation of various progressive ideologies, such as on gender and race.
Menzel issued the remarks in a 2019 interview while working as a superintendent in Michigan. He said that white people, including children, needed to feel uncomfortable about themselves due to their race. Menzel further claimed that meritocracy was a myth.
“[W]hite people have racial identity as well, and in fact problematic racial identity that we typically avoid,” said Menzel. “[White people] should feel really, really uncomfortable, because we perpetuate a system by ignoring the realities in front of us, and living in a mythological reality.”
Menzel went on to celebrate public chaos as an opportunity for social reform.
“[White supremacy is] in the very fabric of the way this country was established, and we’ve never righted the wrongs of the genocide of the indigenous population, and the enslavement of a population from Africa on which the wealth of this country was built,” said Menzel.
At the time of the 2019 interview, Menzel had received numerous awards, honors, and recognitions for his leadership, and was a frequent featured panelist and guest speaker for local and state events. During the Obama administration, the White House named Menzel a YMCA Champion of Change in 2013. The next year, the Michigan Department of Education named Menzel to their advisory council on early childhood education.
SUSD hasn’t addressed this latest controversy from Menzel.
Under Menzel’s leadership the divide between parents and the district has only grown. Last year, the district adopted a controversial policy in which they posted the names of individuals submitting records requests, yet they would redact staff members’ names in response to those requests.
Menzel has also defended staff members that discussed gender ideology with kindergarten and elementary students without parental knowledge. He claimed those parents opposed to these discussions were in violation of Civil Rights law, insisting that the staff member in question was attacked because of her identity. Menzel further informed parents that the district wouldn’t punish employees over such behavior.
“To target an individual publicly for their personal identity — in this case the individual against whom this complaint was filed does not identify as either male or female — is overt discrimination and inconsistent with state and federal law as well as school district policy,” said Menzel.
In a separate incident in 2021, Menzel admonished parents and community members opposed to clubs focusing on children’s gender and sexuality. Menzel called them bullies.
Last April, SUSD’s social justice professionals promoted a drag queen storytime.
As the Arizona Daily Independent reported recently, the district falsely denied the existence of an official transgender support plan for nearly a year. The support plan, labeled “Confidential” by the district, noted that caregivers should be included in the completion of the document — not “must.” The district also considered ways to implement a gender support plan if the student’s parents or guardians weren’t supportive of such a plan.
In a 2015 equity panel hosted by Menzel’s former employer, Menzel proposed a “cradle to career education continuum” that resembled the controversial “cradle to grave” approach proposed by former President Barack Obama for lifelong government involvement.
The district only went so far as to remove the former board president, Jann-Michael Greenburg, from presidency after the 2021 discovery of his involvement in a dossier on parents and alleged political enemies within the district. Court cases concerning this dossier are ongoing.
On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and 10 media companies and nonprofits sued the state over its new ban on recording police within 8 feet. The groups argued in their lawsuit that the ban violates the constitutional rights to free speech and a free press.
The law, HB2319, requires observers to obtain an officer’s permission in order to film within that distance while officers are questioning, arresting, or handling disruptive or otherwise abnormal behavior. If not, the filmer may be charged with a misdemeanor.
However, individuals personally approached or stopped by police may record within 8 feet — so long as they’re not being searched, arrested, or tested for sobriety — as well as bystanders in an enclosed structure of private property where the law enforcement activity is taking place, so long as officers don’t ask the bystander to leave.
The organizations filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Arizona. Those named in the suit were Attorney General Mark Brnovich, Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell, and Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone. A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office told AP News on Tuesday afternoon that they hadn’t received the complaint, and therefore couldn’t comment.
Media companies joining the ACLU in the lawsuit are: Phoenix Newspapers (Arizona Republic); Gray Media Group (AZFamily and KOLD); Scripps Media (ABC15 Arizona, CW61 Arizona, KGUN9, CW Tucson); KPNX-TV (12News); Fox Television Stations (Fox 10 Phoenix, Tucson News Now, Your TV Family); NBCUniversal Media (NBC News, MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo Arizona); Arizona Broadcasters Association; States Newsroom (Arizona Mirror); Arizona Newspapers Association (represents 84 newspapers); and the National Press Photographers Association.
The plaintiffs recounted in the lawsuit how their lobbying efforts to defeat HB2319 failed in the past legislative session.
The lawmaker who came up with HB2319 was State Representative John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills), a former New York Police Department (NYPD) officer. In a March opinion piece defending the ban, Kavanagh explained that individuals filming within 8 feet of an officer posed a potential danger to active investigations and arrests.
“Police officers have no way of knowing whether the person approaching is an innocent bystander or an accomplice of the person they’re arresting who might assault them,” wrote Kavanagh. “Consequently, officers become distracted and while turning away from the subject of the encounter, the officers could be assaulted by that subject or that subject could discard evidence or even escape.”
Kavanagh introduced the bill in response to requests from Tucson police officers who experienced bystanders videotaping as close as one foot behind them, even during arrests.
Governor Doug Ducey signed Kavanagh’s bill into law last month. The ban goes into effect on September 24.
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.
On Monday, the Senate approved legislation protecting the First Amendment rights of homeowners in the face of attempted restrictions from condominium unit owner’s associations (COA) or homeowner’s associations (HOA).
HB2158 protects a homeowner’s ability to display association-specific political signage, assemble peaceably in common areas, post notices about assemblies, and invite a political candidate or guest to speak at an assembly. The bill now heads to the governor for final approval.
The Senate passed the bill without any remarks, done so unanimously as did the House last month.
Specifically, HB2158 would bar COAs and HOAs from prohibiting or limiting association-specific political signage during distribution of ballots until three days after the election, as well as regulating the manufacture of the signage.
Both the Arizona House and Senate passed bills this week to supply hundreds of millions for Arizona to finish construction on its portion of the border wall.
On Wednesday, the Arizona House passed along party lines State Senator Wendy Rogers’ (R-Flagstaff) SB1032, appropriating $700 million. Rogers estimated during the Senate Appropriations Committee that the amount would cover the approximately 17 miles of construction that remains.
“This is our chance to continue to protect ourselves because we aren’t having this built by the federal government and since we have purview over approximately 17 miles of the wall, this money would be appropriated to build that,” said Rogers.
Then on Thursday, the Arizona House passed its version, HB2317, along party lines on Thursday. State Representative John Kavanagh’s (R-Fountain Hills) bill appropriates $150 million in 2023 to finish the border wall. Kavanagh relayed during the House Appropriations Committee hearing some data given to him by Border Patrol: the number of crossings reportedly quadrupled over the last year.
“The border is in chaos and it’s out of control. The Border Patrol, besides needing more personnel, would be helped by some physical barriers which do in fact stop crossers, or at least funnel them, making the area that needs to be patrolled smaller,” said Kavanagh. “I think it’s a reasonable investment in Arizona’s security and safety.”
Passage of the bill comes weeks after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) projected that the border crisis would only worsen this year. This prediction concurred with the latest data on border crossings from Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
According to a report from AZ Free News this week, border patrol encountered almost 154,000 illegal immigrants crossing the border in January — the highest in over 20 years — with a low estimate of over 504,600 “gotaways” since President Joe Biden took office.