New Water Infrastructure Official Appointed to Manage $1.2 Billion For Arizona’s Water Crisis

New Water Infrastructure Official Appointed to Manage $1.2 Billion For Arizona’s Water Crisis

By Corinne Murdock |

On Monday, Arizona Senate President Karen Fann appointed Dr. Theodore Cooke, Central Arizona Project (CAP) general manager, to the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority (WIFA) Board.

In June, Governor Doug Ducey increased WIFA’s responsibility to manage a $1.2 billion appropriation to ensure the state has an adequate water supply over the next century. The increased authority came through SB1740, introduced by State Senator Sine Kerr (R-Buckeye) and backed by a bipartisan majority of all but two votes in the legislature. Current members of the WIFA Board are Misael Cabrera, Keith Watkins, Paul Gardner, Alan Baker, Kevin Rogers, Lynne Smith, Briton Baxter, Fernando Shipley, and Ray Montoya. 

The WIFA appointment comes as Arizona continues to grapple with its declining water supply.

Last year, the federal government cut back on Arizona’s largest renewable water supply, the Colorado River, when it reclassified the river to Tier One drought status. Then last month, the Interior Department announced that it would again cut back Arizona’s water allocation for next year. 

In response, Cooke and Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) stated in a joint press release that Arizona isn’t responsible for it’s water supply struggles. Rather, the two authorities indicated that other states were to blame. CAP and ADWR outlined how Arizona did its part to conserve the Colorado River system supply, such as leaving 800,000 acre-feet in Lake Mead alone this year, in addition to 37 feet of increased elevation contributed to that lake since 2014. 

“It is unacceptable for Arizona to continue to carry a disproportionate burden of reductions for the benefit of others who have not contributed,” stated the CAP and ADWR. “Discussions among the Basin States and the United States have only led to a framework relying entirely on short-term, voluntary contributions for 2023 that fall far short of the water volumes needed to protect the system.”

State officials have been exploring options to reverse Arizona’s declining water supply, such as adopting Israel’s desalination techniques.

Cooke will retire as CAP general manager in November. As a WIFA Board member, he will oversee loan and grant distributions for importing, conserving, and reusing water, as well as new technologies to improve the state’s water situation. 

Fann asserted that Cooke was the best qualified candidate to improve the state’s water security at the most affordable cost to taxpayers.

“We closely examined every applicant and determined Dr. Cooke’s wealth of knowledge and incredible industry insight make him a highly qualified person for this position,” said Fann. “He understands the very different needs of municipalities, the agriculture industry, home builders and economic developers, as well as conservation.”

Cooke expressed gratitude for the appointment.

“I will do my very best to meet the high expectations for this role in the governance of Arizona’s fiscal, infrastructure, and water resources,” said Cooke.

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

Abortion Protest Turns To Riot, Leaving “Significant Criminal Damage”

Abortion Protest Turns To Riot, Leaving “Significant Criminal Damage”

By Terri Jo Neff |

The reactions to Friday night’s initially peaceful protest at the State Capitol which was turned into a melee by agitators eerily echo the response to the January 6, 2021 events in Washington DC, only this time the political shoes are on different feet.  

Many Republicans back in 2021 urged Americans to not paint all attendees at protests and rallies across Washington DC on Jan. 6 as criminals. In fact, less than 2,000 of the estimated 40,000 who gathered in the city that day have ever been investigated or charged for engaging in criminal conduct. 

Yet some leaders of the Democratic Party have sought since then to paint anyone who attended a “J6” protest or rally as domestic terrorists.

Their tune has changed, however, at least as it relates to Friday night’s gathering of what an Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman said was 7,000 to 8,000 people present to protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade.

Among those who promoted the protest was Raquel Teran, the chair of the Arizona Democratic Party and a LD30 state representative. Teran tweeted a flyer which called on those who opposed the SCOTUS ruling to show up at the Capitol on Friday at 7 p.m. 

The same event was publicized by a group going by the name RadicalWomenPHX which advised those attending to use a Sharpie to write the group’s arrest hotline on their arms “as an extra safety precaution” if the protest went “sideways.”

Teran is another Arizona Democrat who does not shy away from calling on supporters to “fight” in the streets, despite national Democrats who continue to blame former President Donald Trump’s call for supporters to fight election fraud as the cause of the incursion into the U.S. Capitol in 2021. 

Twenty-four hours later, Teran had not tweeted any condemnation of those seen in multiple videos attempting to kick in doors at the Senate Building. Or those belonging to what an Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesperson called “splinter groups” who turned the initially peaceful protest into “anarchical and criminal actions.”

According to Graves, when some of the attendees realized the Arizona Legislature was in session, “they attempted to breach the doors of the Arizona Senate and force their way into the building. The violence of their efforts literally shook the building and terrified citizens and law makers who occupied the building.”

At one point some of the glass doors of the Senate building bowed from the attempts of forced entry, which Graves said triggered security and law enforcement officials to instruct everyone inside the building to move to secure locations.

“Due to the direct threat to the occupants of the Senate building and damage to the building itself, Arizona State Troopers took immediate action and utilized tactics including the deployment of field force teams and tear gas,” Graves noted.

On Saturday, Senate President Karen Fann tweeted a short video recorded by Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita from inside the Senate building. The video shows protestors outside the building, which has several glass doors and windows on the ground floor.

In her tweet, Fann described the crowd as an “insurrection” but the DPS statement makes clear no one unlawfully entered any of the Capitol buildings. In fact, the video taken by Ugenti-Rita shows most of the large crowd of protestors yelling and carrying signs. Only a handful of  agitators are seen pounding on the windows and kicking at the glass doors. 

There were also false social media reports about educators “invading” the Arizona Senate as part of the protests, which Fann quickly refuted. She noted the educators seen in photos wearing Red for Ed shirts on the Senate floor were guests seated in the gallery and then brought to the floor in an effort to get them to safety along with Senators and staff.

Ugenti-Rita tweeted a second video taken later on Friday night when a DPS tactical team was deployed inside the Senate building. By then many of the protestors and rioters had left the area after tear gas was fired at the unruly crowd. .

Sen. T.J. Shope supported the decision by DPS command to utilize tear gas when the crowd failed to stop the attack on the building.

However, the situation at the Senate building was not the only one which triggered a law enforcement response in the area.  

“As the riotous behavior at the Legislature was taking place, concurrent and spillover criminal misconduct in the form of felony criminal damage and the defacing of state memorials was occurring in Wesley Bolin Plaza,” Graves said.

The response of troopers and other law enforcement officers was complicated by the fact some people had brought children to the protest which turned into unlawful assembly, according to Graves.  

“After multiple warnings, and notifications of trespass and unlawful assembly, state troopers deployed gas and strategically moved to clear the plaza,” Graves said, adding that as rioters were cleared from one area they damaged state property in the next area. Those properties and publicly funded memorials which suffered what Graves called “significant criminal damage” include:

  • Arizona Law Enforcement Canine Memorial
  • Arizona Peace Officers Memorial
  • Lt. Frank Luke Jr. Memorial
  • Korean War Memorial
  • Operation Enduring Freedom Memorial
  • Wesley Bolin Memorial Amphitheatre
  • 158th Regimental Memorial

Estimates for the cost of cleaning and repairing the damage is not yet available. DPS released no information about any arrests which may have been made in connection with the damage, but among those calling for prosecution of those who marred the various memorials is Republican gubernatorial candidate Karrin Taylor Robson, who shared several photos taken by Sen. Kelly Townsend the morning after.

Senate President: Maricopa County Election Officials Had USPS Destroy Live Ballots

Senate President: Maricopa County Election Officials Had USPS Destroy Live Ballots

By Corinne Murdock |

On Thursday, State Senate President Karen Fann (R-Prescott) revealed that Maricopa County election officials ordered postal workers to destroy live ballots that were undeliverable. Fann noted that those ballots were vulnerable because they weren’t destroyed immediately. Fann also insisted that there were over 700,000 ballots that didn’t have proper chain of custody documentation. Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer dismissed Fann’s claim in a statement to AZ Free News, explaining that the ballots in question weren’t live ballots and that, upon being discovered as undeliverable, the barcode on each ballot in question is canceled and therefore unusable.

Maricopa County Election officials claimed they could account for every ballot delivered to the election departments. Fann refuted that claim. Instead, she claimed that there were ballots returned to the post office because they were undeliverable, and the election officials ordered them to be destroyed because they weren’t “needed.”

“Those ballots never went back to the election department, they never went back to run back,” said Fann. “Those were still live ballots that anybody could’ve tampered with until such time that the post office destroyed them. Why were we allowing that to happen?”

Fann said that there were investigations underway to determine the legality of allowing the postal office to destroy live ballots on their own time. 

These remarks were conferred in an interview with “Conservative Circus,” where Fann asserted that Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s interim report of the 2020 election was only “scratching the surface,” and that more would come to light. Fann confirmed that Brnovich’s report discovered exactly what she expected they’d find. She ascribed Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and mainstream media’s negative, “apoplectic” reactions to the report, as described by host James T. Harris, as fear over full exposure of the mass cover-up of problems in the 2020 election.

“It’s still a cover-up. I don’t say that lightly,” said Fann. “We’re finally being validated that, yes, in fact there are problems with our elections system here in Maricopa County.” 

AZ Free News reached out to Richer about Fann’s claims. Richer reiterated the county’s promise that they could account for every one of those undelivered ballots, and that none of the canceled ballots were voted on. He asserted that Fann was misconstruing a normal partnership between elections offices and post offices.

“Karen Fann is again distorting the truth to fit her narrative. Since 2015, Maricopa County has used an ‘Electronic Service Requested’ endorsement on election mail. We have a contract in place for the United States Postal Service to provide the Elections Department with an electronic file on each mail piece so the office can expedite address checks as required by law. Ballots returned through the Electronic Service Requested process are not ‘live ballots’ as Karen Fann stated. Each early ballot has a unique barcode that cannot be replicated. The barcode on each returned packet is canceled and the ballot can no longer be used to cast a vote,” responded Richer. “The fact is, the United States Postal Service is a government agency tasked with the safe handling of billions of pieces of mail, including the secure destruction of undeliverable election mail. This process is used by Elections Departments nationwide. Maricopa County has a record of every mail piece returned through this process as well as every ballot returned by voters. Our system shows that no attempt has ever been made to cast one of these canceled ballots.”

Brnovich’s report explained that his Election Integrity Unit (EIU) discovered instances of election fraud, but that their review is ongoing and therefore limited to further disclosures on that subject. The attorney general summarized that there were system-wide issues with early ballot handling and verification, calling the signature verification system “insufficient” against preventing fraud. One example noted that well over 206,600 early ballot affidavit signatures were verified in an average of 4.6 seconds per signature. Brnovich also revealed that about 20 percent of early ballots were improperly transported from drop locations to election headquarters. 

“We have reached the conclusion that the 2020 election in Maricopa County revealed serious vulnerabilities that must be addressed and raises questions about the 2020 election in Arizona,” said Brnovich. 

Fann lamented that several Republican colleagues joined Democrats to kill several election integrity bills this session. She said that the problems highlighted by Brnovich’s report were only several of the problems that would be found pending further investigations. Fann didn’t name the “one or two Republicans” that prevented key election reform legislation from passing, but our reporting indicates that she was likely referring to State Senators Paul Boyer (R-Glendale) or Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale). 

“This is why it is so important we do not ease up on this,” said Fann. “We know where the problems are, so why aren’t we securing that so that the problems don’t happen again? That’s all there is to it.”

Fann called it “frustrating” that the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors pushed back against any scrutiny of their elections. She also called out County Recorder Stephen Richer for falling short of his campaign promises, in which he pledged to right the wrongs of former recorder Adrian Fontes. Fann added that Richer’s public remarks about how their county ran the 2020 election perfectly contradicted an email she brought to the “Conservative Circus” interview, in which Richer said there were “plenty of instances of actual prosecuted and convicted election fraud violations.”

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

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Strikes Down Prop 208

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Strikes Down Prop 208

By Terri Jo Neff |

Several Arizona legislators along with the Free Enterprise Club and the Goldwater Institute are celebrating a major court victory for Arizona taxpayers after a Maricopa County Superior Court judge struck down the largest tax hike in state history on Friday.

Judge John Hannah’s ruling bars enforcement of Proposition 208, which imposed a significant income tax surcharge on small-business owners and individuals making over $250,000 a year. Prop 208, also called the Invest in Education Act, was narrowly passed by voters in November 2020 and was immediately challenged in court on multiple grounds, including a conflict with Arizona’s Constitution.

Governor Doug Ducey called Hannah’s ruling “a win for Arizona taxpayers,” adding that it is marks “another step in undoing the damage of Prop 208 and making sure we continue to benefit from having the lowest flat income tax rate in the nation.”

The Goldwater Institute-sponsored lawsuit was filed in February 2021 on behalf of numerous taxpayers, small business owners, and legislators. Last summer, the Arizona Supreme Court agreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that the surcharge taxes from Prop 208 were considered “local revenues” subject to spending limits under the state’s Constitution.
The Justices sent the case back Hannah for a determination of whether Prop 208’s Local Revenues Provision runs afoul of the Constitution’s Education Expenditure Clause by violating that limitation. In a decision today, the judge agreed that Proposition 208 violated the Constitution.

“This Court understands the remand order as a direction to declare Proposition 208 unconstitutional in its entirety, and to enjoin its operation permanently, if the Court finds as a fact that the annual education spending limits imposed by the Arizona Constitution will prevent Arizona’s public schools from spending a ‘material’ amount of Proposition 208 tax revenue in 2023,” Hannah wrote in his ruling. “On that basis, the Court is obligated to strike down Proposition 208.”

Reaction to the ruling came swiftly, despite a possibility the Justices may be asked by the losing parties to review Hannah’s order later this year.

“While we expect the ruling may be appealed, we are confident the Arizona Supreme Court will find 208 unconstitutional, as they did last year. Arizona is – and will remain – a state that knows how to prioritize education while keeping taxes low and attracting jobs,” Gov. Ducey said.

Senate President Karen Fann, one of the plaintiffs, called Friday’s ruling “a major victory” against an initiative she said misled voters by trying to get the tax-and-spend hike around the Constitution.

“Out-of-state special interests tried to deceive our voters,” Fann said after Hannah released his ruling. “We are thrilled that this job-killing tax hike won’t go into effect.”

Many attributed the success of the lawsuit to the work of the Goldwater Institute which pointed out concerns with Prop 208’s constitutionality well before Election Day in 2020.

“Today’s decision puts a nail in the coffin of the unconstitutional, job-killing Proposition 208, and it cements Arizona’s position as the national leader in lower taxes and building a stronger economy,” said Victor Riches, President and CEO of the Goldwater Institute.

Four Senate Republicans Join Dems To Kill Ban On Local Government Lobbyist Reliance

Four Senate Republicans Join Dems To Kill Ban On Local Government Lobbyist Reliance

By Corinne Murdock |

The Arizona Senate kicked off their Monday with a show of bipartisanship. Four Senate Republicans joined their Democratic colleagues in voting against a bill to prohibit local governments from using lobbyists: State Senators Paul Boyer (R-Glendale), Tyler Pace (R-Mesa), T.J. Shope (R-Phoenix), and Senate President Karen Fann (R-Prescott). The bill from State Senator Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert), SB1198, failed 12-17. 

The four senators didn’t explain their “no” vote; neither did the Democrats. The bill would’ve prevented counties, cities, towns, school districts, and any other political subdivisions from contracting with or spending money on lobbying services, with exemptions for employees of that local government entity, cities or towns with less than 75,000 citizens, or counties with less than 250,000 citizens.

Peterson explained during the Senate Government Committee that the end of lobbying at the state level several years ago allowed for a “greater balance” between citizens and the state government. 

A spokesman for Apache County, Greenlee County, Scottsdale, and Prescott said that the bill was a good idea philosophically but would result in higher costs for the cities and counties. He said that the local governments would have to hire full-time employees to fulfill duties normally filled by lobbyists contracted at lower costs. 

The League of Arizona Cities and Towns also opposed the bill. Their spokesman explained that their lobbyists alleviated the burdens of keeping up with the legislature for elected officials.

The Goldwater Institute National Litigation Director Jon Riches said the bill prevented taxpayer dollars from being spent on services that further government interests while ignoring the taxpayer.

“Tax dollars should not go to support status quo special interests at the expense of taxpayers, small businesses, and citizens who might not be able to afford a team of well-funded lobbyists, including lobbyists who often advocate against those taxpayers’ interests,” said Riches.

Arizona Free Enterprise Club Vice President Aimee Yentes concurred with Riches’ statement, insisting that it’s elected officials’ duty to take on the responsibilities that they pass on to lobbyists. Yentes is also a member of the Gilbert Town Council.

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