State offices see changes
Prop. 127 issue divided commission candidates
PHOENIX — Arizonans did more than choose who they want for governor on Tuesday. They also made their selections for a variety of other offices as Democrats sought to break the stranglehold that Republicans have now had for years on statewide offices.
And while the proponents of Proposition 127 could not get voters to approve it, the fallout — and spending — from the issue affected several statewide races.
Secretary of State
Political newcomer Steve Gaynor got the bid to be the Republican nominee after he knocked off incumbent Michele Reagan in the primary, capitalizing on a series of missteps she made in running prior elections. But Reagan’s shadow was there in the general election against Democratic lawmaker Katie Hobbs as both promised to do a better job than their predecessor.
But they had differing views on how hard — or easy — it should be to vote.
Gaynor caused a bit of a stir with his comments early on that ballots should be printed only in English.
He conceded that would require overturning a key provision of the federal Voting Rights Act which requires counties and cities to provide election materials in other languages when there are significant numbers of voters for whom English is not their first language. Hobbs jumped on that to suggest Gaynor was seeking ways to suppress minority voting.
They also differed on the wisdom of the state’s 2016 law which makes it a felony to take someone else’s early ballot to polling places.
That law has exceptions for family members and caregivers. But Hobbs said that, too, makes it more difficult for some people to cast their ballots.
Gaynor sided with the Republicans who approved the law amid claims that allowing outsiders to handle ballots creates an opportunity for fraud.
The subject of “dark money” also arose this year as it did four years ago when Reagan, seeking election, vowed to seek greater disclosure of who is contributing to nonprofit “social welfare” organizations that run commercials for or against candidates and issues.
Reagan abandoned that position after her election. But the issue remained with Gaynor arguing there is a First Amendment right of these groups to refuse to disclose donors while Hobbs wants to overturn laws approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature that shield donors’ identity.
Incumbent Mark Brnovich won what should have been a race about who would be the best lawyer for the state which ultimately devolved into a mudfest of charges of corruption.
It started with Brnovich exercising his right to make changes in how various measures are described to voters on the ballot.
In the case of Proposition 127, Brnovich ratified and defended decisions by subordinates to add language that approval of the ballot measure to mandate half of energy be generated from renewable sources by 2030 would occur “irrespective of cost” to consumers.
Prop 127 organizers said that wording was designed to convince people to oppose the measure.
More to the point, they charged it was done to benefit Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest electric utility, which has been the key foe of the initiative. And it didn’t help that the “irrespective of cost” verbiage showed up within days on commercials financed by APS.
That led to more than $4.2 million of commercials financed by Prop 127 organizers. While some praised Democrat January Contreras, others said Brnovich was “corrupt” and had essentially been bought off by APS which had given $450,000 to the Republican Attorneys General Association which supported his 2014 campaign and has been buying its own commercials this year attacking Democrat January Contreras.
Those RAGA-funded commercials, in turn, accuse Contreras of being in the pocket of California billionaire Tom Steyer who is the prime financier behind Proposition 127.
It wasn’t just RAGA piling on with its $1.2 million to help Brnovich this year, with the state Republican Party financing its own commercials charging that Contreras, while health policy adviser to then-Gov. Janet Napolitano, ignored problems of patient neglect at the state veterans’ home.
Arizona Corporation Commission
The spat over Proposition 127 spilled over into the race for who should serve on the panel that regulates utility rates in the state.
Republican Justin Olson, appointed last year to the panel, was seeking a full four-year term of his own. He was running as a team with attorney Rodney Glassman after Glassman defeated incumbent Tom Forese.
Both were opposed to the initiative to mandate half of electricity be generated from renewable sources by 2030, saying the standards should be left to the commission.
On the Democratic side were Kiana Sears and Sandra Kennedy, the latter having been on the commission years ago. Both supported the ballot measure, pointing out that regulators have had years to update the current renewable energy mandate — 15 percent by 2025 — but have not done so.
That support for the new standard provided important financial help to the Democrats, both of whom had decided not to take outside donations but instead each rely on $271,000 in public financing. That decision, though, did not bar Chispa Arizona, an arm of the League of Conservation Voters, from spending $3.7 million on its own to help secure the election.
The issues in this race went beyond the renewable energy mandate.
A commission-approved rate hike for Arizona Public Service is now back before the panel amid questions from customers that their new bills are much higher than the utility claimed their would be. And Olson took pains to point out he wasn’t on the commission when the rate hike was approved.
Superintendent of Public Instruction
Incumbent Diane Douglas found herself out of the running after Frank Riggs, a former California congressman, won the Republican primary. That set the stage for him to face off against Democrat Kathy Hoffman, a speech therapist in the Peoria school system who won her party’s primary.
In many ways, they agreed on some common points.
Both sought greater oversight of charter schools which are private operations that technically are public schools. Riggs in particular said Arizona should no longer allow these to be for-profit operations.
They also opposed Proposition 305, the measure to ratify the legislative decision to expand who is eligible for vouchers of public funds for private and parochial schools. But Riggs said he could support an expanded program if priority was given to low-income families; Hoffman said there would be less demand for vouchers if the state properly funded its public school system but said she would not eliminate the existing vouchers available to certain students.
Riggs, however, said he opposed a plan — no longer on the ballot — to raise income taxes on the state’s most wealthy to fund education. Hoffman said the state’s schools needed the $690 million that would have raised.
Hoffman also supported the Red for Ed movement and the strike earlier this year by teachers, saying that was necessary to get public attention for the fact that state aid for education has not kept pace with inflation. Riggs said while the movement had admirable goals it quickly became coopted as a way of supporting Democrats.
Republican State Sen. Yee apparently won the race for treasurer against Democrat Mark Manoil.
Yee campaigned on her experience in state government while Manoil, whose only other previous political outing was a losing bid for Corporation Commission, touted his background as “a small business owner focused on enforcing property laws.”
But Yee turned that around on him, pointing out that his business involves buying up properties whose owners have not paid their taxes. That, she argued, meant he was responsible for evicting families who had fallen on hard time.
Manoil countered that the vast majority of his business involves scooping up properties that had been bought by speculators and were often abandoned.
Yee also capitalized on Manoil’s own financial issues, like loss of a home to foreclosure and repossession of a vehicle, saying he should not be put in charge of an agency that manages $15 billion in funds.
Manoil said he learned from his mistakes.
He also promoted having the state partner with rural banks to make more credit available in small communities, a concept Yee dismissed as “socialized banking.”