Archives for category: Arizona

The Arizona Republic conducted an intensive investigation of the effort by the Trump campaign and discovered some fascinating details.

Rusty Bowers was talking on his cellphone to Karen Fann after church services on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, looking ahead to another hectic week.

It was Nov. 22, 2020. The counting was done and Joe Biden led Donald Trump by a razor-thin margin, but the presidential election results in Arizona still had not been certified.

The state’s House speaker and Senate president have a bond that stretches back decades, forged by family friendships. This time, the two Republicans conferred about something that surprised them both.

Fann told Bowers that the president’s allies had called her repeatedly. They wanted to get her involved in a plan to help deliver an election result more to his liking.

By then, it was clear to most that Trump had lost his reelection bid for the White House and that Arizona had helped elect Biden.

Seconds after Bowers hung up with Fann, and while he still sat parked in his driveway in the driver’s seat of his Toyota Prius, the dashboard on his car lit up.

Bowers had a phone call. It was the White House.

Trump and Giuliani wanted Bowers to help ensure President-elect Biden’s 10,457-vote win in Arizona would not be formalized a week later. They told him “there’s a way we could help the president” and Arizona had a “unique law” that allowed the Legislature to choose its electors, rather than voters, he recalled.

“That’s the first I’ve heard of that one,” a skeptical Bowers told them. He told the men he needed proof to back up their claims: “I don’t make these kinds of decisions just willy-nilly. You’ve got to talk to my lawyers. And I’ve got some good lawyers.”

Bowers told them he supported Trump, voted for Trump and campaigned for him, too. What he would not do is break the law for him.

“You are giving me nothing but conjecture and asking me to break my oath and commit to doing something I cannot do because I swore I wouldn’t. I will follow the Constitution,” he told the men.

Trump, who was gregarious throughout much of the call but quiet during that exchange, told Bowers he understood.

Trump told Bowers, “We’re just trying to investigate.”

Giuliani repeatedly assured Bowers he would send the evidence to attorneys at the state House of Representatives.

The evidence never arrived, Bowers told The Arizona Republic.

But Fann proceeded with the ballot review Trump wanted.

Why did this scene unfold in Arizona?

This is how Arizona plunged into a fog of conspiracies, riven with partisanship and targeted by opportunists from across the country.

Trump led the effort to undermine the results after some projected Arizona to slip to Democrat Joe Biden.

The state was one of two targeted by congressional Republicans on Jan. 6 who were willing to disenfranchise millions of voters in a brash legal experiment that would have redefined the election-certification process.

And even before Trump left the White House, Fann put in motion a ballot review.

Of the swing states, Arizona perhaps was the most susceptible to an election challenge.

Biden’s margin of victory in Arizona was the smallest of any state he won. State government was in Republican hands, providing plenty of potential allies, from the governor to the leaders of the state Legislature to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

Trump, who viewed the focus on Russian interference in the 2016 election as an effort to delegitimize his victory, now heaped doubt on Biden’s win. But Trump’s loyal base didn’t see how tenuous his hold on Arizona had grown. While Trump evinced confidence at rallies, behind the scenes his campaign team knew the state was up for grabs.

Trump’s push to challenge the election results in Arizona provided balm for a man unwilling to accept defeat. It also sowed lingering doubt that would fuel an attack from people all over the country on the state’s election systems.

Many Republicans quickly joined Trump’s unfounded accusations of fraud, some more forcefully than others. A few, such as Bowers and Gov. Doug Ducey, resisted the public and political pressure to get behind the narrative of a stolen election.

One Arizona member of Congress participated in protests outside Maricopa County’s election facilities even as ballots were being counted; three GOP members of Congress from Arizona later voted to set aside the state’s election results.

The circuslike atmosphere drew Trump die-hards, election conspiracy theorists and far-right media that simultaneously created buzz and fed off it.

It raised cash for Republicans and doubts for voters, threatening public confidence in elections here and elsewhere.

Interviews with dozens of people connected with the drama at the Arizona Legislature and the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, where the ballots were examined for months, make this much clear: The spectacle that unfolded here was a partisan obsession pushed by Trump’s close allies and made possible by just a handful of people in Arizona.

It didn’t have to happen this way.

Before Fann ordered the ballot review, for several days in December, Bowers, Fann and the Republican chair of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, Clint Hickman, tried to reach a deal for a joint audit conducted by an accredited firm.

Over four months, The Republic examined a trove of text messages, emails and court records, many made public after suing the state for access. Reporters spoke to decision-makers, consultants, staff, contractors, campaign aides and others tied to the review of the presidential and U.S. Senate races. Some talked on the record about their experiences, while others spoke on the condition they not be identified in order to speak candidly about private conversations.

The Republic uncovered efforts to circumvent the popular vote to engineer an illegitimate Trump victory. Once the results were certified, Trump and his allies shifted to a campaign to pressure local Republicans to overturn election results from voters who were using an early ballot system largely shaped over decades by their own party.

Trump, Giuliani, Fann and others who helped bring about the ballot review did not respond to repeated requests to discuss their recollections of the events leading to the review.

Bowers shared his story for the first time over three interviews totaling nearly six hours. The interviews took place by phone, in his office suite, and on the patio of a Cracker Barrel in the East Valley, where he verified key dates from his red leather-bound journal.

Like most of Arizona, the speaker watched the scenes unfold from the periphery as Fann steered the Senate into a probe led by the Florida-based Cyber Ninjas, a company with no prior experience in election reviews that is run by a man who publicly stated the election was tainted by fraud.

Fann has not yet explained her U-turn from favoring an accredited audit to authorizing a review led by partisans. Those who know her and did speak said she sought to quell Republican anger over Trump’s loss and could not resist the pressure campaign from his allies.

Early on, Bowers remembered offering her a stark assessment: Some of Trump’s most ardent supporters in the GOP-controlled Legislature viewed Trump’s election grievances as political opportunity.

“Karen, this is about trophies,” he said he told her. “This is about trophies on the wall — that individual members want to be able to say, ‘I forced them to do this.’”

Before the Veterans Memorial Coliseum became the proving ground for conservative conspiracies, it was the location of a rally at perhaps the high-water mark of Trump’s presidency.

The economy was in the final days of the longest expansion in U.S. history. Coronavirus seemed like a foreign problem in a faraway land. Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont who described himself as a democratic socialist, had won the New Hampshire primary the week before. Biden finished fifth.

Trump’s approval rating was inching upward after his acquittal in his first impeachment trial.

So it was on Feb. 19, 2020, when Trump strode onstage to a near-capacity crowd at the coliseum. Like most of his campaign events, it seemed to mix the noise of a rock concert, the passion of a religious revival and the sideshow elements of a carnival.

Two supporters carried Ervin Julian, a 100-year-old World War II veteran, down the coliseum’s steep stairs to a front-row seat on stage behind Trump and in front of the boisterous crowd. 

One of the men carrying Julian wore a shirt that said “We are Q” on the front and “17 WWG1WGA” on the back. It is a phrase adopted by the QAnon conspiracy movement that stands for “Where We Go 1 We Go All.”

One by one, Ducey, all four of the state’s Republicans in Congress, Fann, Bowers and Kelli Ward, the state Republican Party chairwoman, took the stage as Trump praised the state’s GOP team.

“With your help, we are going to defeat the radical socialist Democrats,” Trump said early on. “We have the best economy, the most-prosperous country that we’ve ever had and the most powerful military anywhere in the world.”

Trump’s 82-minute, triumphal speech left his supporters delighted and his campaign confident that he was well positioned to again win a state he had narrowly carried in 2016, when he defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton by 91,234 votes.

Trump’s victory that year extended Arizona’s run of wins for Republicans in presidential races. The GOP won 16 of 17 presidential contests in the state beginning in 1952.

Trump’s electrifying optimism, shared by thousands of his supporters inside the coliseum, seemed rooted in political inevitability. In hindsight, Trump’s prospects began dimming almost immediately after that rally.

Less than a month after Trump’s speech, Biden took control of his party’s nomination, pitting Trump against the candidate best positioned to win Arizona and the one Trump worried about most. The coronavirus soon exploded into a pandemic that locked Americans inside their homes, upended the political agenda and brought a sudden end to a decade-long run of economic growth.

The state’s presidential preference election on March 17 and the rapidly worsening health crisis raised the first real concerns about voting and election management in Arizona, and they largely came from Democrats.  

By then, COVID-19 was beginning to spark fear across the country, and the White House had called for a 15-day national quarantine to halt the virus. Democrats moved their final presidential debate to Washington, D.C., from Phoenix because of the widening crisis.

Sinema sent Hobbs a link to a Twitter post by a political website that said polling sites could be hazardous during a pandemic. At the time, little was known about the virus and its spread. Some feared shared items, such as pens, could help spread the coronavirus.

“File a request to the Az Supreme Court ASAP asking you (to) postpone,” Sinema texted. “This is what Ohio just … Did. You can file a special action right now.”  

“Who is this,” Hobbs responded in a text.

“Kyrsten. I would file a special action NOW. We do not want to be the state that violated the 15 day effort to stop the virus. The governor has been very slow to move on every precaution. That is his choice, I guess. But you do not have to be like that. You can do what needs to be done. I am going to say the election should be postponed publicly very soon.”

Hobbs responded, “Understood.”

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, a Democrat, wanted to mail ballots to every voter in the primary because of the coronavirus. 

Neither change happened, but for Republicans, who didn’t have a primary election, both ideas raised concerns about voting.

The GOP-dominated Maricopa County Board of Supervisors had taken greater responsibility for management from Fontes in 2019, especially on Election Day operations and emergency issues. But the state’s far-right figures didn’t view board members as reliable allies if there was to be a battle over results.

Meanwhile, Trump had his own worries in Arizona. 

In May 2020, the president held a meeting in the Roosevelt Room in the White House to discuss the state of play in Arizona.

Trump was worried that Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., was losing to challenger Mark Kelly and could “drag” him down as well, those familiar with the discussion said. The president wondered whether the GOP should run someone other than the incumbent against Kelly, the well-known retired astronaut. Then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who had joined the discussion, made it clear he stood by McSally.

The GOP ticket had other worries, too.

On July 1, Vice President Mike Pence flew to Phoenix to assure the public that Arizona would have enough ventilators to manage the rising COVID-19 caseload.

Privately, Pence had other matters on his mind. 

Away from the news cameras, inside a conference room in the Lincoln J. Ragsdale Executive Terminal at the Phoenix airport, Pence asked how the campaign was preparing for November.

“What is your plan for absentee early voting? Are you guys ready for any of the changes that would come of COVID?” Pence asked, according to someone familiar with the conversation. 

People on hand told the vice president that 80% of Arizona’s electorate routinely vote by mail. It startled Pence, who was following up on concerns Trump had raised because other states, such as Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania, were expanding mail-based voting because of the pandemic.

Election officials in key 2020 swing states made significant changes to their election systems. For example, Nevada sent every registered voter a mail-in ballot for its summer primary. Several Pennsylvania counties, including those in the Democratic-heavy Philadelphia area, extended the postmark deadline for that state’s August primary. 

Pence learned Arizona has signature verification and other security provisions in place. 

Arizona Republicans assured Pence they were “comfortable” with the state’s early voting system and would “keep our eye on Adrian Fontes.”

Ducey expounded on voting in Arizona during an Aug. 5 public appearance at the White House, with Trump at his side, to discuss their management of the pandemic. Trump groused about mailing ballots to voters in Nevada. Ducey defended the widespread practice in his state.

When the cameras were gone, Trump seemed pleased with the governor’s answer. The president exuberantly asked Ducey if his state needed any additional help. 

But the August primary created more anxiety for Republicans. Democratic turnout matched the GOP’s, and after Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting, many Republicans held onto their ballots until the last moment before dropping them off at the polls.

One GOP figure said the daily mailed-in returns of Republican early votes had “fallen off a cliff.” Trump’s team on the ground in Arizona was alarmed. 

Trump always had another, unique problem in Arizona that would cost him: his feud with the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

McCain forged a bond with Arizona voters over his almost 36 years in office. He won all 11 House, Senate and presidential races he ran in the state. In 2016, McCain received more votes in Arizona than Trump did.

Trump’s broadsides against McCain, extending even after his death, didn’t matter to most Republican voters. But they did matter to some, and in a close race, it had an outsized impact.

Beginning in the early days of his presidential run in 2015 and continuing into the final months of the 2020 election, Trump attacked McCain in personal terms. 

The attacks cost Trump support among women, moderate Republicans and independent voters who respected McCain and found the attacks unpresidential.

For more than a year ahead of the election, political pollsters and experts warned that Trump was in danger of losing Arizona, in part as support eroded among these key constituencies, especially in parts of Phoenix and its suburbs where the late senator had dominated his races.

Despite the warnings, Trump kept up the attacks.

At one point, Trump personally asked Ducey to help keep the senator’s widow, Cindy McCain, neutral in the race, people familiar with the request said.

A person close to Cindy McCain said the governor never asked her to withhold an endorsement in the race. A spokesman for the governor would not characterize Ducey’s conversations with McCain, saying they were private.

Though Trump’s campaign hoped “to keep her on the sidelines,” they sensed she was “moving in the wrong direction,” someone familiar with the strategy recalled. “And that’s going to be a problem for us.”

In September, The Atlantic magazine published a story citing unnamed sources that said Trump complained when flags were lowered in observance of McCain’s death in 2018.

“What the (expletive) are we doing that for? Guy was a (expletive) loser,” Trump said, according to The Atlantic.

The president denied The Atlantic’s story, although other media outlets substantiated some of the remarks attributed to Trump.

Trump responded with a tweet saying, “Never a fan of John. Cindy can have Sleepy Joe!”

Democrats followed her announcement with an ad blitz that put her words on screens across the country, especially in Arizona.

The Arizona Republican Party later censured Cindy McCain.

In a series of Saturday video conferences from their homes in the final weeks before the election, Ducey and his team advised top staffers in Trump’s campaign to maximize their visits to the battleground state with appearances outside of Phoenix.

Trump and Pence visited eight cities other than Phoenix in the final month in an effort to build a rural firewall. 

Ducey’s team suggested Trump call into country radio shows and talk about how his policies affect their jobs, their pocketbooks and their families. 

One person familiar with the calls said Trump’s political team knew “Arizona was going to be tough.” Election workers drop ballots into a ballot dropbox at the Maricopa County Elections office at 510 S. Third Ave. in Phoenix on Oct. 16, 2020.Arizona counts its mailed-in ballots first, and fewer Republicans sent in early ballots in 2020, instead dropping them off at the polls.Thomas Hawthorne/The Republic

While Trump, Pence and their surrogates zipped in and out of Arizona to try to shore up support, Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, barely visited.

The GOP campaign rallies left Republicans fired up about their prospects — and poorly prepared for an election loss.

Hours after the polls closed on Election Day, Fox News made an aggressive, but ultimately correct, call that Biden had won Arizona. Four hours later, The Associated Press followed suit. 

Arizona was the first state projected to fall from Trump’s winning 2016 coalition, and it raised the specter of further losses in states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. All of those states, plus Georgia, eventually did flip to Biden, but it wasn’t immediately clear that would happen.

Trump responded to the quick Arizona call in an overnight news conference from the East Room of the White House that effectively gave license to his supporters to cast the election as stolen.

“This is a fraud on the American public,” Trump said at 2:30 a.m. Nov. 4 to a cheering crowd. “Frankly, we did win this election. … So our goal now is to ensure the integrity for the good of this nation.”

The president said he wanted “all voting to stop” and said his campaign would be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Instead, the Trump campaign leaned heavily on officials at Fox News, hoping to undo their Arizona projection. In the days after the quick call, Ducey’s 2018 deputy campaign manager walked conservative host Sean Hannity and two senior executives with Fox News through scenarios that indicated why the state remained within Trump’s reach. The Ducey aide gave a similar briefing to the Trump campaign.

While Trump could not fathom how periodic updates could shift the race so dramatically in Arizona, campaign insiders were long accustomed to close races and results that changed over days as ballots were counted.

Arizona counts its mailed-in ballots first, and fewer Republicans sent in early ballots in 2020, instead dropping them off at the polls. Those votes were tabulated last, after Election Day voters’ tallies.

In 2018, Sinema won her Senate seat after six days of counting. In 2016, U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., won his first primary election by 16 votes after a recount shifted only a few dozen votes over 17 days.

After the quick call for Biden in Arizona on Nov. 3, raucous protesters gathered outside the building where Maricopa County officials counted ballots.

By then, some Trump supporters suggested — falsely — that election officials provided them Sharpie pens that could bleed through their ballots and eliminate their votes. It was a conspiracy theory amplified in conservative circles, including by Eric Trump, the president’s son.

For people like Fontes and Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone, also a Democrat, it was not a moment to explain the intricacies of ballot markings; they feared violence.

Dozens of people — some clearly carrying firearms — swarmed the parking lot area outside the county’s election offices.

Mindful of the deadly clash in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, Penzone put several armed response teams inside the building and had dozens of other deputies in the area on standby “to protect the systems, the ballots, the people — everything in there.”

Fontes, the county recorder, called it a necessary response to a charged situation. At one point, the angry crowd pulled an election worker into their unprotected area.

“This person literally had to get physically wrestled away from a group of them and pulled back into the building,” Fontes remembered. “It was in my head that there would be casualties. It was in my head that we would have to be cleaning blood out of the warehouse because they were ready, they were armed. … They came to assault my staff.”

Protests went on for days, with U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., fueling accusations of a stolen election. Alex Jones, a conspiracy monger who called the 2012 massacre of children at an elementary school in Connecticut a “giant hoax,” used a megaphone to exhort protesters to maintain their fight for Trump.

The Sheriff’s Office has spent an estimated $1.2 million on law enforcement efforts tied to the election and ballot review, including on demonstrations and protection efforts. The tab may not yet be final.

While Trump signaled the beginning of a drawn-out fight in the hours after the election, McSally, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, all but disappeared from public view.

McSally didn’t formally concede her race for days, but by Nov. 9, several of her key campaign staff were vacationing in Mexico. She wound up losing to Kelly by 78,806 votes.

When the presidential ballots were fully counted on Nov. 14, just 10,457 votes — fewer than the number of people who fit in the coliseum — separated Biden from Trump. The 0.3 percentage point difference made it the tightest presidential race in state history.

Unpredictable: A pandemic and the president’s anti-mail-in ballot rhetoric turned the conventional wisdom about Arizona votes upside-down

It was a bitter disappointment, but it wasn’t a complete loss for Republicans.

The GOP maintained its hold on the Statehouse, and Arizona’s four Republicans in Congress were reelected. Republicans accepted those results, made in the same election that delivered Trump’s loss.

But Republicans loyal to Trump could not accept his defeat.

Along with daily protests at the Capitol, thousands of emails, voicemails and text messages were left for Arizona officials in the days following the election.David Wallace/The RepubliTrump supporters across the country bombarded Arizona election officials and lawmakers with staggering numbers of emails, voicemails and text messages.

Like Trump, many voters could not reconcile the energy of his campaign with the quick call for Biden and the ever-tightening margins in Arizona. Democratic gains in traditionally red Maricopa County fueled suspicions that Trump’s loss owed more to cheating rather than his limited appeal.

State Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, said she received 57,000 emails in the first two months after the election — and still gets some.

At one point early on, Bowers’ secretary told him the office received more than 20,000 emails and 10,000 voicemails each day. After receiving 9,000 text messages at one point, now-Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, got another phone number.

The messages often maintained fraud tainted the election, and Democrats and their allies were covering it up. Many were vulgar; some were threatening.

“It is criminal for state legislators to certify a fraudulent election,” one message to Bowers said.

“Rusty is going to prison,” another email said. “80,000,000 patriots will make sure of this.”

“Fix this mess of an election now, do NOT let the people who committed obvious fraud, intimidation, threaten & lie & who did Not win into our Whitehouse,” read another.

The din included more than just Trump supporters, lawmakers said.

“In all of my time in office, I’ve never seen the magnitude or type of people telling me their concerns about the election,” said state Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler. 

“Many of them have been from far-off places,” said House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria. “It’s safe to say there’s been a ton of pressure to do something.” 

One thing that set Arizona apart from other close states was the trajectory of the race.

In Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Biden staged come-from-behind victories. Trump drew closer in Arizona’s initial count before falling short.

Trump and Giuliani zeroed in on people in Arizona who could still make a push.

It wouldn’t be Ducey, who had shown little interest in raising doubts about the election. And it wouldn’t be Hobbs, the Democratic secretary of state, who defended it on national television.

The president and his lawyer targeted Bowers and Fann, the Republican heads of the Legislature. 

The weekend before Thanksgiving, a top White House aide called around, looking for cellphone numbers for both.

Those close to Fann said she felt squeezed by the most conservative members in her caucus. She was preparing for the holidays and didn’t want to discuss the election. She seemed to want to put off talking to the president and his surrogates. 

When the White House came calling, Fann needed a strategy. 

“What are we going to do? … They’re putting pressure on me — the national folks want to have fact-finding committees to find out about the fraud in Arizona,” Bowers remembered Fann saying. “She said, ‘They’re trying to get in touch with me and we’ve got to make sure we’re on the same page.’”Arizona Senate President Karen Fann stands on the floor of the Senate at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix on Monday, May 27, 2019.Both Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers (top) and Arizona Senate President Karen Fann were in the Trump team crosshairs.Thomas Hawthorne/The Republic

They never had a chance. Right after he hung up the phone with Fann, Bowers received the call from Trump and Giuliani while sitting in his Prius.

By itself, the call was memorable for Bowers. It became amusingly so when he needed to search the small screen on his cellphone to find his lawyer’s contact information for the president. 

A natural raconteur, Bowers joked to Trump and Giuliani he might have a story for his grandkids one day: that he accidentally hung up on the president.

“Trump just busted out laughing,” Bowers remembered. “He said, ‘That’s funny.’”

Then Bowers really did accidentally hang up.

The White House called him back, and Bowers and Giuliani shared a laugh. 

Bowers needed some levity. 

While Arizona’s election stirred national passions, Bowers, 69, was privately tending to his dying daughter. Her liver was failing, and she was rejected for an organ transplant. 

Inside his house, and later in a hospital, Bowers saw his daughter’s life slipping away.

Bowers documented the eventful period, as he routinely does, in his handwritten journal through pages and pages of tight cursive writing. It is a distinctive practice for a man with many interests.

Bowers’ weathered face betrays his love of the outdoors, but perhaps his greatest passion is art. He paints and has sold sculptures. At least once, Bowers passed time in the often-mundane setting of the Legislature by building a miniature pinewood derby car for his grandson on his desk during breaks. 

Bowers’ call with Trump and Giuliani revealed two of his more obvious traits: Bowers can be pleasant, but he’s no pushover.

“Rusty is a cowboy,” said one Capitol insider, in a reference to his independent nature.

Fann, 67, grew up in Prescott, one of Arizona’s most conservative areas. Decades ago, she started a transportation business that puts up guardrails to keep motorists safe. 

She was elected to municipal government around the Prescott area where politicking didn’t overshadow problem-solving. 

‘What’s happened to Karen?’ Election audit puts spotlight on Senate president after decades in office

She brought political pragmatism to a legislative seat at the Statehouse, where she has served for a decade, the past two terms as president of the Senate.

Fann, too, has a life outside politics. She likes to golf and cook. She is known to bring homemade pies to friends and is part of a dinner club. 

Her agreeable nature often leaves her in the middle of the warring factions of her Republican caucus.

Her confidants at the Statehouse include lobbyists from both political camps who have worked with her for years. Her philosophy on the job is “‘We’re in this thing together, we’ve got to pick up the trash, we’ve got to do it, let’s work together, let’s figure things out,’” one Democratic lobbyist friend said. 

If the ballot review sometimes felt like a political crucible, it also gave Fann a national political identity

But at the Statehouse, she had one goal: retain her role as Senate president. Unlike Bowers, who won his leadership post despite the misgivings of his party’s far-right members, Fann owed her position to the more conservative members of her chamber. 

Her friend, former state Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, a relative moderate, lost his title as Senate president after the 2012 elections to then-Sen. Andy Biggs and spent four lonely years out of power. Her friends say it was a loss Fann didn’t want to repeat.

Includes information from Arizona Republic reporter Mary Jo Pitzl.

President Biden announced that the U.S. Department of Education will take legal action against the eight states that do not permit school districts to require students and staff to wear masks. In so doing, these states put students at risk and violate their right to education.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Erica L. Green wrote in the New York Times:

President Biden, escalating his fight with Republican governors who are blocking local school districts from requiring masks to protect against the coronavirus, said Wednesday that his Education Department would use its broad powers — including taking possible legal action — to deter states from barring universal masking in classrooms.

Mr. Biden said he had directed Miguel Cardona, his education secretary, “to take additional steps to protect our children,” including against governors who he said are “setting a dangerous tone” in issuing executive orders banning mask mandates and threatening to penalize school officials who defy them.

“Unfortunately, as you’ve seen throughout this pandemic, some politicians are trying to turn public safety measures — that is, children wearing masks in school — into political disputes for their own political gain,” Mr. Biden said in remarks from the East Room of the White House, adding, “We are not going to sit by as governors try to block and intimidate educators protecting our children.”

Valerie Strauss wrote in the Washington Post about Biden’s announcement:

He did not name any specific governor, but Republican governors Ron DeSantis of Florida, Greg Abbott of Texas and Doug Ducey of Arizona, are among those state leaders who have threatened to withhold funding from districts or take other action against those districts that defy them. In Florida, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the fourth largest district in the country, on Wednesday passed a universal masking mandate — with only a medical opt-out — as did Hillsborough County Public Schools.

“I’m directing the secretary of education to take additional steps to protect our children,” Biden said. “This includes using all of his oversight authorities and legal action if appropriate against governors who are trying to block and intimidate local schools officials and educators.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said masking is one of the strongest tools that can be taken to protect the spread of the delta variant, which has caused a rise in pediatric coronavirus cases. The agency this summer, in a shift in guidance, recommended everyone over the age of 2 — even those who are vaccinated — wear masks inside school buildings.

In letters to the governors of Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah, Cardona said bans on school masking mandates are putting students at risk and “may infringe upon a school district’s authority to adopt policies to protect students and educators as they develop their safe return to in-person instruction plans required by federal law.”

Cardona, in a Wednesday post on the department’s Homeroom Blog, said the department can investigate any state educational agency whose policies or actions “may infringe on the rights of every student to access public education equally.”

“The department will also receive and respond as appropriate to complaints from the public, including parents, guardians, and others about students who may experience discrimination as a result of states not allowing local school districts to reduce virus transmission risk through masking requirements and other mitigation measures,” he wrote. “As always, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights evaluates allegations of discrimination on a case-by-case basis, looking at the specific facts of each case.

When I started the new blog format, I said I would repost blogs from others only in rare instances. This is one of those rare instances. Peter Greene has written a devastating analysis of the oligarchs’ plans to attack public school teachers and defund public schools in Arizona. You need to read this story. The privatizers’ game plan is on full display, in all its ugliness. It’s a reverse Robin Hood scheme, which will steal from everyone so as to reward the rich.

Here are a few excerpts from the exceptionally vicious legislation that has been filed:

Arizona has lost its damn mind, this week passing some of the stupidest, most aggressively anti-public ed laws anywhere, including an absolutely insane law requiring teachers to file lesson plans a year in advance.

Arizona has always been a strong contender for most anti-public education state in the county. They’ve had trouble convincing teachers to work there for years (at one point they were recruiting in the Phillipines), using the one two punch of low salaries along with rock-bottom spending on classrooms (this is the state wherethe house GOP leader contended that teachers were just working second jobs so they could buy boats). In the meantime, they have done their best to foster charter profiteering and set up vouchers at the expense of public ed. Did I mention that Arizona is the Koch home base?

There was no reason to be surprised when Arizona’s teachers rose up in revolt. Governor Ducey made noises about recognizing the problem, but he’s been trying to slap teaches around ever since. Arizona legislators have come after teachers and public schools before, but this week is really something special.

This week Ducey issued an executive order requiring all schools to return o in-person learning by March 15, with exceptions only for the counties (there are three) with high transmission–there, the middle and high schools can stay remote. No other exceptions, no consideration for local concerns, issues, situations, etc. 

But now for the legal highlights of the week.

SB1058 is the one I mentioned above. In this bill, every school (charters get hit with this foolishness, too) must, by July 1 of each year, post, where parents can see it, all lesson plans, materials, activities, textbooks, videos, online stuff. Parents in Arizona already have the right to review all materials, so nthis is just a next step. “It should be reasonably easy to access the information.” This bill passed the Senate on Tuesday.

This is more than just an unnecessary burden on teachers. It’s more than just a way to legislate bad teaching (if you already know what you’re doing in class on a particular Tuesday five months from now, you are not doing a great job teaching). It also makes each teacher’s lesson planning–their professional intellectual property–open to the public. Starting a charter school but you don’t know a damn thing about teaching? Just log on and lift your curriculum, scope, sequence, plans, etc from any actual teacher…

All of this comes on the heels of a massive voucher expansion in Arizona, worth noting because it was one more example of the state’s GOP working in direct defiance of Arizona voters, who decisively rejected voucher expansion just two years ago. 
It’s an ugly frustrating mess. What exactly is your next move if you’re in a state where the reaction to “If you keep this up, you’ll destroy public schools” is “Good.”Jeb Bush is a big fan of Arizona’s work, mostly because it so closely follows his own playbook in Florida. It all points to an ugly future in which the wealthy can buy the education they want and not have to pay taxes to educate Those People’s Children. 

Seriously, if you want to place bets on which state will be first to destroy its public schools, you wouldn’t be wrong to bet on Arizona. It is a wholly-owned Koch franchise.


Curt Cardine of the Grand Canyon Institute has calculated the cost of the proposed Arizona voucher proposal, which would give public money for private choices to the overwhelming majority of students in the state. If the proposal passes, even if relatively few students take vouchers, it will defund every school district in the state. The public schools of Arizona, already underfunded, will take yet another hit from a state that refuses to pay to educate its children.

Cardine has a 45-year career in education; he has worked in both public and charter schools. He has documented the ripoff of public school funding by unscrupulous entrepreneurs. Please read his book Carpetbagging America’s Public Schools: The Radical Reconstruction of American Public Education. And his book Schooling Alone: The Cost of Privatizing Public Education.

In the attachments, Cardine shows how much money each school district in Arizona is likely to lose, using the most conservative estimates.

The Education Law Center has developed an excellent presentation on the shortchanging of public education in the years since 20008. The great majority of states did not keep up with the costs of educating their children. Only a handful did: Wyoming, Alaska, Illinois, Connecticut. The rest saw a sharp drop in their effort to fund the education of their children.

The two absolutely worst states, as judged by their failed effort to fund their schools, were Arizona and Florida, followed by Michigan. It is not coincidence that these are states that have put their efforts into choice, as a substitute for funding.

The report from ELC begins:

In the decade following the Great Recession, students across the U.S. lost nearly $600 billion from the states’ disinvestment in their public schools. Data from 2008-2018 show that, if states had simply maintained their fiscal effort in PK-12 education at pre-Recession levels, public schools would have had over half a trillion dollars more in state and local revenue to provide teachers, support staff and other resources essential for student achievement. Further, that lost revenue could have significantly improved opportunity and outcomes for students, especially in the nation’s poorest districts.

The states dramatically reduced their investment in public education in response to the 2007 Great Recession. Yet as economies rebounded, states failed to restore those investments. As our analysis shows, while states’ economic activity — measured as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — recovered, state and local revenues for public schools lagged far behind in many states.

This “lost decade” of state disinvestment has put public schools in an extremely vulnerable position as the nation confronts the coronavirus pandemic. Once again, state budgets are strained by declining revenues. And once again, school districts across the country are bracing for state aid cuts and the potential for reduced local support.

This report builds on our Making the Grade analysis of the condition of public school funding in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Instead of a one-year snapshot, this report provides a longitudinal analysis of the effort made by states from 2008 to 2018 to fund their public education systems. We measure that effort using an index that calculates elementary and secondary education revenue as a percentage of each state’s economic activity or GDP.

A key goal of this report is to give advocates data and information to use in their efforts to press governors and state legislatures not to make another round of devastating “pandemic cuts” to already underfunded public schools.

Open the report to see where YOUR state ranks in its effort to educate its students.

Arizona and Florida are the two most shameful states in their neglect of the future of their children.

Jim Swanson and John Graham, both CEOs in Arizona, wrote a stern warning against the legislature’s proposed voucher expansion, which would make almost all students in the state eligible for public funding to spend in a private or religious school. One of the authors is on the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools. Arizona is a state that likes low taxes; it does not fund its public schools adequately or equitably. Under the leadership of Governor Doug Ducey (who promised the Koch brothers a few years ago that he would drive taxes down as low as he could), the state is offering choice instead of adequate funding to its schools. Arizona has consistently underfunded its public schools and pretends to “reform” them by offering charters and vouchers.

They wrote:

The current, aggressive push to expand Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) does nothing to address the systemic education challenges we face in Arizona.

It is a dangerous attack on our public education systems and our state’s economic future. As a business community, our priority is to ensure that all students have access to a top-quality school that meets students’ needs and interests.

Arizona leaders should focus on effectively funding public education and supporting innovative programs that improve academic outcomes.

The time is now. Public education is the single most powerful economic development tool we have as a state.

ESAs were originally designed to serve a small population of students – they were never meant to replace public education or to serve all students.

A full expansion of ESAs is nothing more than a boutique scheme to address a non-existent need for private school subsidies.

While being marketed as a solution for low-income students and students of color – the students whom data tells us need the most wide-scale, institutional support – SB1452 is the most offensive of the private school voucher bills proposed this session. The bill would make roughly 700,000 Arizona students eligible for ESAs – a 280% increase in a single move. This is nothing more than a bold attempt to privatize education.

There’s a lot wrong with this bill, but the worst is the fact that rather than focus on supporting low-income students of color, many of whom are already eligible, SB1452 will make many more middle- and high-income white students eligible for taxpayer-subsidized vouchers, exploiting the impoverished communities in favor of further subsidizing the tiny fraction (as few as approximately 5%) of Arizona families choosing to home-school, private and parochial schools.

Greater Phoenix Leadership, Southern Arizona Leadership Council and Northern Arizona Leadership Alliance, representing more than 200 CEOs across Arizona, have made it clear that they are against the expansion of vouchers in Arizona and have voiced support for our public education systems, from early childhood to higher education. Business leaders and voters are like-minded – we have consistently come together for public education with a focus on equity and access. Instead of proposing unsustainable ways to make 70% of students eligible for private school vouchers, we need to make the public schools better, stronger and more successful.

What our state needs is crystal clear – an equitable, fully funded, high-quality public education system that serves all students across Arizona, no matter the zip code or income level. We have fallen too far behind and the only way we catch up – the only way we move the needle and bring Arizona to a competitive, robust and morally conscionable state – is to focus on the public education funding formula. Programs like private school vouchers have a long history of excluding and segregating our communities rather than including and supporting them. ESAs don’t get us where we need to be.

We need to put our heads together – across the business, education and political realms – and finally execute big changes to the funding formula and other mechanisms that have proven inefficient and worse, inequitable. Now is the time to focus on what moves all our students forward – working together to properly fund the schools serving 95% of Arizona students.

Question: Will the legislature listen to Arizona business leaders or to Charles Koch and Betsy DeVos?

Two years ago, the voters of Arizona overwhelmingly rejected an expansion of vouchers, by 65% to 35%. The pro-voucher side was funded by Charles Koch, Betsy DeVos, and other enemies of public schools. The voters said a resounding NO to voucher expansion!

Yet, this week the Arizona Legislature passed legislation to expand vouchers, approving what the voters rejected. Apparently, the word “democracy” is not in the Republican legislators’ dictionary. The voters expressed their will in no uncertain terms. The legislators ignored them.

The Arizona Senate approved a massive expansion of Arizona’s school voucher program Monday, just two years after voters decisively repealed a similar expansion of school vouchers to all students. 

The Senate passed the bill on a 16-14 party-line vote, with all 16 Republicans voting for the measure. It will now be sent to the House of Representatives. 

Empowerment Scholarship Accounts allow parents eligible to take funds from public schools and spend them on private school. The bill would expand the program, which currently serves only 9,700 students, making it available to an exponentially larger group. 

Bill sponsors contend the voucher expansion will benefit only low-income students from so-called Title I schools, which receive funding for disadvantaged students to close educational gaps.

But SB 1452 would also allow any student who lives in the boundary of a Title I school to be eligible for an empowerment scholarship account. The students would merely have to attend the school and would not need to be low-income themselves to qualify. 

More than 1,300 of the 2,000 district schools in Arizona — about 65% — are Title I schools, and even wealthy districts include some Title I schools.

Another account adds this:

The proposal from Glendale Republican Sen. Paul Boyer, SB1452, would make all children attending schools with a high percentage of low-income families or who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches eligible for the state’s voucher program. The program allows parents to take state funding and pay for religious or other private education and education costs. 

If the Republican-controlled House also approves the measure and it is signed by Gov. Doug Ducey, a school choice supporter, about 800,000 of Arizona’s 1.1 million K-12 students would qualify to use state money to attend private schools, up from about 256,000 currently. Despite the current eligibility, only about 9,700 children currently use state vouchers to pay for private or home schooling costs.

So, of the 256,000 students eligible for vouchers, only 9,700 use them. That’s less than 4% who want vouchers.

Dare I mention yet again that there is a sizable body of evidence showing that kids who leave public schools to use vouchers are set back in their academic achievement?

AZ lawmakers think they can pull a fast one on AZ voters: They’re trying to force through Senate Bill 1452, a gigantic expansion of ESA vouchers that robs funds from public education in ways even more harmful and wide-ranging than any of their previous attempts. SB1452, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chair and *charter school teacher* Paul Boyer (Republican, Legislative District 20), is a “kitchen-sink” voucher expansion bill that would gut public schools hurting low-income areas the most. Bottom line: This will drain hundreds of millions more dollars out of Arizona public schools every year, and will drain Prop 208 funds out as fast as voters can put them in. Public school teachers are frantically cleaning classrooms, simultaneously teaching online and in-person, reusing PPE, and putting buckets under leaks — while these lawmakers try to siphon away tax dollars that voters intend for our neighborhood schools. THIS IS WRONG. We need you to GET LOUD. Call bill sponsor Paul Boyer at 602-926-4173 and email and ask him to withdraw SB1452Tell Senator Boyer to respect Arizona voters—we want MORE public school funding, not LESS. Call Senate President Karen Fann ( and ask her to hold SB1452In 2018, AZ voters said #NoNewVouchers and we meant it. 95% of Arizona families choose public schools, and we want those schools funded. Call and email today. Then call again tomorrow, and again on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. The education committee will consider this bill on Tuesday, February 2, at 2 p.m. This is a bill that dark-money special interests and greedy profiteers want, not Arizona voters. 
 #WeSaidNoNewVouchersIt’s in our name: Save Our Schools Arizona

The federal CARES Act included the Paycheck Protection Program to help struggling small businesses and nonprofits survive the pandemic. Lobbyists for the charter industry slipped in a provision enabling charter schools to apply for PPP funding, even though they experienced no financial losses. Charter schools got a share of the $13.2 billion allotted to the nation’s early 100,000 public schools. The average public school received about $135,000 to meet the expenses of the pandemic. On the advice of their lobbyists, some 1200 charters also sought and won PPP funding. Thus charters drew funding from two sources; public schools were not eligible for PPP funding. Charters that applied for PPP funding won six times as much federal money as public schools.

The Arizona Republic reported that the Primavera online charter school in Arizona won a sizable “loan” (1% interest, forgivable), at the same time that its owner took a $10 million bonus.

Primavera online charter school, like many businesses this spring, sought help from the federal Paycheck Protection Program to weather the economic disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chandler-based school received a PPP loan of nearly $2.2 million, the largest forgivable loan among the 132 Arizona charter schools that obtained them.

But Primavera’s loan appears to have been more of a bonus than a lifeline. 

The school, which like all Arizona public schools didn’t lose state funding because of the pandemic, ended its fiscal year on June 30 with $8.8 million in the bank — almost double the annual payroll costs for its 85 teachers, records show.

The school also shipped $10 million to its lone shareholder: StrongMind, an affiliated company owned by Primavera’s founder and former CEO Damian Creamer.

The school’s annual audit indicates Creamer controls both Primavera and StrongMind, noting he has “the ability to influence the school’s operations for the benefit of StrongMind.” Primavera paid StrongMind nearly $23 million this past fiscal year for software and curriculum services, records show.

Creamer declined to comment.

An Arizona Republic review of more than 100 charter school financial records, audits and federal Small Business Administration documents found the overwhelming majority of the Arizona charter schools that obtained PPP loans didn’t need the money.

John Todd, a longtime auditor of Arizona charter schools, said there are numerous problems with fully funded charter schools getting PPP loans intended to help struggling businesses.

“The PPP loans are taxpayer dollars intended to help the needy, not the greedy,” Todd said.

A few charters, including Legacy Traditional Schools, repaid several million dollars worth of PPP loans after The Republic reported in August that Legacy and other operators had millions of dollars in the bank when they received loans.

Most charters that got loans didn’t need them

The Republic found that most of the charter schools getting PPP funds padded their cash balances (savings accounts), and a few for-profit charter operations, like Primavera, gave money away to shareholders that matched or exceeded their PPP loan amounts.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of small businesses have permanently closed because of COVID-19.

Further, The Republic found that PPP loans didn’t significantly enhance teacher pay at schools that received them. The 132 Arizona charter school loan recipients, on average, paid their teachers several thousands dollars less than the statewide average.The 132 charter schools receiving PPP loans increased teacher pay by an average of 5% — an amount similar to all 555 charter operations and 263 school districts.

Arizona public schools saw no major job losses or layoffs this year because the state Legislature fully funded schools and gave them additional money to raise teacher pay.

A 2018 Republic investigation found the state’s charter school industry, which gets more than $1 billion annually from the state general fund, has produced several multi-millionaires through self-dealing and lax oversight.

Creamer is among the prominent figures who’ve made millions of dollars operating Arizona charter schools. His online alternative school boasts more than 20,000 full- and part-time students. Primavera paid Creamer $10.1 million in 2017 and 2018. 

A spokesman for StrongMind declined to say how much the company paid Creamer. 

Ian Kidd, superintendent of Pima Prevention Partnership, said financially strong charter schools that took PPP loans open themselves to criticism and scrutiny. 

“I don’t subscribe to making money off of students. It’s not appropriate,” Kidd said.

Kidd said he obtained PPP loans for his three charter schools, but the money was used to cover social and behavioral services for low-income, at-risk kids. His three charters had a combined negative $7,031 in cash balances, even after getting PPP loans.

The SBA, under pressure from news outlets, recently released specific figures for all PPP loan recipients. Previously, it released only the names of the borrowers and loan ranges above $150,000.

The earlier SBA records had indicated about 100 Arizona charter schools had received up to $100 million in PPP loans. The new data shows about 30 more charter schools got loans.

Several watchdog groups, including Accountable.Us, have panned the loan program for enriching companies that didn’t need the money while shutting out many minority- and women-owned businesses.

Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.Us, which compiled a database of all PPP recipients, said there has been widespread fraud and abuse of the program, including celebrities and wealthy companies getting loans. 

“The Trump administration’s faulty design and mismanagement of the Paycheck Protection Program let thousands of mom-and-pop businesses slip through the cracks without adequate aid while charter schools cashed in,” Herrig said…

Arizona Schools Superintendent Kathy Hoffman, who also is a member of the Charter Board, said she was astonished by The Republic’s findings.

“It saddens me those dollars are not going to students,” she said. “It’s very excessive. These dollars should be going where they are needed most, and that’s the students and instructional needs.”

Hoffman, a Democrat, said Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and the GOP-controlled Legislature should consider reducing state funding for full-time virtual charter schools like Primavera, which receives nearly the same per-student funding as brick-and-mortar schools that have more costs.

Ducey, at a news conference Wednesday, declined to answer questions regarding Hoffman’s proposal. He also declined to answer whether charter schools that received the PPP loans should return the money or have their state funding reduced by an amount equal to the loans.

Primavera's founder and former CEO Damian Creamer has been a major political donor to Gov. Doug Ducey, records show.

Ducey said the PPP loans were a federal issue, but added: “I want to make sure all public schools have available funding.”

Creamer has been a major political donor to Ducey, records show. 

Creamer spent at least $137,650 during the past two elections to mostly help conservative Republicans retain control of the Legislature. Among his political giving was $50,000 in December 2019 to the Republican Legislative Victory Fund, state campaign finance records show.

There has been no significant effort by Republicans in the Legislature to change the funding formula for online charter schools. A few of those lawmakers have financial interests in charter schools…

Paying shareholders, boosting reserves

In addition to Primavera, at least three other charter school operators that received PPP loans paid distributions to shareholders. Most of the rest put large sums in savings. 

The Republic found:

• The average Arizona charter school PPP loan was $393,055. Nationally, at least 5.2 million loans for small businesses were approved totaling $525 billion, with the average loan being $100,729, according to the SBA.

• The year-end cash balance for the 132 Arizona charter schools that received $51.8 million in PPP loans in April and May, increased by $62.6 million. Individually, cash balances increased for 87% of the loan recipients.

• Twenty-one charter schools that received PPP loans increased their cash reserves by at least $1 million, with Primavera seeing a $3.3 million increase.

Educational Options Foundation of Peoria, which got a $278,292 loan, saw its cash balance increase by $2 million to $13.7 million. The school has enough money to operate for four years without additional money. The state Charter Board only requires  schools to have one month of cash liquidity. A call to the school was not returned.

• For-profit charters Humanities and Sciences Academy in Tempe and Accelerated Learning Center in Phoenix made shareholder distributions of $388,770 and $230,000 this past fiscal year, respectively. Both amounts exceed the charters’ PPP loans.

The Montessori Schoolhouse of Tucson gave a shareholder distribution of $92,372, equal to about 72% of its PPP loan.

Calls to the three schools were not returned.

Jim Hall, a former public school administrator who runs Arizonans for Charter School Accountability, compiled financial records from charter schools that received PPP loans and said he concluded that they didn’t need the money. 

Hall said those loans should have gone to small businesses that have struggled to make payroll or mortgage payments. He said several of the charter operators engaged in “unmitigated greed.”

GOP officials filed a lawsuit in Arizona and sought to keep their “evidence” secret, but the judge hearing the case rejected their request.

Only 180 votes are at issue. Biden leads by more than 12,000 votes.

An attorney representing President Donald Trump’s reelection team, in a lawsuit alleging poll workers “incorrectly rejected” Election Day votes, asked a Maricopa County Superior Court judge on Tuesday to seal the evidence he says will support that claim. 

But attorneys representing the election officials being sued convinced the judge to reject the request after arguing the public “has a right to know how flimsy Plaintiffs’ evidence actually is.”

The Trump campaign filed the lawsuit on Saturday alongside the Republican National Committee and the Arizona Republican Party, claiming Maricopa County poll workers had disregarded procedures designed to give voters a chance to correct ballot mistakes on Election Day.

Though the plaintiffs claim the problem could have left thousands of legitimate votes uncounted, county officials on Monday estimated 180 ballots were at issue