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Monday's opening of the legislative session and Gov. Doug Ducey's State of the State speech mark the start of a major year for Arizona politics. The speech is the two-term governor's eighth, and final, address to the Legislature.
- 'A session full of fireworks': What to expect when the Arizona Legislature reconvenes
- 5 things to watch for in Ducey's speech
- In final speech, Ducey's legacy will be center stage
Follow our live coverage throughout the day to get updates from our reporters on the governor and Legislature.
Democratic legislators at the Capitol on Monday watched Ducey's speech without much clapping, or smiling. Minority-party leaders, who had pre-criticized the governor in a news conference earlier in the day, didn't hear much to change their opinions.
"This is actually probably one of the most partisan speeches I've ever seen Gov. Ducey give," said House Democratic Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, who's running for Secretary of State. "Is he still Arizona's governor or is he preparing for national office?"
Ducey barely mentioned COVID-19 or the pandemic in his speech, as some noticed.
The speech was "red meat for his base, but disappointing for the nearly 28,000 Arizonans who have died from COVID," said Assistant House Minority Leader Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix.
Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, said she heard some positive notes in Ducey's speech, like his plan to find a new source of water for the state by negotiating with Mexico over a possible desalination plant, and spending more on people who help raise the children of family members when parents become dysfunctional.
Yet the governor barely mentioned the pandemic except to politicize mask-wearing, she said. And he didn't say a word on raising public schools' aggregate spending limit, a crisis that could result in more than $1 billion in cuts from public schools if it's not raised by March 1.
"For him to ignore that was shocking and irresponsible," she said.
Republicans stood multiple times to give standing ovations on parts of Ducey's State of the State speech, clearly liking what they heard.
"I think it was a home run for conservatives," Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said of Ducey's speech.
Border security, tax cuts and education are key issues for many Arizonans, and Ducey hit the right points on those issues, he said.
Petersen liked that the governor unveiled a four-part plan to strengthen the state's Border Strike Force, which is led by the Department of Public Safety, and he hoped to see another tax cut this year. On education, "you're seeing parents up in arms about not being able to get their kids in school," Petersen said. "That's a great thing for (Ducey) to lead on."
Ducey's idea to use $1 billion to jumpstart a plan for a desalination plant in northern Mexico that would help with Arizona's water problems also brought good reviews, with some caveats.
Sen. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, has tried to lead the way in preserving water resources, introducing bills in the last few years that attempt to rein in groundwater use but getting stymied by the chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Energy and Water, Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford.
The idea to work with Mexico is not just about money, she said, but also hinges on the details of future negotiations. One question she had was whether Mexico would agree to allow Arizona to use up some of Mexico's allocations in the Colorado River in return for helping to build the desalination plant.
Cobb's groundwater ideas "weren't touched on" by Ducey on Monday, she noted.
Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, said he's had interest in the Mexican desalination plant idea for a long time, and he thanked the governor's staff on Monday after Ducey brought it up. He thinks the governor can finally get a "game plan" together" on the project and begin moving forward.
Cook said he also noticed that Ducey never mentioned the coming crisis for schools: If the state's education aggregate spending limit isn't raised by March 1, public schools will lose more than $1 billion in funding. Cook said this was a "priority" for the state and should be addressed quickly by Democrats and Republicans, and without using the issue as leverage to obtain compromises from Democrats.
"We can't be the party of keeping schools open" and still allow the expenditure limit crisis to shutter schools, Cook said. "We need to make sure that schools have the resources that they've been given to (stay open.)"
"It's a big agenda," Rep. Walter Blackman, R-Snowflake, said of Ducey's speech. "However, I'm confident that we will be able to get a lot of it done. It's good to see Gov. Ducey leaning forward in the saddle with his agenda. I'm ready to get to work and tackle those issues."
— Ray Stern
In a 51-minute speech, Gov. Doug Ducey told Arizonans the state of Arizona is "strong."
His 2022 agenda includes a $1 billion investment in water that could help bring a desalinization project to fruition.
He also emphasized creating a summer school program designed to catch students up after months of learning via computer screen and bolstering public safety through raises for certain law enforcement officers, and cracking down on illegal crossings at the Arizona-Mexico border.
“As I enter the fourth and final quarter, I’m reminded of something my high school coach told me,” Ducey said, speaking at the Arizona House of Representatives. “'Get in and get the job done.' And as I stand here today, the job isn’t done. ... I intend to make the most of every moment and work hard all along the way for my employers — the citizens of this state.”
Ducey also said he plans to increase funding to speed up the widening of Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Casa Grande and to keep "critical race theory" out of Arizona school classrooms while pushing for the posting of all classroom curriculum online.
— Stacey Barchenger and Ryan Randazzo
Few people in attendance for the Legislature's opening ceremonies wore face masks despite the state continuing as one of the nation's COVID-19 hotspots.
During the ceremonies and Gov. Doug Ducey's State-of-the-State speech, the House's gallery, which seats about 200 people, was roughly half-full with observers and visitors invited by lawmakers. Fewer than 10 of the visitors wore masks.
The Floor was packed with lawmakers and other dignitaries, most not wearing masks.
Many, though not all, Democratic lawmakers wore black face masks. Several, including Rep. Alma Hernandez, D-Tucson, could be seen without masks in the crowd.
Former Gov. Jan Brewer, meanwhile, was one of the only Republicans in attendance who wore a mask.
Those without masks included Arizona Supreme Court Justices Robert Brutinel, Ann Timmer and Clint Bolick, plus state attorney general Mark Brnovich and Ducey.
Some members of the news media also did not wear masks for the day's events, which took nearly three hours.
— Ray Stern
Arizona Gov. Ducey has started his final State of the State speech before a joint gathering of the Legislature at the Capitol. Follow along at azcentral for the livestream and updates.
The Senate opening ceremonies included a recitation of former Senate members and staffers who died in 2021.
Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, read the list, which included former senator and Navajo Nation president Albert Hale, former senator and Department of Water Services director Herb Guenther and former senator and Maricopa County Supervisor Fred Kory.
A moment of silence followed.
— Mary Jo Pitzl
Arizona historian Marshall Trimble entertained legislators and visitors with stories that emphasized some of the state's dearest quirks.
From the dais at the front of the House of Representatives, Trimble pointed out that Arizona has numerous cities and counties with the same name, like Maricopa, Pinal, Santa Cruz, and Navajo — yet none of those cities lie within the counties with their names. Other towns' names fit well: Why, for example, was named by locals who wondered "why would anyone live in this godforsaken place?"
Trimble also told the story of George Warren, who once owned part of a claim to one of the richest mines in state history, the Copper Queen in Bisbee. Warren was an alcoholic and prone to impetuousness, though, and one night "he made a drunken bet that he could outrun a horse," Trimble said.
Warren lost the race and his mining claim, and died in poverty, Trimble explained. Yet years later, in 1911, when Arizona was about to achieve statehood, Arizona leaders noticed a photo of Warren in a hotel and thought his image would fit perfectly in Arizona's state seal.
Ever since, the seal has featured a grizzled miner — "it's old George Warren," Trimble said, suggesting that while Warren may not be worthy of the honor, Arizona is well-represented by him.
— Ray Stern
Arizona's newest state senator, Theresa Hatathlie, was sworn in at the Capitol on Monday before the Legislature's opening day ceremonies began.
Following last month's resignation of Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Window Rock, the Coconino County Board of Supervisors selected Hatathlie last week from among three candidates named by the Coconino County Democratic Party. Under state law, appointed replacements for state legislators must come from the same party.
Hatathlie, a member of the Navajo Nation from Coalmine Canyon, was sworn in by Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Brutinel while surrounded by friends and family. Instead of a Bible, she placed her left hand on several ceremonial items including an eagle feather and arrowhead. She also had a Navajo blanket draped over her left arm, a nod to her background in traditional Navajo weaving.
Hatathlie works for a COVID-19 relief organization as a logistic manager and legislative liaison, though she says she may have to step down from the latter role. The group is Yee Ha’ólníi Doo Navajo and Hopi Families Covid-19 Relief Fund.
She hopes to advance bills Peshlakai had submitted last year, and praised the former senator, who's taking a job in the U.S. Department of Interior. Peshlakai was the first Native American woman in the Arizona Senate, she said.
Hatathlie plans to run for the seat this November.
— Ray Stern
House and Senate Democrats criticized their Republican counterparts and Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday while unveiling a plan to spend COVID-19 relief funds on priorities like education and water.
Standing in the rose garden at the Capitol on Monday morning, several Democratic representatives and senators watched as their leaders addressed the news media. They urged Ducey to redirect the bulk of the funds to low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, as outlined in Democrats' plan that they are calling the "Blueprint for a Better Arizona."
The state has roughly $2.7 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds, and it's up to Ducey to figure out where to spend it. Last year, Ducey and Republican lawmakers passed the biggest tax cut in state history, to the ire of Democrats.
"We'll fight against more tax cuts for the richest that are paid for by working people," said Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Tucson, said. "This session is a new chance for us to come together and focus on the future to fight for issues" including voting rights and "strong schools."
House Minority Leader Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, made a forceful appeal against Republican efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election and said he expects a continued "assault" on voting.
"We know the fight in the upcoming session will be to save democracy itself," Bolding said.
— Ray Stern
It's a tradition that opening day of the legislative session feature guest speakers.
In the Senate, Olympic gymnast MyKayla Skinner will deliver remarks. In the House, state historian Marshall Trimble will speak.
The ceremonies often include other touches to reflect Arizona, or the makeup of the Legislature itself.
In the Senate, the children of Sens. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, and Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, will lead the Pledge of Allegiance.
The House décor got a makeover that features Navajo rugs commissioned from six weavers on the northeastern Arizona reservation. Several of the weavers are expected to attend the ceremonies.
— Mary Jo Pitzl
Will Gov. Ducey quote Abraham Lincoln?
Chances are good. In three of his seven prior State of the State speeches, the governor has quoted the nation's 16th president. Former Ducey chief of staff Daniel Scarpinato, who advised the governor on his final speech, said the governor — "a huge student of history" — personally adds those quotations.
Take the 2018 State of the State as one example. Ducey was up for re-election, President Donald Trump had been in office for over a year, Robert Mueller was investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and the country was politically divided.
Ducey acknowledged that division could affect policymaking, quoting the words of Lincoln's first inaugural address, a message Lincoln shared hoping to avoid the Civil War.
“We are not enemies, but friends," Lincoln said in 1861. "We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection."
— Stacey Barchenger
Democrats are balking at new House protocols that allow lawmakers to participate remotely as the omicron variant of the coronavirus surges, but only if they have received a health exemption from Speaker Rusty Bowers.
However, to participate in a committee hearing or a floor vote, the lawmaker must use the remote option from his or her office inside the House of Representatives building. And the lawmaker can only cast a vote, but not explain it or ask questions.
The protocols are part of a new attempt to return to "normal" by blending the remote work that was allowed last year with the more open practices pre-pandemic.
As for those health exemptions: Bowers will grant them and already has done so, said House spokesman Andrew Wilder. He did not have a count of how many have already been issued.
— Mary Jo Pitzl
One of the first things school leaders and education advocates in Arizona want to see lawmakers tackle is the lifting of a spending cap for school budgets statewide this year.
If that doesn't happen in the next few weeks, county school superintendents from across Arizona are waring of major disruptions to education. They would have to trim 16%, or $1.15 billion collectively, from their budgets by April 1.
"There’s no way that can happen without closing schools," Tim Carter, Yavapai County school superintendent, said of double-digit budget cuts to the districts scattered across his north-central Arizona county.
"Where else do they think that money is coming from?" he asked, referring to lawmakers.
The four largest school districts in Yavapai County alone face a cumulative $15.5 million reduction.
— Mary Jo Pitzl
As lawmakers return to the Capitol, they do so amid a swirl of speculation about whether the governor will convene a special session. That would allow for the passage of bills that would become law sooner than they would under the normal timeline.
The focus most likely would be on laws to ban various COVID-19 policies, including some that were in a state budget bill ruled unconstitutional by the Arizona Supreme Court in September. Many Republicans want to reinstate the measures, including one that bans schools from setting their own mask mandates.
Already, lawmakers have proposed bills to ban vaccine mandates and some proof of vaccination requirements, along with limiting public health emergency powers for the governor.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, said lawmakers are working on several different ideas for COVID-19 protocols, including how to address mask or vaccine mandates. In a meeting last week at the Governor's Office, it seemed clear to Bowers that if there is agreement that such a bill is a good idea, "We'll move on it in a special (session)," he said.
— Ray Stern
Since lawmakers last gathered at the Capitol, the Cyber Ninjas delivered the results of their controversial audit of the Maricopa County election to the Senate. The political spotlight shifted to school boards over a variety of issues. And the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission changed all the districts for the 90 members of the Legislature.
All that, combined with a host of other political ingredients in Arizona and nationally during a big election year, could add up to memorable year. House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, is among those expecting a particularly wild legislative session in 2022.
"I think it probably will be lively," Toma said. "I don't know who's going to be more lively or what the exact issue will be. I do think, though, it could end up being a session full of fireworks."
— Ray Stern
8 a.m.: Back in person after COVID-19 turned speech into virtual affair
A year ago, the pomp of the annual start of the Legislature's work at the Capitol reflected the deadly winter surge of COVID-19 that hit the state. The governor addressed lawmakers via video; gatherings inside the Senate and House chambers were limited.
This year, things are mostly back to normal despite a rapidly climbing number of cases in the state due to the omicron variant.
“This year, there is something we didn’t have widely available last year," Ducey spokesman C.J. Karamargin told The Arizona Republic. "That is the vaccine. We certainly are cognizant of what the numbers are, but no, the governor is eager to give this, his last State of the State, in person.”
The governor's video speech last year struck a somber but defensive tone for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic that has now killed over 24,700 Arizonans, including more in 2021 than 2020.
— Stacey Barchenger
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