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Peoria Republican setting up panel to investigate Arizona AG

Posted 3/27/24

PHOENIX — Republican House Speaker Ben Toma has formed a special panel to look into the practices of state elected officials — starting with Democrat Kris Mayes.

In an announcement …

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Peoria Republican setting up panel to investigate Arizona AG


PHOENIX — Republican House Speaker Ben Toma has formed a special panel to look into the practices of state elected officials — starting with Democrat Kris Mayes.

In an announcement Tuesday, Toma said he wants a committee of five Republicans and three Democrats to investigate allegations of abuse power, dereliction of duty and malfeasance.

The statement said the panel is supposed to develop legislation “and other measures” to “promote the rule of law and deter partisan abuse and weaponization of the office of Arizona Attorney General or other state offices.”

Toma told Capitol Media Services there is no one thing that led to his decision.

“She potentially crossed the line a few different times,” he said.

One, said Toma, was bringing felony charges against the two Republican supervisors in Cochise County accusing them of interfering with the 2022 election after they initially refused to complete the canvass after the vote amid what they said were questions about whether machines used to tabulate the ballots were properly certified. A trial for Tom Crosby and Peggy Judd is slated for later this year.

Toma also cited threats against Mohave County supervisors to prosecute them if they pursued their plan to scrap machine counting of ballots in favor of a hand count. The supervisors backed off, though one of them, Ron Gould, filed his own lawsuit asking a judge to stop what he called Mayes’ “threats and intimidation.”

The speaker said there have been complaints Mayes has threatened parents who use the program that provides universal vouchers of tax dollars so parents can send their children to private or parochial schools.

Mayes did issue a warning last year to parents that they may risk losing certain protections if they use vouchers to leave public schools. She said those include free and appropriate education for students with disabilities and access to a child’s educational records, both guaranteed to parents of public school children under federal law.

“That’s not her role,” Toma said. “That shouldn’t be her role.”

The attorney general also has been a critic of the program. And she has brought charges against some individuals in connection with voucher-related fraud.

Mayes, for her part, called the whole thing an effort by Toma to boost his chances of winning what could be a close race to be the Republican nominee for the seat in the U.S. House being vacated by Debbie Lesko.

“Apparently, every legislator currently running for Congress can’t move fast enough to open a new inquiry into how I’ve done the job of attorney general,” she said in a prepared statement. “This is just another political stunt from a majority party that doesn’t seem to have solutions for many of the major issues facing our state.”

And House Minority Leader Lupe Contreras said he won’t be appointing any Democrats to serve on the panel.

“Republican lawmakers should be focused on doing their jobs passing bills and making policy, not doing everybody else’s work,” he said.

Toma said that’s up to Contreras and the Democrat caucus to decide. But he said it won’t sideline the investigation, saying there is an “inherent obligatio” under the Arizona Constitution to conduct “appropriate oversight” of the executive branch. And, for the moment, that starts with Mayes.

What is clear is Mayes has incurred the wrath of many Republicans by refusing to defend certain state laws.

For example, Mark Brnovich, her predecessor, had taken the legal position that the 2022 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade allowed Arizona to again enforce its territorial-era law that outlaws abortion except to save the life of the mother.

But when Mayes took office in January 2023 she instead sided with Planned Parenthood Arizona and its argument a more recent law allowing doctors to terminate pregnancies through 15 weeks took precedence.

A decision on that issue is pending before the Arizona Supreme Court.

Mayes also declined to defend a 2022 state law that forbids transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports. She disqualified herself, saying her views did not align with state schools chief Tom Horne, who is the defendant in the case.

Legislative leaders ended up hiring their own attorneys.

And Mayes also is investigating whether any laws were broken by 11 Republicans who signed a statement declaring in 2020 that Trump had won Arizona and send a notice to the National Archives that they were the official state electors.

Toma said this wasn’t a rash decision.

“This has been in the works for awhile,” he said.

“I didn’t want to rush it,” Toma said. “I just felt that now is the time.”

Mayes, in her own statement, said she won’t be deterred by the probe.

“As I have done for the past year, I will continue to focus my time and the resources of my office on protecting Arizona consumers from fraud and corruption, prosecuting elder abuse cases, protecting the environment and our groundwater supply, and fighting the fentanyl crisis,” she said.

While the investigation is billed as seeking facts and proposing new laws, that still leaves the possibility of a different legislative action: impeachment.

It takes only a simple majority of the House to bring charges and force a trial in the Senate. And Republicans control 31 of the 60 seats.

“I suppose anything’s possible at this point,” Toma said, though he said that’s not what was behind the initial decision to launch the investigation.

“The job of the committee is to determine if laws were broken,” he said. “If laws were broken, we’ll have to decide what’s next.”

This is actually the second legislative inquiry into Mayes.

In February, Sen. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, who also is running for the seat Lesko is vacating, got members of his Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, to vote to launch their own probe.

Kern said at the time there had been “a flood of questionable activity” from her office. And he specifically mentioned the charges against the two Cochise County supervisors, calling that a “witch hunt” against local elected officials.

“I think it’s time someone took a serious look at what’s going on there,” he said.

On Tuesday, Kern — himself one of the fake electors being investigated by Mayes — told Capitol Media Services that the investigation is “ongoing, and data and information are being gathered.”

“A full report will be forthcoming along with recommendations,” he said, saying he is looking at something within the next 60 to 90 days.

“These things take time,” Kern said.