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Arizona House panel recommends impeaching state attorney general

GOP on committee targeting actions by Kris Mayes

Posted 5/29/24

PHOENIX — A special House panel is calling for the impeachment of Attorney General Kris Mayes.

In a 102-page report released Wednesday, the all-Republican committee formed specifically to …

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Government

Arizona House panel recommends impeaching state attorney general

GOP on committee targeting actions by Kris Mayes

Posted

PHOENIX — A special House panel is calling for the impeachment of Attorney General Kris Mayes.

In a 102-page report released Wednesday, the all-Republican committee formed specifically to investigate the attorney general — the Democrats refused to participate — detailed a series of what it says are impeachable offenses Mayes has committed since taking office. They include:

• Filing lawsuits and making threats against county supervisors over certification of election results, including the indictment of Tom Crosby and Peggy Judd from Cochise County;

• Issuing a consumer alert about “crisis pregnancy centers” alleging deceptive practices;

• Threatening to use nuisance laws against large farms in rural areas that are depleting groundwater supplies;

• Refusing to defend a state law that prohibits those born as boys from participating in girls’ sports.

And then there’s a catch-all charge of “failing to adequately respond” to requests by the committee for information.

“The committee recommends the House adopt a resolution impeaching Attorney General Mayes and appointing a board of managers to prosecute her at a Senate trial,” wrote Rep. Jacqueline Parker, R-Mesa, whom House Speaker Ben Toma tapped to chair the special panel.

Toma said he is willing to allow the process to play out “based on the report.” But Mayes said she’s not concerned.

“This is a sham report from a committee that never should have existed in the first place,” she told Capitol Media Services.

“This is the effort by a few radical Republicans to push their agenda and to try to undermine the work of the Attorney General’s Office,” Mayes said. “It’s not serious. It never was from the beginning.”

Parker did not return messages seeking comment.

The only recent history of impeachment in Arizona is the 1988 action taken against Gov. Evan Mecham over charges of misuse of public money and concealing a campaign loan. He was ousted from office after a Senate trial.

That outcome is highly unlikely here, even if Toma allows for discussion of the issue and even if there are the votes in the House to proceeds.

That’s because it takes a two-thirds vote in the Senate to remove an official from office. It is highly unlikely any of the 14 Democrats in the 30-member chamber would go along.

Prior to Mecham, however, there were no convictions.

Two members of the Arizona Corporation Commission were acquitted in a Senate trial in 1964. And a 1933 case against two other commissioners ended with one acquittal and one resigning before trial.

More recently, there was an impeachment probe in 2003 against Jim Irvin, also a commission member, but he resigned before charges were ever brought.

Even if the effort to oust Mayes falters, the report says the House should consider other actions.

Parker wrote there should be scrutiny of all the appropriations made to Mayes’ office. And she wants lawmakers next year to “consider legislation ... to strengthen and clarify Arizona law aimed at preventing further weaponization of the Attorney General’s Office.”

But Parker won’t be a part of that: She is not seeking reelection.

Neither, for that matter, will Toma as he is running to be his party’s nominee for the seat being vacated by Debbie Lesko in the heavily Republican 8th Congressional District.

The call for impeachment follows a series of actions that have angered not just GOP lawmakers but Republican organizations.

In December, the Maricopa County Republican Committee adopted a resolution calling for her removal following the indictment by the state grand jury of Crosby and Judd.

The pair are charged with conspiring to delay the formal canvass of votes from the 2022 election. The pair had balked after raising questions about the accuracy of tallies and the machines used to count the ballots.

A separate charge says Crosby and Judd illegally interfered with an election officer. That is based on the delay in preventing Katie Hobbs, who was then secretary of state, from completing the statewide canvass.

In that resolution, the county committee said Mayes was interfering with the legitimate activities of the supervisors in performing their duties to ensure the election results were accurate. The committee also said problems that occurred in the election “raise significant questions about the legitimacy of Kris Mayes’ election.”

So far, though, all challenges by Abe Hamadeh, her GOP foe, and others have been dismissed, though appeals continue.

It isn’t just about Cochise County. The report from Parker’s committee also cites a “threatening letter” from Mayes to Mohave County supervisors threatening legal action if they insisted on doing a hand count of all ballots, something the attorney general said was illegal.

The board eventually voted 3-2 to scrap the hand count for this year.

That, however, hasn’t ended the matter. Supervisor Ron Gould has filed his own lawsuit asking a Maricopa County Superior Court judge to not only declare hand counting is legal but also bar Mayes from subjecting him to “threats and intimidation” for pushing that option.

Mayes acknowledged the Legislature does have a role in oversight of state agencies. Even in cases where those agencies are headed by their own elected officials, like her office, the Department of Education and the Secretary of State’s Office, lawmakers control funding.

Then there’s the fact that, unlike the governor whose powers are outlined in the Arizona Constitution, the other elected officials have only those duties given to them by the Legislature.

Mayes said that’s not what this inquiry is all about.

“It’s clear from this report that what the Legislature has are policy differences with me,” she said.

Consider, she said, the issue of groundwater pumping.

Arizona law covers what happens in urban areas. But outside of those, there are no state laws that govern how much water can be withdrawn by someone who owns or leases land.
Efforts to come up with a plan at the Capitol have bogged down amid questions of the level of regulation. So Mayes has been exploring options under existing laws. That has included “town halls” in some communities.

One option Mayes has suggested is the use of statutes that allow civil lawsuits in cases where one person’s actions are creating a “nuisance” for others.

That drew fire from Parker even before the first committee hearing who said that agricultural operations are presumed not to constitute a nuisance “unless the agricultural operation has a substantial adverse effect on the public health and safety.” And the Mesa Republican said it is up to the Legislature to set policies on who can withdraw groundwater and how much.

“They’re criticizing me for going to rural counties to listen to Arizona homeowners who have had their wells dewatered by corporate megafarms and out-of-country entities like the Saudis,” Mayes said, referring to land owned by or leased to Middle East countries to grow alfalfa here to feed to dairy cattle back home where, because of desert conditions, growing such water-intensive crops is illegal.

“I would suggest that they go talk to their own constituents,” she said.

Mayes also drew criticism for a March alert about “crisis pregnancy centers,” warning that they do not provide abortions or “comprehensive reproductive health care” but instead are nonprofit organizations that discourage people from seeking abortions.

In the alert, Mayes says these centers often advertise “a full range of reproductive health care services” but don’t provide abortions nor refer women to places they can get the procedure. She said they “often portray themselves as medical clinics” while most are not licensed medical facilities and may not have trained health care providers.

“These serious charges against Arizona health care providers are no supported by any evidence,” the House report says, adding the charges were countered by Garrett Riley of the Arizona Life Coalition who testified that “none of the pregnancy centers that I know use misleading information or manipulative tactics” nor do they have a financial motive in dissuading women from terminating a pregnancy.

Mayes, however, said many of these centers “absolutely” mislead women, with the result being a delay in them getting the abortion they want, a delay she said can make the procedure more risky.

The House report says Mayes cited no evidence to back her contention that women were being given incorrect information.

But Mayes provided documents to Capitol Media Services — the same as she said were sent to the committee — of what she called “a representative sample of the well-documented support for the alert.” It did not include, however, specific consumer complaints which, according to Mayes, are confidential under state law.

Mayes, however, did not respond to a request from the committee that she explain why she is not defending a 2022 state law which prohibits transgender girls — those defined as being borne male — from participating in female sports.

Press aide Richie Taylor said his boss made it clear she is justified in refusing to defend certain laws “because she believes they’re unconstitutional.”

He acknowledged it is a court that actually gets the last word in determining what is and is not constitutional.

“But the attorney general cannot defend laws that she believes are unconstitutional,” Taylor responded.

Anyway, he said, the law is being defended: Mayes gave permission for state schools chief Tom Horne, who supports the law about transgender girls and sports, to hire his own outside counsel.