This Week in Arizona Politics: 5 Things to Know

December 04,2017 | Triadvocates

1. This week, Republican state Sen. Kimberly Yee announced her candidacy for state treasurer. With the announcement, she becomes the second Republican to vie for the seat, which is currently held by Jeff DeWit, who is not running for re-election. Arizona Corporation Commission member Tom Forese also is running for the Republican nomination for treasurer. Yee has served in the Legislature since 2010, first in the House and now in the Senate, where she currently is Senate majority leader.

2. Two weeks ago, the seven-member Arizona Supreme Court unanimously rejected a bid from a group of GOP lawmakers to overturn the state's Medicaid expansion. Represented by a Goldwater Institute attorney, the 36 current and former Republican legislators argued that a hospital assessment used to pay the state's portion of the Medicaid expansion is a tax that required a two-thirds legislative majority to enact under Proposition 108, which was passed by voters in 1992. In a unanimous opinion, the state's high court ruled that the hospital assessment is not a tax that requires a two-thirds legislative majority to impose, as the voter-approved initiative included an exception that allowed fees and assessments to be imposed by state agencies. The decision has implications beyond the state's Medicaid expansion, as it addressed whether fees or assessments imposed as a matter of routine state government could be considered a tax. Further, the challenge could have jeopardized health care for roughly 400,000 low-income Arizonans who gained insurance coverage under the Medicaid expansion. 

3. On Friday, four female members of the Arizona Legislature signed a letter calling for Republican state Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita and Democratic Rep. Rebecca Rios to be suspended from committee or party-leadership positions following accusations that they engaged in inappropriate relationships with House staff members. Powerful members of their respective parties, Ugenti-Rita currently serves as chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee, while Rios serves as House minority leader. The letter, which was delivered to House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, comes in response to sanctions against Rep. Don Shooter, who has been suspended from his position as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee after accusations from multiple women, including Ugenti-Rita, that he had sexually harassed them. Mesnard has the power to suspend Ugenti-Rita as chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee, however, only the Democratic caucus has the authority to suspend Rios as minority leader in the House.

4. The battle over school vouchers continues to heat up—and it’s only going to get more contentious in the coming months. On Friday, the attorney representing Save Our Schools – the grass-roots group that gathered more than 111,000 signatures to temporarily block SB 1431, which significantly expands who is eligible to get a voucher of state funds to attend private and parochial schools, from going into effect – told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Margaret Mahoney she cannot consider a challenge brought by those who want to keep voters from getting a say on the issue at the ballot box next November. The legal arguments come down to whether or not the longstanding Arizona law allowing individuals to challenge petitions, which was repealed by lawmakers in 2015, invalidates the challenge brought against Save Our Schools, which was filed by two individuals. If the judge allows the lawsuit to continue, that does not necessarily mean the referendum will be removed from the ballot, but would rather allow the attorney representing those who support universal vouchers – and who do not want a public vote – to present the argument that there are not enough valid signatures. A ruling is expected within 60 days, however, the losing side is virtually certain to appeal. And so the saga continues…​

Last Monday, Gilbert Davidson officially began his new role as Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the State of Arizona. As COO, Davidson will serve as a member of Gov. Doug Ducey’s senior staff and oversee operations of all state agencies. He replaces Henry Darwin, who left the administration in July to serve as COO for the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C. Davidson previously served as the Town Manager of the Town of Marana—a position he was appointed to in 2008 after serving as deputy town manager since June 2005. During his tenure as town manager, Marana experienced a rapid population increase of over 10,000 people in a 12-year timespan. As one of the fastest growing communities in the state, Davidson has laid the groundwork for continued strategic development by securing water and wastewater infrastructure, and establishing future development zones including promoting the future Downtown Marana district and the redevelopment of north Marana. He is a 1998 graduate of the University of Arizona with bachelor’s degrees in business administration and public administration. He earned a Master’s of Public Administration degree from the UA in 2004 and, in 2009, completed a certificate at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government for Senior Executives in State and Local Government.

The Marana Town Council has appointed Jamsheed Mehta as Interim Town Manager following Davidson’s departure. Mehta has served as Deputy Town Manager for the Town of Marana since 2014 and previously served as Interim Assistant City Manager for the City of Glendale. He has degrees in civil engineering and urban planning from the University of Kansas.

Last week, the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport Authority (PMGAA) Board of Directors voted unanimously to select Mesa SkyBridge, LLC (SkyBridge) as Master Developer for the Gateway Aerospace Park. SkyBridge has committed to invest between $20 and $25 million in infrastructure and will aggressively promote and market the many strengths and benefits of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport—three 10,000 foot runways; direct access to Arizona State Routes 202 and 24; a highly-educated and skilled workforce; and Arizona’s close proximity to Mexico. The 360-acre Park will be renamed SkyBridge Arizona.


It is anticipated that SkyBridge Arizona will serve as an air logistics hub focused on shipping high-value goods and expediting the movement of air cargo between Mexico, Latin America and the United States. At full build-out, the park could encompass between 3.5 to 5 million square feet of office, warehouse, logistics/cargo, hospitality and retail space. Developing the 360 acres of vacant airport land will create thousands of jobs and represents hundreds of millions of dollars in regional economic benefit.

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