Rep. Todd Clodfelter and Rep. Drew John entered the Legislature this year with reputations as moderate Republicans.
Clodfelter snuck a seat in a Democrat-dominated area, Legislative District 10 covering Tucson’s east side, and John edged out more conservative Republicans in southeast Arizona’s Legislative District 14.
But on one of the most divisive issues of the session so far, the two Southern Arizona freshmen stayed in step with the party and big-money interests. Both have voted in favor of efforts to make it harder to put voter initiatives on the ballot, a top priority of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and legislative Republicans.
I was disappointed with Clodfelter’s position on this.
Then came the voucher votes.
This week, John and Clodfelter have been the subject of high-pressure influence campaigns because they signaled their intention to vote against a bill that would expand again the availability of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, or vouchers. These allow an increasing number of public school students to take the taxpayer money that would be used to teach them in a district or charter school and put it instead toward a private school.
For good reason, all the Democrats and some Republicans view it as the next step in dismantling Arizona’s public education system. But Gov. Doug Ducey made it a top priority, paradoxically in my view, considering that the main thrust of his State of the State speech was fortifying the state’s public education system.
On Wednesday morning, Ducey met individually with several House Republicans planning to vote against the voucher bill, including Clodfelter and John. Ducey didn’t offer any particular deals but encouraged him to vote for the bill, Clodfelter said, with the implication left that he could get more help in the future with his own priorities.
On Thursday morning, Americans For Prosperity was delivering literature in Clodfelter’s district, pressuring him to vote for the voucher bill. He wasn’t having it — and he was getting lots of support from voucher opponents for his no vote.
“I don’t think it’s going to do the system any good,” he told me. “We need to fund public schools appropriately.”
“When individuals start to say, ‘I need to take my money out of the system,’ it could cause harm to the public education,” he added.
John wasn’t answering my calls Thursday as he received lots of pressure from parents’ groups, public-education interests and fellow legislators.
In the end, after saying he opposed the bill, John changed his mind and voted yes. It shocked people from the Vail Parents Network — Vail and far eastern Pima County are part of John’s district — who had supported him because of his stated views on education.
“We are stunned today. Up until today, even days ago, he promised us he would stand strong and vote against these ESAs. We are devastated,” said Stacy Winstryg, a founder of the Vail network. “We felt like between him and Clodfelter that we had two good guys in there on the Republican side.”
Border Patrol union unhappy
The National Border Patrol Council, staunch supporters of candidate Trump during the campaign, is showing signs of unhappiness with President Trump.
First there came the union’s mild disapproval of the president’s emphasis on funding for a border wall, rather than more agents, in his proposed budget. But more recently, there are signs of a serious split — over the appointment of the new Customs and Border Protection commissioner, Kevin McAleenan.
Brandon Darby of Breitbart Texas, who has served as an unofficial spokesman for the union, reported that union leaders are unhappy that Trump nominated for commissioner a man seen as a holdover from the Obama era.
“This is the guy who was picked by Barack Obama to enact Barack Obama’s open border policies,” Darby said on a radio program, citing conversations with agents. “This guy for some reason has been picked by Trump to be the boss of the Border Patrol agents who did so much and believed so much in Donald Trump.”
Union officials have not released a statement on the pick and did not make a statement when I called Thursday.
Sonoran ex-official arrested
The corruption investigation that has embroiled much of the last Sonoran administration led to an arrest this week in the Phoenix area.
Homeland Security Investigations officials arrested Carlos Villalobos Organista Tuesday on suspicion of staying too long in the United States after arriving in July 2016 with his border-crossing card. He’s being held at the immigration detention center in Eloy.
“An immigration judge with the Department of Justice’s Executive Office of Immigration Review will determine if Mr. Villalobos has a legal basis to remain in the U.S.,” ICE spokeswoman Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe said in a written statement.
The backstory is that he’s facing criminal charges in Mexico for diverting hundreds of millions of pesos in public money. An arrest warrant had been issued by Interpol, Mexican news outlets reported. However, if the U.S. officials find he committed an immigration violation, he won’t need to be formally extradited on the criminal charges.
McSally to White House
U.S. Rep. Martha McSally was one of seven moderate Republicans who visited the White House on Monday to meet with Vice President Mike Pence and other high officials over a possible new health care bill. McSally supported the American Health Care Act, which failed in the House March 24.
Earlier this week, before foreign tensions took over the news, Republicans made an effort to assemble a new bill that might pass the House. McSally and company were in the White House for an hour and a half, Huffington Post reported.
McCain — an idiot?
On Wednesday, Sen. John McCain chastised other senators who thought it was a good thing to eliminate the filibuster in order to allow Neil Gorsuch to be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice.
“Whoever says that is a stupid idiot, who has not been here and seen what I’ve been through and how we were able to avoid that on several occasions,” he said.
Then Thursday came and he voted to end the filibuster. With the idiots.