When the local branch of Christians United for Israel met Tuesday night, the scheduled topic was narrow: A bill passed by the Legislature regarding boycotts of Israel.
The conversation strayed a fair distance from that.
Three Republican members of the state House attended the meeting at New Life Bible Fellowship, 4900 W. Cortaro Farms Road: Speaker David Gowan, Rep. Vince Leach and Rep. Mark Finchem. It was Finchem who left quite an impression.
I did not attend but heard about the meeting soon after it ended from people who were there and alarmed by what they heard.
The lawmakers did talk about HB 2617, which requires any company that does business with governments in Arizona to certify that it is not involved with boycotts of Israel.
The bill, which Gov. Doug Ducey signed, strikes me as an awkward way to deal with a touchy topic — the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel for its treatment of Palestinians. The so-called “BDS movement” is popular among some on the left, so supporters of Israel came up with this largely symbolic gesture to counter the movement.
Gowan, Leach and Finch were familiar with the law they passed, but not intimately, four attendees told me. Only one, Marty Johnson, spoke for the record.
“I don’t think anyone did a particularly good job or had a particularly nuanced understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Johnston, 41, who attended with a few Israeli friends.
What Finchem did have a grasp of is a vast conspiracy linking Palestinian terrorist groups, La Raza activists, training camps in northern Mexico, drug traffickers and Muslim student associations in Arizona, Johnston and others said.
The upshot of Finchem’s comments, Johnston said: “An amorphous ‘them’ is working to turn Southern Arizona into a Palestine-type situation.”
“It was so bizarre to hear him talk about that,” Johnston said. “He tried to connect Yasser Arafat to La Raza, and the Muslim Brotherhood with Muslim student associations.”
Finchem made specific mention of the existence of Hezbollah training camps in northern Mexico and alleged “some connection between Hezbollah and other Islamist terrorist organizations and the drug trade from Mexico,” Johnston said.
I wrote Finchem an email Wednesday night detailing the comments I was told he made. He did not respond. However, they are in keeping with the views previously espoused by Finchem, who represents Legislative District 11 along with Leach in the House. Both are up for re-election this year.
“If we do not recognize that there is a threat coming across our border we will see another 9/11, but it will be much smaller and in multiple locations,” Finchem said at a candidates’ forum in July 2014.
Finchem is a member of Oath Keepers, a group of current and former members of military, law enforcement and other first-responder organizations that claims to defend the Constitution from overreach, especially by the federal government. It’s concerned, for example, that the federal government may try to force Americans into concentration or detention camps.
Finchem retired and moved to Arizona after a career as a police officer in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
His presentation left Johnston and his Israeli friends shaking their heads.
“It was embarrassing,” he said.
Gowan accepts lobbyist money
Some reporters were anxiously awaiting April 15 — not because it’s Tax Day (it wasn’t this year anyway), but because it was the deadline for congressional candidates to file their quarterly financial reports.
The rumor was, Gowan, a Sierra Vista Republican whose district stretches up to eastern Tucson, had been taking quite a bit of money from lobbyists for his congressional campaign.
That idea raised eyebrows because it is illegal for lobbyists to donate to legislators' campaigns during the legislative session. However, it is probably legal — the question has not been decided — for state legislators to take donations from lobbyists if the money goes toward campaigns for federal office.
Hank Stephenson of the Arizona Capitol Times checked the names on Gowan’s financial report and found that his campaign had accepted $2,700 from registered lobbyists. That was less than rumored but more than any of the three other state legislators running for Congress accepted.
Sens. Andy Biggs and Carlyle Begay are running for Congress, as is Rep. Justin Olson, but their reports show they took no donations from lobbyists.
Both Biggs and Gowan, as leaders of their chambers, were in a position to wring a lot of money out of lobbyists if they chose, but Gowan apparently took relatively little. The $2,700 is a tiny portion of the $169,390 he reported receiving in the last quarter.
Complaint against Winchester
A supporter of Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller has filed a complaint against her primary opponent, John Winchester, alleging he’s campaigned during work hours at his UA job.
Shaun McClusky sent the complaint to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office April 10. In it, he lists five instances when he says Winchester did campaign work during his work hours at the UA’s Judaic Studies Department.
Three of the appearances were radio interviews; two were instances when he filed campaign paperwork with Pima County.
“As I said 18 months ago, if anybody came out against Ally I was going to make life difficult,” McClusky told me Thursday.
He’s obviously trying that with Winchester. However, Winchester is a contract employee and salaried, not an hourly employee, so the likelihood of the complaint sticking is pretty small, though of course that may not be the point.
“It’s not based in anything factual, largely because he doesn’t understand my contract with the University of Arizona,” Winchester said.
World View and Ducey
I’ve been wondering about the governor’s office’s perspective on the lawsuit by the Goldwater Institute against Pima County over its deal to build a headquarters with World View Enterprises.
Gov. Doug Ducey has made recruiting companies to Arizona and retaining promising ones a cornerstone of his governorship, but he hasn’t spoken out against the lawsuit that could restrict Arizona governments’ ability to offer incentives.
World View founder Taber MacCallum told the Bill Buckmaster Show Thursday that the governor’s office was integral to the deal in the first place.
“This was a deal that was put together by the governor’s office and the ACA (Arizona Commerce Authority) working with Sun Corridor and the county,” he said.
So the question remains, “Which side are you on, Gov, which side are you on?”