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Arizona Senate president won't run again; says election audit controversy isn't why
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Arizona Senate president won't run again; says election audit controversy isn't why

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Senate President Karen Fann in September, with Sen. Warren Petersen, as they received the audit report on 2020 election.

PHOENIX — Senate President Karen Fann, who spearheaded the unprecedented and controversial audit of the 2020 election returns, says she’s getting out of politics at the end of this term.

Fann said Monday she has decided not to seek a fourth two-year term in the Legislature in 2022, even though she does not have to leave the Senate due to term limits until the end of 2024. The Prescott Republican will serve out her current term, which ends in January 2023.

But Fann, who has been at the center of the political whirlwind about her decision to audit the election returns in Maricopa County, said the criticism she has taken from some over how it was conducted has nothing to do with ending her political career.

Nor is she having any second thoughts, she said.

“In the big picture, if you asked me would I do this audit all over again?” she told Capitol Media Services. “I would. Absolutely.”

If nothing else, Fann said, she has learned a lot about what it takes to do this kind of review. She said she remains confident that, when all is said and done, the examination will lead to changes in election laws, including new requirements for more extensive hand counts, “especially on a close race.”

“Everybody wants to know that their vote counted,” she said. “Everybody wants to know that we did our job, we did it right, and everybody followed the rules.

“And after all of the headaches we’ve gone through, and all of the arrows I’ve taken in my back from the media and everything else, if we can establish a good, safe, secure election process with accountability, and every election people say, ‘I am comfortable,’ then that’s terrific,” Fann said.

Fann rejected criticism that the audit itself was flawed.

That started with the choice of Cyber Ninjas to conduct the review despite that fact that its CEO, Doug Logan, had previously made statements questioning whether Joe Biden won the presidential election. Another controversy was that most of the review’s cost was paid not by the Senate, but by organizations tied to Donald Trump supporters.

Still, audit-related fallout took a toll, she said. Fann threw barbs at “the media” for what she said is failure to provide unbiased information “and let people make up their own mind.”

“It seems like almost every reporter might as well be working for the opinion side as well, because I can’t really tell the difference between the opinions and the news articles,” Fann said. “I hope they will realize they’re doing a disservice to the public and the industry.”

There have been other recent frustrations.

One was trying to operate the Senate in the middle of the COVID-19 outbreak and conduct hearings and take public input through video meetings.

She also has the challenge of having a bare working majority in the Senate, with 16 Republican votes in the 30-member chamber. A similar situation exists across the Capitol courtyard, where the GOP has 31 of the 60 House seats.

“And then there’s the fact that politics is just different,” particularly in the last three, four or five years, Fann said.

“The rhetoric has just gotten so loud, right?” she said. “We’ve somehow got to bring some stability back to the floor of the chambers and debate.”

Fann said that her decision not to run again has nothing to do with the possibility that Republicans — assuming they maintain control of the Senate after the 2022 election — might not choose her for a third two-year term as their president.

“I told them in the spring I would not run for another term” as president, she said, even before all the controversy over the audit and other internal battles within the GOP caucus. “Somebody else needs to step up.”

Fann’s political career included stints on the Prescott city council and as mayor of Chino Valley. She was elected to the state House in 2010, serving three terms there before moving to the Senate in the 2016 election.

Among what she calls her biggest accomplishments is this year’s measure boosting the state’s maximum unemployment benefit to $320 a week starting in July 2022, the first adjustment to that cap since 2004.

As part of that package, people will be able to earn up to $160 a week without forfeiting some of their benefits; the prior limit had been $30 before deductions were made.

Fann said she also is proud of work she did in the state House to craft new rules for how rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft can operate in the state without drivers having to comply with the same regulations that govern traditional taxi companies. Fann said that has become a model for similar legislation enacted in other states.

So why leave now?

She sold her business, Arizona Highway Safety Specialists, earlier this year. And she said her husband, James McKown, is content to play golf while she finishes the 2022 session, but “he wants to play somewhere else.”

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