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Arizona's top House Republican: 'I'm not going to kick (voters) in the teeth'

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House Speaker Rusty Bowers, left, and Rep. John Fillmore talked Wednesday on the House floor about the speaker’s decision to quash Fillmore’s legislation that would have allowed lawmakers to reject election results.

PHOENIX — The top House Republican is unilaterally quashing legislation that would have given lawmakers the power to reject election results.

Strictly speaking, Speaker Rusty Bowers is not killing House Bill 2596, he told Capitol Media Services on Wednesday. That’s something he could do by simply refusing to assign it to any committee to be considered.

Instead, Bowers has taken the unprecedented step of assigning the proposal to each and every one of the 12 House committees, saying he knows full well there is no way it can secure approval of each. Most bills go to no more than two committees.

The maneuver drew an angry reaction from the bill’s sponsor, Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction. He complained to Capitol Media Services that “his highness’’ was abusing his powers in deep-sixing a measure that 14 other Republicans, out of 47 in the Legislature, support fully enough to sign on as co-sponsors.

“He does things like he’s God,’’ Fillmore said of the speaker. But Fillmore acknowledged he doesn’t have the votes — at least among those in his caucus willing to stand up — to oust Bowers as speaker and install someone who would allow the plan a chance of getting to the House floor for a vote.

“Sometimes there are a great many of the legislators (who) don’t have the intestinal fortitude to do what is right,’’ Fillmore said.

His proposed legislation is a grab bag of changes to election laws. It would:

Repeal laws allowing anyone to get an early ballot, saying only those with an excuse, like being hospitalized, would get that right.

Bar all other forms of early voting, requiring that ballots be cast only on Election Day.

Prohibit the use of Election Day voting centers available to anyone within a county, restricting people to casting ballots only in their home precinct.

“We need to get back to 1958-style voting,’’ Fillmore said.

But the provision that alarmed Bowers and some others would have required the Legislature to call itself into special session after every election to review the ballot tabulating process for both the primary and general elections.

More to the point, it would permit lawmakers to “accept or reject the election returns,’’ with the latter option paving the way for anyone to file suit to seek a new election.

That is unacceptable, Bowers told Capitol Media Services.

“We gave the authority to the people,’’ the Mesa Republican said.

“For somebody to say we have plenary authority to overthrow a vote of the people for something we think may have happened, where is it (the evidence)?’’ Bowers said of the unproven and unverified claims made by those seeking a new 2020 vote.

He said the audit of Maricopa County’s 2020 election returns ordered by Senate President Karen Fann has not produced any evidence that, as some have contended, the election was stolen from Donald Trump.

“The point is, when we gave a fundamental right to the people, I don’t care if I win or lose, that right was theirs,’’ Bowers said. “And I’m not going to go back and kick them in the teeth.’’

The speaker also said he could not go along with another provision that would have scrapped the current system of having ballots tabulated by machine, replacing that with a hand count of the all the votes cast, a figure that exceeded 3.4 million in 2020.

Proponents have argued that machine counts cannot be trusted, with allegations — all never proven — that the tabulators were either hacked or programmed to produce winning numbers for Joe Biden. Bowers said the solution of hand counts is worse than any potential problem.

“There’s individual elements (of the bill) that harm accuracy, speed and dependability of a vote,’’ Bowers said. “And if I can stop it, I’m not going to let that happen.’’

Bowers acknowledged there are those within his own party who continue to insist the last presidential election was rigged. And he said he is willing to consider changes in law designed to protect the right to vote and protect against cheating.

For example, he has allowed bills to go forward that would alter the early voting process or increase identification requirements.

But Bowers said he’s not willing to go along with “capricious’’ alterations to the law sought by “people of that ilk, the screaming, demanding, arrogant, self-righteous bunch.’’ And the speaker said it is his job to stand up and say “no,” even when others cannot — or will not.

“I would say that most Republicans don’t like it that way,’’ he said of the election-results deniers. “They’re just intimidated by these people.’’

Killing Fillmore’s bill “is just a message,” Bowers said.

Fillmore said Bowers has it wrong in saying the Legislature should have no role in reviewing — and potentially voiding — election returns.

“The Supreme Court has said that voting is our responsibility,’’ he said Wednesday after being informed of the speaker’s decision. “Who else, if not the state Legislature, would deal with this?’’

Fillmore, in introducing the legislation, said he isn’t buying arguments by election officials who say that machine counts are more accurate.

Nor was he swayed by the fact that current law already requires there be a hand count of ballots from selected precincts to compare that tally with what the machines registered. If those results are within a specified percentage, then the results statewide are presumed accurate. That is what happened after the 2020 election.

A judge separately ordered inspection of more than 1,600 ballots cast in the general election after allegations the machines had not properly tabulated the presidential race. In that case, the hand count found just nine with errors in the presidential race, not enough to declare Trump the winner here, even if that error rate ran through all similar ballots.

Bowers said that, in assigning HB 2596 to all 12 committees, he actually is giving Fillmore what he wants: the chance for one or more hearings. That could not have occurred if he refused to refer it to any committee at all, he said.

But Bowers made it clear that there is no way this bill would ever become law.

He gets that power not just by virtue of being the speaker and deciding what bills are put up for votes of the full House.

There’s also the fact that there are only 31 Republicans in the 60-member chamber. And with no Democrats in support, that means a single GOP vote against it — including his — would kill it if if even got that far.

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