Tim Steller

Arizona Daily Star columnist Tim Steller

You will not be seeing any dramatic, thumbs-down moment from the senator occupying John McCain’s former seat.

McCain, you may recall, stunned the country last year by walking into the Senate and voting no with his hand, thumb down, on a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Now Sen. Jon Kyl is occupying the office of McCain, who died in August, but Kyl is showing little of the departed senator’s lust for life in the public eye. A reporter for The Hill, Alexander Bolton, reported that a fed-up Kyl told protesters in the Senate office building Wednesday: “Would you leave me alone?”

Protesters are one thing; the people of Arizona are another. Until Thursday afternoon, Kyl had brushed us all aside during his month in office, virtually disappearing after taking the oath of office.

For weeks no one was answering the phones at his office. His new spokeswoman did not answer for six days a handful of questions I asked them about Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. They included questions about any compensation he may have received for acting as Kavanaugh’s shepherd in the Senate and what he might have learned, in that role, about any sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh.

Finally, Thursday, Kyl showed up in public, on the floor of the Senate, and explained in a half-hour speech why he continues to support Kavanaugh’s nomination. In doing so, he answered a couple of my questions about his work helping Kavanaugh’s nomination.

“My assistance to Judge Kavanaugh was on my own time, free of charge,” he said.

“At no time during my work with Judge Kavanaugh did any allegation of impropriety arise,” he added. “Some have asked me questions about this. I hope this satisfies their inquiries.”

He went on to praise Kavanaugh’s judicial record and asked colleagues to judge his “judicial temperament,” which came into question during Thursday’s angry and disrespectful testimony, on his 12 years in the D.C. circuit court.

Kyl’s speech did answer most of my questions. Most notably, he still supports Kavanaugh 100 percent. But I still have some niggling doubts about Kyl’s lobbyist work in the months and years before he became a U.S. senator again, as well as his commitment to Arizonans.

In his Arizona’s Politics blog, Phoenix-area attorney Paul Weich noted that Kyl’s firm had been paid more than $200,000 to lobby on behalf of Neil Gorsuch’s 2017 Supreme Court nomination. Kyl and colleagues worked in part for the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group also pouring money now into supporting Kavanaugh’s nomination.

And in a disclosure form for the second quarter of 2017, the firm acknowledged doing paid lobbying work to “prepare for possible additional Supreme Court vacancy.”

Thursday’s speech helped. But by Kyl’s behavior in office up to that time, he seemed not to have mentally left the more comfortable confines of his lobbying work.

He’s in a different seat now, recently McCain’s, and ought to act more like it. He represents us now, even if it ends up being just a four-month reprieve of his previous senatorial career.

Pro-127 ad hits AG

With all the political news of the season, one of the more eyebrow-raising episodes of the year has gone lightly covered. Now the forces pushing Prop. 127, the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona initiative, have made an ad to ensure people hear about it.

Four years ago, when Mark Brnovich won his first term as Arizona attorney general, he was supported by Pinnacle West, the parent company of Arizona Public Service. It donated $425,000, spoils of having millions of captive ratepayers, to the Republican Attorney Generals Association, which produced ads supporting Brnovich. Late last year, the company donated another $50,000.

Last month, Brnovich’s office singlehandedly changed the description of Prop. 127 that voters will see, saying that the mandate for 50 percent renewable energy by 2030 takes effect “irrespective of costs.” Perhaps not coincidentally, that same phrase had appeared in utility-sponsored ads against the measure.

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In a late-August email exchange, Eric Spencer, the state elections director, called the added phrasing “eyebrow raising.”

“You can call it corrupt,” the female narrator says in the ad. “Vote no on Brnovich and yes on 127.”

Pima county voter surge

Sept. 25 was National Voter Registration Day, and the week marked a surge in voter registration in Pima County. The Pima County Recorder’s Office registered about 2,800 new voters, and updated another 5,000 registrations, recorder F. Ann Rodriguez said.

As it stands, there are 545,644 registered voters. Out of that number, 209,323 (38 percent) are Democrats, 168,148 (31 percent) are independents, 162,517 (30 percent) are Republicans, 4,196 are Libertarians and 1,460 are Greens (less than 1 percent in both cases).

Statewide, there has been a surge of Democratic voter registrations, with 21,270 additional registered voters between March and the primary election. Republicans gained 5,301 in that period.

But Republicans and independents still outnumber Democrats statewide. On primary day, there were 1,264,295 Republicans (35 percent); 1,218,716 independents (34 percent); 1,111,580 Democrats (31 percent); 31,177 Libertarians; and 6,569 Greens.

The last day to register is Oct. 9.

Contact: tsteller@tucson.com or 807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter.


Tim Steller is the Star’s metro columnist. A 20-plus year veteran of reporting and editing, he digs into issues and stories that matter in the Tucson area, reports the results and tells you his opinion on it all.