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PHOENIX (AP) — Republicans will have their largest U.S. House majority in 83 years when the new Congress convenes next month after a recount in Arizona gave the final unresolved midterm race to a Republican challenger.
“With his executive order, President Barack Obama’s decision to act unilaterally outside of Congress has set back the debate on real immigration reform — and has made congressional action and useful solutions even more difficult to accomplish. It has only produced more liberal governmental stalemates.”
A Tucson fifth-grade teacher who has been a vocal opponent of Common Core claims his First Amendment rights were violated by state School Superintendent John Huppenthal.
Rep. Ron Barber speaks to the media after a Congressional District 2 debate with Republican challenger Martha McSally, in Tucson Oct. 14. (AP Photo/Arizona Daily Star/File)
WASHINGTON (AP) — Spurning furious Republicans, President Barack Obama unveiled expansive executive actions on immigration Thursday night to spare nearly 5 million people in the U.S. illegally from deportation and refocus enforcement efforts on "felons, not families."
The moves, affecting mostly parents and young people, marked the most sweeping changes to the nation's fractured immigration laws in nearly three decades and set off a fierce fight with Republicans over the limits of presidential powers.
In a televised address to the nation, Obama defended the legality of his actions and challenged GOP lawmakers to focus their energy not on blocking his actions, but on approving long-stalled legislation to take its place.
"To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill," Obama said, flexing his presidential powers just two weeks after his political standing was challenged in the midterm elections.
As Obama addressed the nation from the White House, immigration supporters with American flags draped over their shoulders marched on the street outside carrying signs that read, "Gracias, Presidente Obama."
Despite Obama's challenge to Republicans to pass a broader immigration bill, his actions and the angry GOP response could largely stamp out prospects for Congress passing comprehensive legislation under the current administration, ensuring that the contentious debate will carry on into the 2016 presidential campaign.
Republicans, emboldened by their sweeping victories in the midterms, are weighing responses to the president's actions that include lawsuits, a government shutdown, and in rare instances, even impeachment.
"The president will come to regret the chapter history writes if he does move forward," Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who is soon to become the Senate majority leader, said before Obama's address.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has refused to have his members vote on broad immigration legislation passed by the Senate last year, said Obama's decision to go it alone "cemented his legacy of lawlessness and squandered what little credibility he had left."
While Obama's measures are sweeping in scope, they still leave more than half of the 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally in limbo. The president announced new deportation priorities that would compel law enforcement to focus its efforts on tracking down serious criminals and people who have recently crossed the border, while specifically placing a low priority on those who have been in the U.S. for more than 10 years.
He insisted that his actions did not amount to amnesty.
"Amnesty is the immigration system we have today — millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time," he said.
The main beneficiaries of the president's actions are immigrants who have been in the U.S. illegally for more than five years but whose children are citizens or lawful permanent residents. After passing background checks and paying fees, those individuals can now be granted relief from deportation for three years and get work permits. The administration expects about 4.1 million people to qualify.
Obama is also broadening his 2012 directive that deferred deportation for some young immigrants who entered the country illegally. Obama will expand eligibility to people who arrived in the U.S. as minors before 2010, instead of the current cutoff of 2007, and will lift the requirement that applicants be under 31. The expansion is expected to affect about 300,000 people.
Applications for the new deportation deferrals will begin in the spring.
Immigration-rights activists gathered at watch parties around the country to listen to the president announce actions they have sought for years.
"We're going to have plenty of Kleenex around," said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.
The White House insists Obama has the legal authority to halt deportations for parents and for people who came to the U.S. as children, primarily on humanitarian grounds. Officials also cited precedents set by previous immigration executive actions by Democratic and Republican presidents dating back to Dwight Eisenhower.
The fact that politics may have been involved in drawing legislative lines is no reason to declare them illegal, the attorney for the Independent Redistricting Commission is urging the U.S. Supreme Court.
Republican Martha McSally speaks to the local media after a Congressional District 2 debate with Democratic incumbent Ron Barber Oct. 7 in Tucson. (AP Photo/Arizona Daily Star, Mike Christy)
WASHINGTON (AP) — A White House lunch aiming for cooperation boiled into a fresh dispute with newly empowered Republicans over immigration reform Friday, with GOP leaders warning President Barack Obama to his face not to take unilateral action. The president stood unflinchingly by his plan to act.
Republicans attending the postelection lunch at Obama's invitation said they asked him for more time to work on legislation, but the president said his patience was running out. He underscored his intent to act on his own by the end of the year if they don't approve legislation to ease deportations before then and send it to him to sign.
The Republicans' approach, three days after they resoundingly won control of the Senate in midterm elections, "seemed to fall on deaf ears," Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said in a telephone interview. "The president instead of being contrite or saying in effect to America, 'I hear you,' as a result of the referendum on his policies that drove this last election, he seems unmoved and even defiant."
"I don't know why he would want to sabotage his last two years as president by doing something this provocative," said Cornyn. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell earlier this week said the president's stance was "like waving a red flag in front of a bull."
Obama press secretary Josh Earnest said there was no reason that executive action on immigration should kill opportunities for the president and Republicans to find common ground.
"I could stand up here and say Republicans to vote once again for the 50th time to repeal the Affordable Care Act, that that's playing with fire or waving a red flag in front of a bull. I'm not really sure what that means," Earnest said.
The White House said lawmakers went home from the meeting with a parting gift — a six-pack of beer brewed at the White House. The White House also said Obama laid out three areas where he and Congress could work together before the end of the year — emergency funding to combat the Ebola outbreak, approval of a federal budget and quick action on spending to fight the Islamic State militant group.
House Speaker John Boehner's office said he told Obama he was ready to work with the president on a new authorization for military force against the IS group if the president worked to build bipartisan support. The White House announced soon after lunch ended that the U.S. was sending as many as 1,500 more troops to Iraq to serve as advisers, trainers and security personnel as part of the mission. Obama is also asking Congress for more than $5 billion to help fund the fight.
Friday's two-hour meeting was tense at times, according to a senior House Republican aide. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, about to lose his grip on the upper chamber, barely said a word, the aide said. The aide said at one point as House Speaker John Boehner was making an argument on immigration, Obama responded that his patience was running out and Vice President Joe Biden interrupted to ask how long Republicans needed. Obama angrily cut Biden off, the aide said.
The aide was not authorized to describe the back-and-forth publicly by name and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
Publicly Obama's tone was more upbeat as he opened the gathering. He pledged to work on ending long-running partisan gridlock and to be open to Republican ideas. The president said the lunch was a chance to "explore where we can make progress" after Americans showed in the midterm elections that they wanted to see more accomplished in Washington.
"They'd like to see more cooperation," Obama said, sitting at the middle of 13 lawmakers in the Old Family Dining Room set with the Truman china. "And I think all of us have the responsibility, me in particular, to try to make that happen."
Reporters were ushered out before any lawmaker spoke or the lunch of sea bass was served. Republican descriptions of the meeting were provided after they returned to Capitol Hill.
For the record, Boehner's office said he suggested that the president should back a Republican jobs bill as a starting place for bipartisan action.
Obama said at the start he was interested in "hearing and sharing ideas" for compromise on measures to boost the economy, then mentioned his personal priorities of college affordability and investment in road and building projects. He also touted improved monthly job growth numbers out Friday as evidence his economic policies are working, saying, "We're doing something right here."
Briefings on Ebola and the Islamic State from Pentagon officials dominated much of the meeting, and the immigration debate was said to have lasted about half an hour. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said Republicans told Obama that any executive order, particularly on immigration but any issue, would be a "toxic decision."
"He still hasn't come to grips with the reality of the election and the consequences of the election," Barrasso said. "His tone and tenor didn't seem to reflect that of somebody whose policies were just significantly rejected all across the country just three days ago."
A Sierra Vista Republican will become the first House speaker from Southern Arizona in a quarter century.
Republican Doug Ducey coasted to victory in the gubernatorial race Tuesday, fueled by unprecedented spending of outside dollars in attack ads on his Democrat foe.
Republican Doug Ducey coasted to victory in the gubernatorial race Tuesday, fueled by unprecedented spending of outside dollars in attack ads on his Democrat foe.
Arizona is deciding a full slate of statewide, congressional and local races, many of which were highly competitive heading in to the final hours of the campaign. The closeness of the contests has been reflected in the bombardment of attack ads over the final weeks as Democratic, Republican and special interest groups have spent large amounts of money in Arizona. Here is a look at the ticket, and what's at stake:
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — In many ways, this year's congressional races in Arizona feel like deja vu. The state is again host to some of the nation's most closely watched contests.
One race features a rematch between the same two candidates from the 2012 election. Another race has Democrat Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick fighting to keep her job in a vast swing district, a replay of the 2010 and 2012 election cycles.
All of Arizona's nine congressional seats are being voted on in Tuesday's election, but the races attracting most of the attention are the 1st and 2nd Congressional District contests.
Democratic Rep. Ron Barber and Republican Martha McSally are battling again for the Tucson-area 2nd District, while Kirkpatrick is squaring off against former Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin, a Republican, in the other race.
Voters have been bombarded with ads as the candidates and outside groups are spending millions to influence the outcome.
In one, McSally mocks Barber's attacks on her, using an actor to facetiously accuse her of disliking puppies. The ad closes in on McSally holding a puppy. "Watch it," she tells the actor.
An ad that featured a crying mother whose daughter had been killed by her stalker accused McSally of supporting gun rights for misdemeanor-convicted stalkers.
It was sponsored by Americans for Responsible Solutions, the gun control group founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords and husband Mark Kelly. McSally denounced the ad and said she'd been a victim of stalking herself.
Americans for Responsible Solutions then pulled it, saying McSally had reversed her initial position. The group later aired another ad featuring Giffords praising Barber.
Giffords and the issue of gun control have been prominent in the race for the district in which six were killed and 13 were injured in the January 2011 mass shooting at a constituent event.
Giffords and Barber, then an aide for the congresswoman, were wounded in the attack.
"I'm hearing (voters) are looking forward to seeing an advertisement from a car dealership soon because they're just so sick of the political ads," said Barbara Lubin, the spokeswoman for the Arizona Democratic Party.
"It remains to be seen how much extra additional spending adds to either the turnout of the overall voters or really changes the results," Arizona Republican Party spokesman Tim Sifert said.
In the 1st Congressional District, Kirkpatrick is fighting a tough battle with the well-known Tobin to keep her seat.
Kirkpatrick won the seat against Republican Jonathan Paton by only a few thousand votes last time around. That was after she'd lost it in 2010 to another conservative Republican.
But Tobin was late to the game after a hard-fought, three-way battle in the Republican primary.
In Maricopa County, Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema is facing challenger Wendy Rogers, a Republican who lost in the GOP primary in 2012 in the district.
Sinema has raised much more money than Rogers, a retired Air Force officer who has refused to publicly debate the incumbent. Democrats are confident Sinema will win, but Republicans are hoping anti-Democratic sentiment on Tuesday will give them a chance to pick up a seat.
Arizona has six other congressional districts that are holding elections Tuesday:
3rd District: Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva is facing off with Republican Gabriela Saucedo Mercer. Grijalva has held that seat for six terms and is likely to win a seventh.
4th District: Republican Rep. Paul Gosar will also likely keep his seat, which encompasses rural areas west and northwest of Phoenix. His opponent is Democrat Mikel Weisser.
5th District: The district spans from Gilbert to Chandler to parts of Mesa. Republican Matt Salmon won the seat in 2012 and is facing Democrat James Woods this year.
6th District: Republican David Schweikert holds the seat that includes parts of Maricopa County and the southeastern Phoenix suburbs. Schweikert is running again, this time against Democrat John W. Williamson.
7th District: Ruben Gallego, a Democrat, is the heavy favorite for the seat vacated by the retirement of longtime Rep. Ed Pastor. Gallego is a Harvard-educated, Iraq War veteran from a single-parent home who was the first in his family to graduate from college. He won the August primary, easily putting him on track to win Tuesday in the heavily Democratic district.
8th District: Rep. Trent Franks, a Republican, represents this district northwest of Phoenix. He is challenged by Stephen Dolgos, a Democrat.
Two Republicans and a pair of Democrats are seeking seats on the Arizona Corporation Commission in Tuesday’s election.
The Daily News-Sun asked them to comment on the top issues facing the ACC.
Name: Sandra Kennedy
• There is no longer a consumer advocate on the commission.
• I want to restore an emphasis on creating solar energy jobs.
Name: Doug Little
Occupation: Former computer software industry expert
• The aging water infrastructure in many communities.
• The negative impact on the economy associated with potentially significant increases in the cost of energy associated with the implementation of proposed EPA mandates.
I am committed to be the champion of the ratepayer and work to ensure that all Arizonans have access to clean reliable energy and water at the lowest possible price. We will achieve this with a balanced energy portfolio that leverages all of the different types of energy generation in the most cost-effective fashion.
Name: Jim Holway
Occupation: Land use and water resources planner
• We must ensure Arizona will have reliable and affordable water and power in an era of increasing costs, ongoing droughts and greater reliance on intermittent renewable supplies, changing technology and more stringent environmental controls.
Specific actions include: utility resource plans that address Arizona’s future uncertainty and changing needs; support for solar energy innovation, production and jobs in Arizona while also utilizing our coal, nuclear and natural gas resources; and assisting investments in conservation and efficiency.
• The current debate about solar energy in general and the new solar (net metering) tax on residential customers in particular. The ACC should commission an objective, long-term and comprehensive economic study looking at the costs and benefits of not only solar and other renewable supplies, but for other energy supplies as well.
Name: Tom Forese
Occupation: Current state legislator, owner of the Hive.
• We have nine different departments setting the price for utilities and we need to have balance to keep rates low as possible.
• I’m looking to keep things safe and fair but keep costs as minimal as possible. I have a voting record against unneccesary regulations and tax increases. My commitment is to find the balance. My background is technology and I think we’ll see amazing things for solar. We don’t want to harm the solar industry or the businesses. There’s balance in both areas.
With the 2014 election less than a week away, it’s important to remember that an election is a job review for legislators and elected officials. Let’s review.
PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona lawmakers are considering taxes on electronic cigarettes as a way to help cover a $1 billion budget shortfall, a central Arizona weekly has reported.
"It's one option of many that we should look at at the Legislature," said state Democratic Rep. Stefanie Mach of Tucson, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee. "It certainly isn't going to come close to the amount of money that we need to make up the deficit, but any little bit helps."
Some legislators are lighting up at the idea of taxing e-cigarettes to cover a huge deficit expected by fiscal year 2017, but how to regulate the devices has been a source of debate.
Legislators in dozens of states last year were faced with bills related to electronic cigarettes. Two states have already enacted "sin taxes" on them, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. On the federal level, the Food and Drug Administration has struggled since 2011 to implement rules on how to categorize and regulate them as well as liquid nicotine.
Republican Rep. John Kavanagh, of Fountain Hills, told the Arizona Capitol Times taxing e-cigarettes could discourage people from using them in an effort to quit smoking.
"The e-cigarettes, I am told, are not nearly as damaging to the body as tobacco is, and part of the reasoning for the tobacco tax is to compensate society for the additional costs in medical care that smokers cause," said Kavanagh, who also serves on the House Appropriations Committee and running for a Senate seat.
The financial impact for Arizona from e-cigarette taxes is difficult to determine since proposals vary and cigarettes have about $2 in additional taxes per pack.
Arizona so far hasn't enforced many restrictions on the electronic devices. Last year, the state made it illegal to sell them to minors. But Attorney General Tom Horne recently said e-cigarettes do not fall under the Smoke Free Arizona Act. Thus, patrons can smoke them inside restaurants, bars and other public places. However, cities such as Tempe have banned them.
The battery-powered devices heat liquid nicotine and create a vapor that the user can inhale. They are available at most convenience stores and "vape shops."
Ben Denny, who works at a downtown Phoenix vape shop called Butt Out, said the industry would be open to some reasonable taxes but not to the same degree as cigarettes. The growing e-cigarette community would likely fight any legislation that advocated otherwise.
"Nobody serious is even getting close to claiming that (e-cigarettes) do similar harm (as smoking tobacco), so by attempting to tax them the same way, lawmakers are making a claim nobody else is making. And really, they're just saying they want to bring in more money," Denny said.
Arizona democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred DuVal speaks as republican candidate Doug Ducey listens Oct 13 during a debate for the Arizona Women's Forum in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
PHOENIX (AP) — Democrat Fred DuVal lashed out at his Republican opponent in the Arizona governor's race over his education funding plans Friday, upping his rhetoric in the campaign as the race nears its final week.
DuVal called Republican Doug Ducey "the most anti-public education candidate for governor in my lifetime," and said Ducey's plans to cut income taxes will end up decimating school funding.
"He wants to do giant tax giveaways to the rich that would cause the largest funding cuts to education in our state — it is simple math," Duval said. "The fact that he won't admit that his plan doesn't add up shows that Doug Ducey isn't honest enough to be our governor."
The aggressive tone from DuVal comes two weeks after voters began casting early ballots and just 12 days before the general election and stands in stark contrast to the civil tone he took in five debates with Ducey. DuVal spoke at a news conference at the Phoenix headquarters of the Arizona Education Association and was joined by teachers who support his call to stop funding cuts.
Former GOP gubernatorial candidate Christine Jones, now a Ducey supporter, deadpanned and called DuVal's statement about Ducey a "slight exaggeration."
"I think there's probably a slight exaggeration that Doug's the single-most antagonistic to public education in the history of his life," Jones said. "But I also think they have difference of opinion on how to fund things."
In a statement, Ducey's campaign called the attack "both dishonest and false."
"In just over one week, we are confident Arizona voters will elect Doug Ducey to lead on both education and the economy, and as governor, he will make certain there are no winners and losers in Arizona's schools."
DuVal has made education funding a centerpiece of his campaigning, vowing not to cut another penny from K-12 schools and to stop fighting a court order that inflation funding be restored.
Ducey wants to continue fighting the court order that the Legislature reset funding formulas to account for inflation, and he said if the state loses, he wants to review school funding formulas to make sure more money makes it into the classroom.
The courts have ordered Arizona to pay an additional $1.6 billion to schools over the coming five years and may order $1.3 billion in back payments. That order came in a lawsuit won by schools over the Legislature's failure to fund voter-mandated yearly inflation increases, and is being appealed.
In addition, the state is facing more than a billion dollars in deficits in the coming two years, a looming fiscal crisis the next governor will have to deal with as soon as he takes office in January.
Both candidates have given general ideas about how to handle the deficit, but dodge when pressed for specifics, as DuVal did Friday when asked by reporters to say what he would cut if schools got full funding.
"You asked the right question, which is OK, fine, you're not going to cut any more in education, but there's a whole lot more to the budget than just that, and you know that," Jones said. "You got to tell me where you're going to get the money from, and I think that's what Doug's been focused on."
PHOENIX (AP) — A coalition of Arizona advocacy groups defended its practice Wednesday of dropping off early ballots for voters.
The grassroots organizations are facing an outcry in the wake of surveillance video posted last week that shows a volunteer hand-delivering numerous ballots to a Maricopa County elections office a day before the Aug. 26 primary.
"It's a nonstory. Nothing that they did was illegal," said Tony Navarrete, a spokesman for immigration advocacy group Promise Arizona. "It was them making the promise to voters that they were going to turn in their ballots during the primary."
The video has been viewed more than 360,000 times on YouTube.
A.J. LaFaro, the Republican Party's chairman for Maricopa County, said he witnessed the man, who is a canvasser for Citizens for a Better Arizona, dropping off a box full of ballots.
Lafaro said "ballot harvesting" raises issues about the security of those ballots before they're counted, even though signatures on ballot envelopes are checked by election workers.
"From the time those ballots are mailed to the time they're turned back in, lots of things can happen," LaFaro said.
Ramiro Luna, Citizens for a Better Arizona field director, criticized LaFaro and others for referring to canvassers as "thugs." According to Luna, canvassers knock on doors —mostly in Hispanic communities — and encourage voters to participate. But they are trained not to touch a ballot or mark it in any way, he said.
"The ballot is something we keep as sacred. It is between the voter and the election department. All we are doing is providing a service to make sure the ballot is counted and is turned in on time," Luna said.
LaFaro acknowledged the Republican Party has been doing the same thing when it sends get-out-the-vote volunteers to canvass neighborhoods.
"On occasion we offer to take their ballot and deliver it for them," LaFaro said. "If it's not illegal, we're going to make that offer."
But he argued it was on a much smaller scale compared to Democratic-leaning groups.
"We don't comprehend, nor do we subscribe to what we see out there on the progressive-socialist side," LaFaro said. "That gentleman bringing in several hundred ballots, what function does that serve? We still cannot comprehend why they do it."
Maricopa County Elections spokesman Daniel Ruiz said there is no law covering how a ballot gets to the poll. What counts is whether the ballot is signed and the signature can be verified. However, voters who don't plan on mailing a ballot or dropping it off in person should make sure to give it to someone they trust, Ruiz added.
LaFaro said he will urge the Legislature to change the law when it returns in January to make the process illegal.
The collection of ballots by groups like Citizens for a Better Arizona has become an issue in the Arizona secretary of state's race. The practice would have been banned under a major 2013 election law rewrite that the Legislature repealed this year after opponents collected enough signatures to send it to the ballot.
"I see no reason why any individual, whether it's a candidate themselves, a campaign operative, a party individual, myself, you, anybody, should be in possession of an extraordinary number of ballots," Republican candidate Michele Reagan said at an Oct. 7 debate. "It creates a system where there is an opportunity for fraud, and that is not acceptable."
Democrat Terry Goddard agreed that banning mass collections should be considered, within limits.
"I agree that what Sen. Reagan occasionally calls harvesting is wrong and whatever that means should be abolished," Goddard said, while warning that not all collections should be banned. "Let's look carefully before we jump, because the thing at stake is your right and my right to vote, and it seems to me that under every circumstance we ought to protect that right."
PHOENIX (AP) — Republican congressional candidate Wendy Rogers will not meet Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema in a televised debate.
Rogers' campaign staff informed producers for the Arizona PBS show "Arizona Horizon" in an email on Monday morning that she would not be participating in the 5:30 p.m. Monday debate.
Rogers, Sinema and Libertarian Powell Gammill are running for the 9th Congressional District seat that includes Tempe and parts of Scottsdale, Phoenix Chandler and Mesa.
Sinema and Gammill are set to appear for the debate.
Horizon producers said they delayed the debate after Rogers' campaign said she was unavailable in September. She did participate in a televised debate before the August Republican primary.
Rogers' campaign spokesman James Harris would not say why Rogers will not attend.
Arizona candidate for Attorney General Republican Mark Brnovich gets ready for his televised debate with Democrat Felecia Rotellini Sept. 30 in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Democrat Fred DuVal used the last gubernatorial debate Tuesday to essentially accuse Doug Ducey of class warfare, robbing from schools to give tax breaks to the rich.
PARADISE VALLEY -- Democrat Fred DuVal used the last gubernatorial debate Tuesday to essentially accuse Doug Ducey of class warfare, robbing from schools to give tax breaks to the rich.
Ducey has centered his gubernatorial campaign on his theme of "kick-starting'' Arizona's moribund economy. Central to that is his promise to work to eliminate the state income tax. But DuVal told an audience of two different women's groups such a move would be irresponsible.
He cited the anticipated deficit of $500 million this fiscal year and more than $1 billion next year. That includes a court order to immediately boost school funding by $331 million, a decision DuVal said he will accede to and that Ducey wants to appeal.
"This is a choice you get to make,'' DuVal said.
"Doug's priority is to lower taxes for the wealthiest among us,'' he continued. "My priority is to assure that we adequately fund schools.''
But Ducey appears to be backing away -- or at least finessing -- his position on tax cuts.
During both the Republican primary and since then, Ducey has said he wants to move toward eliminating the tax, or at least making it "flatter and fairer.'' Tuesday, however, he had a different message.
"No one's ever talked about eliminating the income tax,'' he told the audience. Instead he said his goal is simply to drive it "as close to zero as possible.''
And he even added some conditions Tuesday to pursuing that goal which has been a cornerstone of his campaign.
"It's where I would like to take the state,'' he said.
"But I've got to deal with the financial situation of the state as I find it as governor,'' Ducey explained. "And I'll do what's responsible and in the best interest of all of our citizens.''
Ducey disputed that cutting income taxes necessarily means there will be less money for public schools. And Ducey said that he does not necessarily believe that restoring school funding to where it would have been had lawmakers not ignored a voter-approved mandate to adjust annually for inflation will lead to better schools.
The key, he said, is finding better ways to educate children.
"We are underperforming across the state,'' Ducey told the audience.
"But we have pockets of excellence in the state,'' he continued, citing reports that three of the Top 10 high schools in the nation as ranked by U.S. News and World Reports are located here: two Basis charter schools and University High School in Tucson.
Ducey said he would look at the "best practices'' of those schools "so more of our children have a better opportunity.''
Ducey also cited reports from the Auditor General's Office which for the past decade have shown that an ever-smaller percentage of tax dollars is actually winding up in the classroom.
The most recent report shows that less than 54 cents of every education dollar was put into things like teacher salaries. That compares with 58.6 cents a decade earlier, a trend Ducey said he wants to reverse.
But DuVal said the rest of the report found that administrative costs for things like superintendents, principals, business managers and clerical staff is below the national average. Instead, the report said what's making up the difference are fixed non-instructional costs like heating, cooling and running school buses.
And Auditor General Debra Davenport specifically said that's a direct function of less money overall for schools. She said the only place to cut was the classroom, citing figures that while the number of children attending Arizona public schools has dropped by 3 percent since 2009, the number of teachers dropped by 8.6 percent.
"The reason there isn't more money going into the classroom is there isn't enough money,'' DuVal said.
That still leaves DuVal's contention that Ducey's plan to cut income taxes is designed to favor the wealthy.
"The income tax is paid disproportionately by wealthy,'' DuVal said, acknowledging that, by definition, people with more income pay more tax on that income. But he said all this comes as Arizona has one of the highest sales tax rates in the nation -- 5.6 percent plus all local levies -- a tax he called "regressive.''
"Our tax structure is clobbering working Arizona families,'' he told reporters after the debate.
"They're paying significantly more of their income in taxes than upper-income Arizonans,'' DuVal said.
Ducey said what will help businesses come to and expand in Arizona are things he promises like lower taxes and less regulation. But DuVal said some business leaders have suggested otherwise.
He cited comments made in 2011 by the former chief executive of Intel.
"The educational system in the United States and in Arizona in particular is not particularly attractive,'' Craig Barrett told the Arizona Commerce Authority. In fact, Barrett said the situation is so bar that if Intel were looking for a site to build an entirely new operation, as to expanding its $10 billion Arizona presence, the state would not even be on the list of Top 10 choices.
He was not alone in his comments.
"The education system here is very weak,'' said Doug Pruitt, at the time the chief executive of Sundt Construction.
PHOENIX -- Saying the state needs the cash, a first-term Tucson Republican lawmaker wants to legalize marijuana -- and do it before it ends up on the 2016 ballot.
Ethan Orr said he believes a Colorado-style law here could generate upwards of $250 million a year in tax revenues. He said the state, heading into a budget deficit, needs the cash.
But Orr said there's another reason for lawmakers to act: a proposed 2016 ballot measure.
He said if that is passed, it is virtually impossible to make changes if it turns out there are problems. By contrast, Orr said anything approved by the Legislature can be amended by the Legislature.
The proposal drew a sharp rebuke from Rep. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, who is also running in the same legislative district. She said the timing -- a month before the general election -- is suspicious as she, Orr and Democrat Randy Friese face off for the two available seats.
But this isn't Orr's first foray into the issue of marijuana.
Last session he sponsored legislation designed to allow the use of state dollars, obtained from medical marijuana users and dispensaries, to study the effects of the drug. That measure was approved by the House but killed in the Senate.
Timing aside, Steele said that, as a substance abuse counselor, she cannot support anything that has the possibility of making marijuana more easily available to teens, even if the law were designed to limit its purchase to adults.
The proposal is getting a decidedly chilly reception from Republican gubernatorial hopeful Doug Ducey who would be in a position to sign or veto the bill if it ever got to his desk.
"As the father of three boys and the son of a cop, he thinks it's a bad idea,'' said spokeswoman Melissa DeLaney.
But Democrat Fred DuVal appears open to the idea -- but just not yet.
"Fred wants to wait and see what happens with the states that already moved to legalize recreational marijuana,'' said Geoff Vetter, his press aide. "There's a lot of things we're still learning and Fred wants to discover all the consequences of legalization before moving in that direction.''
But the Marijuana Policy Project, which got voters in 2010 to approve a medical marijuana law, is not about to drop its plans for 2016.
Chris Lindsey, the group's legislative analyst, said Orr's proposal is "not surprising'' given what he said has been the success of legalization in Colorado.
"We applaud Rep. Orr for taking a stand for a more sensible law,'' Lindsey said. But simply introducing a bill is far from a guarantee of getting a hearing, much less the measure making its way onto the books.
"For the time being, while we wish the representative and his legislation every success, our plans to place a measure before voters in 2016 has not changed,'' Lindsey said.
Orr's plan is a direct extension of that 2010 initiative when voters decided that those with certain medical conditions and a doctor's recommendation could purchase up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks from state-regulated dispensaries.
Since that time the state's finances have deteriorated.
The current projection is Arizona will end this budget year $520 million in the red if lawmakers have to reset state aid to schools to where it would have been had they not ignored for several years a requirement to consider inflation. And for the coming year the deficit is projected to exceed $1 billion.
Orr said the experience in Colorado shows legalization can work.
"All of the apocalyptic predictions made have not come true,'' he said.
"You have not seen an increase in the hardcore drug usage of things like heroin and cocaine,'' Orr said, or any increase in arrests for disorderly conduct. "But what you have seen is an increase in tax revenue.''
Potentially more significant, Orr said, is the chance that the 2016 initiative might pass.
He said this means Arizona law will be crafted not after careful consideration and debate by lawmakers but instead go to voters as a take-it-or-leave-it plan. Worse yet, Orr said, is the Arizona Constitution precludes virtually any change by lawmakers in voter-approved measures even if problems develop.
"This is going to happen,'' he said.
"Is it going to happen in an intelligent way because my colleagues chose to act like leaders and do what was right for the state?'' Orr continued. "I guess another way of putting it (is), are we going to govern or are we going to be governed by the initiative process?''
"I don't think we should have it either way,'' responded Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall. "We don't need another highly addictive substance available to adults or adolescents.''
LaWall acknowledged that what Orr is proposing would be only for adults. But she said its greater availability will make it more accessible to teens.
"Research shows it has a devastating and damaging impact on developing brains and can lead to life-long addiction,'' she said. "Among other risks, marijuana impairs thinking, leads to poor educational outcomes and lowered IQ, and increases a teen's likelihood of dropping out of school.''
And LaWall said even assuming marijuana sales could be limited to adults, legalization sends the message that it's use is somehow OK.
Steele said Colorado residents are having second thoughts. In a poll last month by Suffolk University and USA today, about half of residents surveyed said they are not happy with the law and how it is being implemented.
"And in Colorado, we're seeing since this has happened, that the use of marijuana among teenagers is 39 percent higher than the national average,'' Steele said.
But another report raises the question of whether any of this is related to the 2012 law.
A report released by Healthy Kids Colorado found that in 2013, the first full year the drug was legal for adults, 20 percent of high schoolers admitted using marijuana in the prior month and 37 percent said they had used it at some point in their lives.
By contrast, the 2011 survey found 22 percent who admitted to use in the prior month and 39 percent to sampling it.
But along the lines of LaWall's concern of acceptance, the same survey said the percentage of students who perceive a moderate or great risk from marijuana use declined from 58 percent in 2011 to 54 percent two years later.
Steele said her concern is for those children.
"I do think that adults have the right to make that decision,'' she said.
"But I'm a substance abuse counselor,'' Steele continued. "And I have dealt with so many people who started their drug and alcohol addiction in their teenage years, starting at 11 and 12.''
Orr said he has never used marijuana. And he agrees that, at least for teens, the drug should remain off limits for recreational use.
"In high school I saw it fundamentally destroyed some of my friends' lives,'' Orr said, who started with marijuana and, having decided that illegal drug use is OK, moved on to other substances.
This isn't the first foray by lawmakers into the area of legalizing -- or at least decriminalizing -- marijuana for recreational use.
John Fillmore, then a Republican representative from Apache Junction, tried in 2011 to make possession of up to two ounces a fine of no more than $200. When that failed, he tried a scaled-back measure the following year, with a $500 fine for possession of up to an ounce.
That also failed.
Just this past session Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, tried total legalization and recreation but could not get a hearing for his measure.
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