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President Obama's proposal to resume diplomatic relations with Cuba has elicited mixed reactions from Valley residents with Cuban roots.
Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell speaks at the Columbus Metropolitan Library in Columbus, Ohio, Nov. 13. Open enrollment under Obama's health overhaul starts Saturday. (AP Photo/The Columbus Dispatch, Fred Squillante)
be in Arizona Saturday as she works to encourage residents to sign up for individual health insurance or renew and re-enroll for coverage they bought last year.
PHOENIX (AP) — A federal judge has ruled an Arizona law defining a political committee is unconstitutionally vague, but stopped short of barring authorities from enforcing it.
A federal judge late Friday voided state laws requiring groups to register before spending money on campaigns — and with it, the reports they're supposed to file on who is behind all that cash.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. John McCain is blocking the confirmation of President Barack Obama's nominee to be America's second-highest ranked diplomat.
PHOENIX (AP) — Outgoing Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said Monday she is preparing a budget proposal that protects her top priorities but that she acknowledges can be ignored by governor-elect Doug Ducey.
Brewer said her budget will spare education, child welfare and mental health services from big cuts that will be needed as she seeks to fill a projected $1 billion deficit for the budget year that begins July 1. But she said it will difficult to avoid including big spending cuts in other areas.
"There are several things that are very protected in that budget, that I'll be guarding very carefully," Brewer said, ticking off the three top priorities. "So I've got those priorities, they've always been my priorities and they will continue to be my priorities."
But the Republican governor said it will be "probably be very, very difficult," to avoid major cuts in other programs, especially since Ducey has promised not to raise taxes. And she acknowledge that Ducey can take her proposal and change it however he likes, even if that means cuts to the new Department of Child Safety or behavioral health services.
"I think they will probably take my budget that's been drafted by my staff and then go in there and address the issues that they feel are important or not so important," Brewer said. "He'll be governor, he can do whatever he wants to do."
Ducey, also a Republican, takes office Jan. 5 and will roll out his budget on Jan. 16, meaning Brewer's efforts will save him time. Brewer budget director John Arnold is leading the effort to craft her new budget, and he also is part of Ducey's transition team. That means he'll likely leave plenty of options available for Ducey as he takes charge.
The budget proposal won't be made public, Brewer spokesman Andrew Wilder said.
Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said Ducey welcomes the governor's input, but he did not give any additional comment.
Brewer called the looming budget crisis — a revenue shortfall of more than 10 percent of this budget year's $9.3 billion in spending — a challenge that Ducey can overcome. She herself faced a much bigger shortfall when she became governor after Janet Napolitano resigned in 2009 to take a job in the Obama Administration.
"Coming from where I came from it doesn't seem like such an enormous task — we were faced with a $3 billion deficit," Brewer said. "You just have to get a plan and you have to decide what it is and what your priorities are and move forward and then stick to your guns and get it done."
Brewer didn't have the chance to work with Napolitano on a budget proposal when she took office. Napolitano had stayed in office and presented her own budget proposal after accepting Barack Obama's offer to become his Homeland Security secretary, then resigned.
The state, mired in the throes of the Great recession, made massive spending cuts in Brewer's first years in office, including cuts to those top priorities Brewer is now trying to protect.
PHOENIX (AP) — The certification of the Nov. 4 general election results formally sends the Arizona's 2nd Congressional District race to a recount.
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — The 133 ballots at the heart of a federal lawsuit in southern Arizona over election results in the hotly contested 2nd Congressional District will not be counted after all.
U.S. District Judge Cindy Jorgenson denied a request Thursday by U.S. Rep. Ron Barber and three voters to halt the official election results certification until the ballots of 133 lawful voters are counted. The official statewide election canvass is scheduled for Monday morning.
In her decision, Jorgenson said the court was not unsympathetic to voters whose ballots may have been improperly rejected. But Barber's campaign failed to prove that the discounted votes would undermine the integrity of the Nov. 4 election, Jorgenson wrote. She said the campaign's allegation that not issuing a restraining order would lead to "irreparable harm" was speculative.
"Even if all 133 votes are counted, it is undisputed that Martha McSally wins the election because she leads by a margin of 161 votes at this time," Jorgenson wrote.
Barber's campaign expressed disappointment Thursday.
"While we are disappointed in the court's decision, we remain committed to ensuring that Southern Arizonans are able to trust the integrity of this election, and we thank the voters who not only took the time to vote in this election, but who came forward to ask that their voices be heard," Barber campaign manager Kyle Quinn-Quesada said in a statement.
Quinn-Quesada did not say if the campaign planned to appeal but that they were looking forward to the recount.
The 133 ballots had been disqualified for a variety of reasons, but Barber attorney Kevin Hamilton argued that voters had done everything they were supposed to do to cast them. In many cases, he said, poll workers gave incorrect information about voting locations.
The race for the Tucson-area district between Barber, the incumbent, and Martha McSally, his Republican opponent for the second time in two years, came down to 161 votes in McSally's favor.
McSally has claimed victory and attended freshman orientation in Washington. Barber has challenged election results vigorously, first asking the boards of supervisors for Pima and Cochise counties to hold off on approving election results, a necessary step before they're approved at a state level. Both boards declined to do so.
McSally attorney Eric Spencer said it was unfair to voters who correctly cast their ballot to delay certification.
Secretary of State Ken Bennett, a defendant in the suit, said granting the restraining order could set precedent in other counties where ballots were disqualified. In Maricopa County, that would be up to 700 ballots, he said.
Jorgenson agreed with that sentiment, saying the hardship to the secretary of state and voters in the 2nd Congressional District outweighed the hardship to Barber's campaign.
They can't gather their first signature for more than seven months, but foes of Republican Diane Douglas, newly elected the state school superintendent, now have the legal ability to start soliciting funds for the effort.
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Rep. Ron Barber, D-2nd Dist., filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to stop certification of the 2nd Congressional District race in Arizona after the count put his Republican opponent fewer than 200 votes ahead of Barber.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in Tucson is the latest attempt by the Tucson-area Democrat to challenge the results that had him losing to Martha McSally by 161 votes. Barber wants 133 disqualified votes to be counted before the election is certified. The results are headed for an automatic recount mandated by state law because of the razor-thin margin.
McSally has claimed victory and has attended freshman orientation in Washington.
Three Arizona voters who say their lawful votes weren't counted are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Lea Goodwine-Cesarac, an 81-year-old retired teacher, says she moved shortly before the election and voted at the wrong polling place but was not told to go to the correct one.
"No election is perfect. We rely on volunteers to run our democracy and make it work. And they deserve our thanks, but sometimes they make mistakes," Barber attorney Kevin Hamilton said.
Barber last week asked the board of supervisors for both Pima and Cochise counties to hold off on certifying the election results, a necessary step before the Arizona secretary of state certifies them on Dec. 1.
Both boards declined to do so. In Pima County, some supervisors said it was not their role to interfere in the election in that way.
The Barber campaign has also requested that Secretary of State Ken Bennett add 156 uncounted ballots to the tally. They include the 133 votes mentioned in the federal lawsuit.
Hamilton said he hopes a judge will hear the request on Tuesday.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The head of the troubled Phoenix veterans' hospital was fired Monday as the Veterans Affairs Department continued its crackdown on wrongdoing in the wake of a nationwide scandal over long wait times for veterans seeking medical care and falsified records covering up the delays.
Sharon Helman, director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, was ousted nearly seven months after she and two high-ranking officials were placed on administrative leave amid an investigation into allegations that 40 veterans died while awaiting treatment at the hospital. Helman had led the giant Phoenix facility, which treats more than 80,000 veterans a year, since February 2012.
The Phoenix hospital was at the center of the wait-time scandal, which led to the ouster of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and a new, $16 billion law overhauling the labyrinthine veterans' health care system.
VA Secretary Robert McDonald said Helman's dismissal underscores the agency's commitment to hold leaders accountable and ensure that veterans have access to high-quality, timely care.
An investigation by the VA's office of inspector general found that workers at the Phoenix VA hospital falsified waiting lists while their supervisors looked the other way or even directed it, resulting in chronic delays for veterans seeking care. At least 40 patients died while awaiting appointments in Phoenix, the report said, but officials could not "conclusively assert" that delays in care caused the deaths.
About 1,700 veterans in need of care were "at risk of being lost or forgotten" after being kept off the official waiting list at the troubled Phoenix hospital, the IG's office said.
"Lack of oversight and misconduct by VA leaders runs counter to our mission of serving veterans, and VA will not tolerate it," McDonald said in a statement late Monday. "We depend on VA employees and leaders to put the needs of veterans first."
Helman is the fifth senior executive fired or forced to resign in recent weeks in response to the wait-time scandal.
Helman did not immediately respond to telephone messages Monday from The Associated Press.
Helman, who has worked at the VA since 1990, has been on paid leave since May 1, shortly after a former clinic director at the Phoenix site alleged that up to 40 patients may have died because of delays in care and that the hospital kept a secret list of patients waiting for appointments to hide the treatment delays.
Dr. Samuel Foote, who had worked for the Phoenix VA for more than 20 years before retiring last December, brought the allegations to light and says supervisors ignored his complaints for months.
In an interview with the AP in May, hours before being placed on administrative leave, Helman denied any knowledge of a secret list and said she had found no evidence of patient deaths due to delayed care.
Helman told the AP that she takes her job seriously and was personally offended by the claims of misconduct.
"I have given over 20 years of service to this mission. I am proud to lead this hospital," Helman said. "I have never wavered from the ethical standards that I have held my entire career, and I will continue to give these veterans what they deserve, which is the best health care."
Associated Press writer Brian Skoloff in Phoenix contributed to this story.
PHOENIX (AP) — Rep. Ron Barber, D-2nd Dist., is asking the Arizona secretary of state to count about 156 additional ballots from voters who say they are eligible to vote.
Barber's campaign on Friday sent the request, along with 156 signed declarations from southern Arizona voters whose provisional ballots and unsigned early ballot envelopes were rejected, to Secretary of State Ken Bennett.
The votes could trim the 161 vote lead now held by Republican Martha McSally.
McSally has declared victory but Barber's campaign is pushing for every last vote to be counted.
The race will undergo a mandatory recount of more than 220,000 ballots cast early in December.
Not even waiting until President Obama gave his speech Thursday night, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio filed suit in federal court seeking to block the announced plans to allow millions of people not in this country to remain and work here legally.
Tom Horne will pay $10,000 out of his own pocket to end an investigation into whether he illegally used staffers at the Attorney General's Office in his unsuccessful reelection campaign.
Three Scouts from Chandler and Mesa recently achieved the Boy Scouts of America’s Eagle Scout rank, something few Boy Scouts achieve.
PHOENIX (AP) — Democratic Rep. Ron Barber Tuesday fell short of the votes he needed to overcome Republican Martha McSally's lead in Arizona's 2nd Congressional District race, barring a recount change or the late tally of a small number of outstanding provisional ballots that swings the race his way.
Barber was trailing McSally by 133 votes after Pima County election officials counted about 2,660 remaining ballots from the district Tuesday.
McSally said she was confident her lead would hold.
An estimated 200 conditional provisional ballots could still be counted if voters go to the county recorder's office and show needed identification by Wednesday. Not all of those are in the 2nd District.
McSally is a former Air Force pilot who lost to Barber in 2012 but redoubled her effort this year. National Republicans spent millions of dollars to back her, while national Democrats spent heavily to defend Barber.
If the count holds at less than about 200 votes between the candidates, it triggers an automatic recount. That would happen early next month.
A recount in a statewide race last occurred in 2010, when Proposition 212 failed by just 192 votes after nearly 1.6 million were cast. The results changed the total for each side by 33 votes but did not change the outcome
About 220,000 votes have been cast in the current 2nd District race.
Matt Roberts, a spokesman for Secretary of State Ken Bennett, said the swing in the 2010 race was tiny, and he would expect the same to happen if the Barber-McSally race goes to a recount.
"People should trust in the fact that elections officials will come up with the same number or thereabouts twice," Roberts said. "Our election equipment is something that works very well."
The race is one of only five congressional seats still undecided nationally. Three House seats in California and one in New York also remain too close to call.
Barber picked up 162 votes Monday and was trailing McSally by 179 votes on Tuesday morning. But he picked up just 46 votes after the final batch of verified provisional ballots were counted.
Barber spokeswoman Ashley Nash-Hahn in a statement said the race remained too close to call.
"This is the closest congressional election in Arizona history," she said. "The law calls for an automatic recount in a race this close, and that is where we are headed."
She also noted that nearly 800 provisional ballots were rejected by the county recorder.
McSally's campaign failed in an effort to challenge some provisional ballots on Monday, and both sides have lawyers watching the counting.
She said in a statement that she's grateful for the support she's seen during the weeklong vote-counting.
"There are still ballots left to count, but we are confident that when all ballots are in, our lead will hold," she said. "We will continue to provide oversight of the process until then."
If McSally wins, it will be the only victory out of three Arizona congressional seats held by Democrats that Republicans targeted this year. Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick and Kyrsten Sinema easily won re-election.
Barber had an early lead on election night, but the race swung to McSally early the next day when Cochise County began reporting its results and Barber has never regained the lead.
McSally was 509 votes ahead on Friday, but Barber picked up 168 votes on Sunday and 162 votes Monday, cutting that lead to the current 179. Elections workers counted 5,434 ballots on those days.
McSally and Barber faced off in a similar battle during the 2012 election. Barber trailed for days, finally taking the lead on the Friday after Election Day. The race remained too close to call for another week.
Barber had won a special election to replace his former boss, Rep. Gabby Giffords, just months before the November 2012 election. He was with Giffords the previous year in Tucson when she was shot in the head and ultimately had to step down from her seat. Barber was hit in the thigh and cheek.
PHOENIX -- Arizona cannot require people to produce proof of citizenship before they register to vote, at least not for federal elections, a federal appellate court ruled Friday.
Legislative District 12 voters voiced their satisfaction with their state senator and state representatives on Election Day.
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."
Democrat Felecia Rotellini officially conceded to Republican Mark Brnovich in the race to become Arizona’s next attorney general.
Tens of thousands of outstanding ballots have left the results of several statewide races up in the air.
Republicans believe their message --- failures of the Obama administration on a range of issues as well as their plan to fix those problems --- played a key role in Tuesday’s sweeping wins both nationally and in Arizona.
PHOENIX -- Tens of thousands of outstanding ballots have left the results of several statewide races up in the air.
PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona voters have given Republicans another four years to lead the state, rejecting Democratic efforts to win statewide offices for the first time this decade.
Republican state treasurer Doug Ducey won the governor's office by a wide margin, beating Fred DuVal after a campaign that saw the Democrat fail to gain traction as he was hammered by nearly $8 million in negative ads paid for by outside groups.
Ducey takes over from retiring Republican Gov. Jan Brewer in January, but he will be faced with an immediate budget crisis as the state expects a budget deficit exceeding $1 billion.
Republican state Sen. Michele Reagan was elected secretary of state, making her the state's top elections official and the first in line to become governor if Ducey is unable to continue in the job. Mark Brnovich won the attorney general's race, Republican Jeff DeWit becomes the new state treasurer after an uncontested race, and two Republicans beat their Democratic opponents for the regulatory body known as the Corporation Commission to the secure the near GOP sweep of top statewide offices.
The lone statewide office that remained too close to call Wednesday — superintendent of public instruction — was being led by Republican Diane Douglas over Democrat David Garcia.
That left Democrats who had looked at the midterm elections as a way to grab a statewide constitutional office considering how they came up short.
Democratic Party spokesman Frank Camacho said the party's grassroots organizing efforts mainly fell short and its candidates lacked the fire to inspire young people. The exceptions were Ruben Gallego, who won the 7th Congressional District seat of retiring Rep. Ed Pastor, and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema's win in the 9th District.
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick won her sprawling rural 1st District as well. Democratic Rep. Ron Barber was locked in a tight race with retired Air Force pilot Martha McSally in southern Arizona's 2nd District.
But statewide elected offices were nearly out of reach for Democrats, who last held one before the 2010 general election.
"You see how they can inspire young folks," Camacho said. "We just have to go out there, identify them and get them ready for state, local or national office. We have to give voters a reason to vote for Democrats."
Ducey's easy win came as Republicans gained across the nation, taking control of the U.S. Senate and solidifying their control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Ducey, the 50-year-old former CEO of Cold Stone Creamery, portrayed himself as the inevitable winner in the final weeks of the campaign, buoyed by heavy spending on his behalf by outside groups and strong Republican turnout in early voting. He emerged from a bruising six-way primary in August in the race to replace Gov. Jan Brewer and went on to outspend DuVal in the general election by a hefty margin.
He'll take office in January and face a fiscal crisis caused by lower-than-expected tax revenue and a court order that could put Arizona on the hook for up to $2.5 billion in new education spending. The state faces a projected deficit of $1.5 billion in the current and next budget years amid promises from both candidates to cut taxes.
"I'm grateful for the privilege you have given me, for the trust you have placed in me, and I pledge my best efforts as the governor of this great state," Ducey said in a victory speech. "Whether you voted for me or you voted for someone else, I intend to be governor for all and work to create opportunities for every single Arizonan."
Ducey thanked his campaign staff, his wife, Angela, his three sons, and his opponent, Fred DuVal, calling him "a good man."
DuVal, in a concession speech at the Democrats' election-night headquarters in Phoenix, also thanked his supporters, and he said he had called Ducey to offer his congratulations.
"A registration disadvantage and clearly a bad national environment were hard enough to overcome. But we were also reminded that unlimited money is a powerful thing in politics — and is not a healthy thing," DuVal said.
He took a swipe at the massive amounts of outside spending used to attack him in the race from outside groups. Ducey and Duval each spent about $2.2 million in their general election campaigns, but Ducey has benefited from $7.9 million in outside spending compared with about $1 million for DuVal.
"I would like to call and congratulate the other big winners tonight, but frankly the other big winners are undisclosed, unknown and out of state," DuVal said.