Local Republican blogger Barbara Espinosa is a colossal pain in the Arizona GOP's butt, a role she enjoys immensely. Whether she's openly supporting Democrat Fred DuVal in the 2014 general election against fellow Republican and Governor Doug Ducey, or lambasting the state GOP's miserly approach to funding education, she drives Sand Land GOPers bonkers with her blog, American Freedom by Barbara. Indeed, Espinosa's ideological heresy so unhinged former Maricopa County Republican Committee Chair A.J. LaFaro that he sought to strip her of her voting rights as a precinct committeeperson. (He ended up having her and some other rebel Rs censured, instead.) A month later, LaFaro ran for GOP State Party chair, and lost big-time. Guess he didn't figure on karma — or on Espinosa, who became his deadly enemy and helped dig his political grave. A Texan by birth, a lady, and a longtime GOP activist and donor, Espinosa blogs lightning bolts daily. Mess with her at your peril.

www.americanfreedombybarbara.com

Unapologetically lefty, Blog for Arizona proudly wears its Democratic donkey on its banner, sings the praises of Obamacare, and incessantly is critical of Arizona's Republican overlords. In other words, for this redder-than-red GOP state, Blog for Arizona is an outlier. That doesn't make its team of progressive opinionators any less fierce. In fact, they regularly draw blood, whether it's erstwhile Democratic Congressional candidate Bob Lord's exposing former Republican schools' superintendent John Huppenthal as anonymous blog commenter "Falcon 9," or "Democratic Diva" Donna Gratehouse skewering the Rs over their attempts to restrict abortion rights for women. Like Gratehouse, some of these scribblers have their own blogs, but together they form a left-wing Wu Tang Clan, fighting a guerrilla war against a better-funded and far more populous enemy. They dream of a day when Arizona goes blue, or perhaps purple, though a lighter shade of pink may be the best they ever can hope for.

www.blogforarizona.com

Greg Patterson's Espresso Pundit is a must-read blog for Valley junkies of politics and news. Patterson's political spin and undying obsession with the Arizona Republic's left-leaning writers are more than outweighed by his sharp insight and biting criticism, from a reader's perspective. Officially titled "Arizona's Own Espresso Pundit" and subtitled "Ruminations of an Over-Caffeinated Political Junkie" (perhaps to set himself apart from the right-wing Mormon contingent), Patterson started the blog in its current format in 2006 and has sparked legislative hearings (related to the 9/11 memorial on the Arizona Capitol grounds). You don't have to agree with him — we often don't. But Patterson's not predictable, he's snarky, and he breaks news. A former lawmaker and current member of the Arizona Board of Regents, Patterson taps into his base of extensive connections to offer fresh information and angles on various stories in the news. Ever the critic of perceived liberal bias in the media, he might label a suspected hit piece without substance as a "Mr. Smith Showers Nude" story, for instance. Fun stuff like that keeps bringing us back, especially around election time.

www.espressopundit.com

Lefties love the idea of the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Act, while wingnuts love the reality of free cash to espouse their loony, far-right ideas and, often, get elected to office in the process. This welfare for Arizona pols removes the need for politicians to seek money from those who have it and who are unlikely to hand it over to some wackadoodle. Take our state's current superintendent of public instruction, Diane Douglas. This crazy cat lady would still be a wall-eyed instructor at Glendale's Stained Glass Shop if she hadn't scored $97,620 of free Clean Elections money in the 2014 GOP primary and $146,430 in the general election. That's just under a quarter of a million bucks total, if you're keeping score at home. Yes, Douglas was heavily outspent by Democrat David Garcia in the general election, but there is no way she would have been able to raise the cash necessary for a statewide campaign on her own. Without Clean Election dough, Douglas would not have prevailed. She thus becomes the best and latest argument against this failed experiment in socialism that local libs hold so dear.

It's funny how supposedly small-gub'mint Republicans, such as our new Governor Doug Ducey, actually will seek an expansion of state power when it's in their interests. Such was the case with Ducey's recent attempt to channel his inner Vladimir Putin and establish a mini-KGB in the form of a state Inspector General's Office. All state departments would have to comply with the new IG, who would have subpoena powers, according to the proposed legislation. And whistleblowin' on the IG would be outlawed.

Putatively, the reason for the new office, a pseudo-Attorney General's Office answerable only to Ducey, was to root out government corruption. But Ducey's sneaky 11th-hour use of a strike-everything amendment to pass the law during the last legislative session tipped his hand. Ducey even tried an end-run around Attorney General and fellow Republican Mark Brnovich, neglecting to tell the AG of the effort. Fortunately, the Legislature adjourned before this turkey could get passed. But you can bet Ducey's camp will give it another go in 2016.

We love a good protest, especially when it's led by tenacious underdogs and gives us an excuse to spend time in the Tonto National Forest. The Occupy Oak Flat movement is both of these things, not to mention an all-around badass campaign — hats off to you, occupiers! They've camped out in an area of Oak Flat Campgrounds for months as part of their protest against a sneaky, last-minute land-exchange deal passed by Congress. The deal gave the mining company Resolution Copper the thousands of acres of Oak Flat — a well-known rock-climbing and recreation hub, and a culturally and spiritually significant spot for Native American tribes throughout the Southwest — so the company could access the huge deposit of copper ore sitting a mile below ground. When word of the deal came out, a small group of San Carlos Apache set up their protest, and vowed not to leave until it was repealed. The movement grew quickly, and people came from all over the world to show support. Months later, it's still going strong.

Dubbed "the secret police bill," Senate Bill 1445 — which prevented law enforcement from releasing the name of an officer involved in a violent incident for 60 days — was one of the most hotly contested bills on the floor this legislative session. People came out in droves to speak against the proposal, and it garnered the attention of the ACLU, the NAACP, and the Black Lives Matter campaign. (The bill did have a few vocal supporters, including the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association.) As it slowly made its way through the Senate and then through House, and then to Governor Doug Ducey's desk, we began to really worry it would become a law. Ducey gave little indication about whether he supported the proposal, and on the day he was slated to consider it, a large crowd gathered outside his building, ready to celebrate or protest. Jubilation is probably the best word to describe what happened when word came down that SB 1445 got a big, fat veto. And in a year when other ridiculous bills (cough, cough, ban on banning plastic bags) somehow became law, this one victory deserves to be celebrated.

It's not every day that the police solve a decades-old double-homicide cold case, especially one that struck fear in the hearts of white, middle-class families throughout the Valley. But in January, Brian Patrick Miller, the 42-year-old man suspected of committing the "Canal Murders" in 1992 and 1993 was taken into custody and charged with murder. DNA evidence linked him to the brutal deaths of Angela Brosso, 22, and Melanie Bernas, 17, both of whom had disappeared while on bike rides and then turned up dead in Phoenix canals days later. Before his arrest, Miller was known around the Valley as "the Zombie Hunter" because he would ride around in a vintage police car painted with fake blood while wearing a trench coat and a gas mask and toting a bizarre-looking gun. The police had looked at him as a suspect in the mid-'90s, but the forensic science of the day wasn't strong enough to link him to the murders. He's set to go to trial later this year, and police have said they aren't ruling out a connection to other cold case murders.

There are dozens of nonprofits around the county doing amazing work every day for the homeless, but one really stands out for going above and beyond this year. When residents took to the streets protesting the county's practice of allowing a hot, crowded, and dirty parking lot to substitute for a shortage of shelter space, the LDRC stepped up to the challenge and found a solution. Not only did staff immediately begin coordinating with officials from the city, county, state, and private sector to secure funding for a massive rapid re-housing program, but they scrambled together resources, volunteers, and trained new employees in order to turn the center into a dignified overnight emergency shelter. Now, every evening, hundreds of men and women who previously slept out on the street can spend the night in an air-conditioned, clean, and safe space that's staffed by employees trained in crisis prevention or case management. The LDRC believes that a shelter should be about engaging clients and helping connect them to services, not just providing a roof to sleep under. And we think they're doing a great job in proving this approach works.

How many 20-somethings can boast that they took down a Republican state attorney general? That's pretty much what former Republican fundraiser and ex-AG staffer Sarah Beattie did when she came forward during the 2014 GOP primary and revealed what many had already surmised: that Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne was using the AG's Office as his unofficial campaign headquarters. Beattie had more than her word. She had a trove of documents showing that Horne's staff was working on state time to get their man re-elected, a giant no-no. Horne already was mired in controversy over his 2010 campaign shenanigans, a vehicular hit-and-run, and an extramarital affair with an assistant AG. Beattie's revelation effectively tied an anvil to the AG's political neck, thus ending his career. Beattie suffered for her act of conscience, as Horne and his minions viciously smeared her in retaliation. She lost friends and clients and has turned her back on politics. In our book, though, she deserves a medal for helping to boot a corrupt pol from office. We ain't got no medal, but hopefully this Best Of will do.

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