Jon Talton is actually based in Seattle, but the fourth-generation Arizonan is a former columnist for the Arizona Republic, and his writing in his Rogue Columnist blog reflects a thorough, insightful knowledge of the players and dynamics of this city and state. He still gets the occasional scoop, and he writes lovely, elegiac remembrances of the Phoenix that used to be, catching the finer human points of how the Valley has morphed and expanded over the years. He pulls no punches — only "fools" go hiking in a Phoenix summer, he writes in disgust — and the scope of Rogue Columnist is expansive. This "pen warmed up in hell" tackles climate change, heat, train stations, the newspaper industry, and many other subjects, but it never lectures or grows too bitter. Instead, his blog posts are often a fusion of personal recollections and critical reflections on the small- and large-scale changes that will continue to mold Phoenix in the years to come.

Created in 2015 by Governor Doug Ducey, the task force was his way of telling voters he's doing something about illegal immigration, which many Republican voters see as a huge problem. The state reportedly has spent $82 million on the task force since then, and this year it got an $11 million boost that will include the hiring of several new troopers. Yet, if the border strike task force does anything that the state doesn't already expect the Arizona Department of Public Safety to do, that would be unusual. As the Arizona Republic and New Times have found out, the program does little beyond act as Ducey's propaganda tool. Statistics detailing the task force's alleged successes borrow from the work of other law enforcement agencies, research shows. Fewer than 18 percent of the cases it works on involve drug smuggling or organized crime. That is, if a police agency stops a semitruck and finds a pound of meth on the driver, the task force might list it under its tally for drugs seized for the year. But this sort of smoke-and-mirrors crime-fighting program is just what you'd expect of one created by a politician. More criminals likely would get busted if the program wasn't so focused on trying to make Ducey look good.

Although its greatest offenses took place in 2014, only in 2019 did the largest electric utility in the state and its parent company, Pinnacle West, finally cop to dumping more than $130 million in customer dollars into political spending, charitable contributions, marketing and advertising, lobbying, and sponsorships from 2013 to 2018. Arizonans were disgusted but unsurprised when the utility disclosed, under threat of subpoena, that it had indeed secretly poured tens of millions in dark money into the 2014 Corporation Commission race. That money contributed to the victories of APS's preferred candidates, who were then tasked with regulating the utility and deciding how much it could charge captive customers for electricity. The utility hasn't drawn the line at trying to buy its regulators, though. It has also been under federal investigation since at least 2016 over its involvement in the 2014 Arizona Secretary of State's race. With this particular investigation, the utility promises, it is fully cooperating with the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Gail Griffin and Chris Sevier are a match made in a heaven where porn doesn't exist, everyone is fully clothed at all times, and no one ever thinks an impure thought. That sounds an awful lot like Utah, where Sevier once tried to marry his laptop as he strongly implied that gay marriage was just as ridiculous. The anti-gay activist came up with an anti-porn idea this year as his latest stunt, and spread it like a disease through 18 states, including Arizona. Griffin signed on as Sevier's political soulmate, introducing HB 2444 in January. The bill would have required electronic devices in Arizona to be fitted with software that would block all internet porn. To remove the block, you'd have to be over 18 and pay $20. The money would go to something called the John McCain Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Fund, and this new fund's No. 1 priority would have been to help build Donald Trump's border wall between the United States and Mexico. Even for the red, Trump-supporting state of Arizona, this was mad-genius-level legislation. Griffin soon pulled her bill from consideration after nationwide ridicule.

Public officials never admit to anything, even when they get caught. Journalists, by contrast, are in it for the story. Writers may produce a book, like David Carr's Night of the Gun. TV reporter Bryan West of Channel 12 (KPNX-TV) decided to take up writing after serving nine days in jail for extreme DUI and failing to obey police commands. The burst of literary prowess for the reporter, who typically covers morning practice by high school bands, debuted on social media, naturally. In the 3,200-word essay, West apologizes for his actions and describes how he lived a double life as a hardcore alcoholic for "too many years," often drinking until he blacked out. He relates how his drunk and reckless driving led to his arrest that fateful night in August 2018. Yeah, we heard he left out some key details. But the deeply personal mea culpa on Facebook, set to public, was well received by USA Today's editor and hundreds of other journalists and well-wishers. West still hasn't returned to his on-air job at Channel 12. With luck, he's pursuing a less self-destructive lifestyle.

There are many ways to handle an election loss. One might express gratitude to supporters and look forward to spending more time with family. Hungrier candidates might begin reviewing what went wrong and planning for the next election. What's not recommended is lashing out like a child against public relations professionals on Twitter, a la failed State Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Frank Riggs. As election returns spelled bad news for Riggs against Democrat Kathy Hoffman, Riggs used his preferred social media app to lob some unkind words toward consultant David Leibowitz, who had taken some jabs at the 68-year-old perennial candidate. "Punk & coward," Riggs wrote to Leibowitz. "Couldn't last one week in boot camp or police academy. Sorry Softie." Riggs went on to hurl insults at flacks and journalists who weighed in on his poor election results and juvenile behavior. Don't conservatives like Riggs have a word for overly sensitive people who flip out when they're lightly criticized? Oh, yeah — #snowflake.

After a racist yearbook photo threatened to derail Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, the USA Today Network began an ambitious project to examine what other nasty secrets decades-old school memory albums might reveal. Well, they certainly found a doozy in the 1988-89 Arizona State University yearbook: a photo of two white frat boys in blackface makeup dressed as heavyweight champion Mike Tyson and his soon-to-be ex-wife Robin Givens, who had alleged physical abuse. And who not only was the editor of that yearbook, but also the student who designed that offensive page? Yep, current USA Today Editor Nicole Carroll, who previously had been a top executive at the Arizona Republic and a member of the ASU journalism school's hall of fame. Carroll didn't take questions from reporters, but did issue an immediate mea culpa through the network. Alas, her apology had to be corrected for a factual error. Journalism 101: Don't assign a story without knowing if you're going to be a part of it. And if you are forced to apologize, make sure it's correct.

Arizona history has no shortage of career-ending political scandals, but few, if any, have matched the sheer awfulness of state Representative David Stringer's. The Prescott Republican's downfall began in July 2018, when a video of him lamenting that there are "not enough white kids to go around" in Arizona public schools went viral, revealing his racism (and earning him the distinction of Best Viral Newsmaker in that year's Best of Phoenix). More racism from Stringer, recorded on tape and published by New Times in November, renewed calls for him to resign. Then, the bomb dropped. New Times published a report in January revealing that Stringer accepted a plea deal on multiple sex crimes when he lived in Baltimore in the '80s. For two months, Stringer resisted calls to step down and refused to cooperate with an ethics probe into his past. But that didn't stop investigators, led by Joe Kanefield, from digging up a police report showing that his case involved allegations that he paid young boys, including a developmentally disabled child, multiple times for sex. That revelation finally brought Stringer down. Good riddance.

Once you've taken a look through the impressive repertoire of the Kaiserworks studio, you instantly will recognize its work. Throughout the Valley, you can cross the threshold into many of its creations that are occupied by businesses like Undefeated, Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix, and Welcome Diner. Principal designer Christoph Kaiser and his team have garnered an illustrious reputation by designing spaces that break the barrier of architectural norms but still provide a universal and welcoming aura. Beyond providing exquisite spaces for local businesses, Kaiserworks has also made a lasting impression in home design. Perhaps its most celebrated structure is the Silo House, a 1955-grain silo converted into a 360-square-foot, two-story home, located in the Garfield neighborhood.

Jared Duran's independent podcast hit the 100-episode milestone this year. He marked the occasion by interviewing Wilco's Nels Cline before the guitarist took the stage at the Musical Instrument Museum. Duran's passion for the performer's craft showed throughout the episode, but his natural curiosity isn't limited to the touring musicians he now interviews on a regular basis. The conversations aren't a one-way street, either. He is genuinely intrigued by what fuels the inspiration for the local writers, artists, and influencers who talk to him. Much like Marc Maron, who is Duran's inspiration, he's not afraid to bring his insecurity and neuroses to the show, which is what keeps Phoenix coming back week after week.

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