Best Republican Politician 2022 | Rusty Bowers | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

Rusty Bowers, current speaker of the Arizona House, has a long, sometimes troubling record at the state Capitol. For decades, he's been an enigmatic figure in Arizona politics, and in addition to his 18-year career at the state House, he's also a sculptor and father of seven children. Until recently, his record was fairly in line with that of an old-school Arizona Republican. He's not a fan of marijuana, nor of funding public education. But this year, we have to give Bowers some major credit for being one of the only Republican lawmakers in the state to stand up to the bizarre, neverending claims of election fraud that have infected Arizona politics over the last two years, leading to, among other things, the absolute circus that was Arizona's 2020 election "audit." Bowers refused to bend to the demands of former President Donald Trump and others in his party to take action to overturn the 2020 election results in Arizona. He became a star witness in the federal hearings on the January 6 Capitol riots, testifying to the nightmare that his life became when he resisted the fringe of the Arizona GOP. And it was a real sacrifice: Bowers lost his bid for state Senate — badly — to his Trump-endorsed opponent in August. (He did get a 2022 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for his endeavors, though.) Is it depressing that Bowers, once considered something of a hardline reactionary, is now the lone voice of reason in the Arizona Republican Party? Yes. But we'll still thank him for it.

Less than a week after Raquel Terán was first elected to the Arizona House in 2018, she faced a bogus lawsuit challenging her citizenship. Terán was born and raised in Arizona, and the suit was quickly dismissed by a judge. The longtime community organizer, who once faced off with former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, refused to be silent, telling press that the suit was "designed to exclude people like me." Years later, undeterred, Terán has now become a state Senator, and last year, was elected as chair of the Arizona Democratic Party. She has brought a powerful voice to a party that, at times, has struggled to find a platform beyond pointing fingers at the extremes of the GOP. She has refused to tolerate frivolous, right-wing attacks. And, perhaps more significantly, Terán is constantly out on the streets, even now that she is in the state House. When residents of the Periwinkle Mobile Home Park, who were being evicted from their longtime homes by Grand Canyon University, went out in the blistering heat to protest, Terán showed up to march beside them. When concession workers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport went on strike, Terán was on the picket line. We're glad to see her at the helm of the Democratic Party.

When Laila Dalton tried to start a union at the north Phoenix Starbucks on Scottsdale Road and Mayo Boulevard in January, Starbucks fought back. Hard. The coffee giant targeted the then-19-year-old for months, giving her frivolous disciplinary writeups while interrogating other employees at the store about the union drive (all of which the National Labor Relations Board documented in a hefty complaint against Starbucks). Ultimately, within days of the election, Dalton was fired. If Starbucks thought that would make her go away, it was very wrong. Not only was the union election successful at that store (though it's still being contested by Starbucks), Dalton has since become one of the faces of a young, newly empowered labor movement — in Phoenix and beyond. She was out in the streets protesting against Starbucks this spring, and spoke before massive crowds about the power of young people rising up at the abortion rights protests at the state Capitol this summer. Now, she's working on union campaigns around Phoenix. We're rooting for her.

Scott Davis, the public information officer for the Maricopa County Justice Courts, is thoughtful, responsive, and always happy to pick up the phone and chat with reporters about arcane data questions. These are fantastic qualities in a PIO — and we're always grateful to encounter PIOs who don't stonewall. But the stakes are particularly high right now in the justice courts. It's in this court system that most eviction cases across the Valley are handled. Davis' monthly updates and analysis of eviction data — and constant willingness to work with reporters on stories about evictions and the Valley's housing crisis — have been essential to helping the public understand evictions through the pandemic. Without Davis' work to get reporters (and the public) eviction numbers, case information, and other stats, we might have a far less detailed picture of a mounting problem here in Maricopa County.

Veteran Phoenix journalists Rachel Leingang and Hank Stephenson launched the Arizona Agenda — a daily political newsletter on Substack — in August 2021. In the year since the Agenda began arriving in subscribers' inboxes, it's become a new fixture of political journalism in the state. The newsletter offers a fast-paced but thorough morning read, with a sharp breakdown of the most important stories of the moment. And the Agenda has broken big stories of its own. It's easy to get lost in the bureaucratic weeds of Arizona politics, but Leingang and Stephenson cut through to the key stories of the day, and keep a close eye on the constant antics down at the state house. Local news in the state is better for it.

It wasn't detectives who found Luka Magnotta, a murderer on Interpol's most wanted list, 10 years ago. It was social media users with a little free time and a penchant for amateur sleuthing. AZ Right Wing Watch has pledged to do the same here in the Grand Canyon State. The 2020 presidential election was the most-followed American election in history, and Arizona was at the center of the political paradigm shift that ensued. As the alt-right drifted further toward radicalism, AZ Right Wing Watch wasn't the hero Arizona asked for, but it became the hero we needed. With the entire world abuzz about American politics, the anonymous tweeter established their successful watchdog operation on Twitter, an account that has now amassed more than 15,000 followers. The self-styed "unprofessional" and "random local" claims to be from "The Fiery Infernos of Hell, Arizona." Apparently, said fiery infernos are rife with great tips about right-wing corruption for journalists across Arizona. Keep doing God's work, soldier.

Our fair state is a wonderland of stunning natural beauty, from the red rocks of Sedona and the epic Grand Canyon to the brown-hued Grand Falls and the simple joys of wildflower season in the desert. Not that we get to see much of it in person, what with metro Phoenix being the concrete jungle it is. But when we get tired of setting our sights on buildings and freeways, we check in with the Instagram account of the Arizona Highways, the venerable magazine that's been showing our best features off to the world since 1925. There, we can feast our eyes on everything from storm photography to snow-dusted images of the high desert in winter. It not only gives us inspiration for our next weekend getaway, it makes us truly appreciative of all Arizona has to offer.

TikTok, like any social media platform, can be used for good, for evil, or simply as a distraction. Scroll on the app long enough, and you'll run across countless local influencers (legit and wannabe) just dying to tell you about Scottsdale's hottest new restaurant. That's fine, we suppose, but when we think about a local TikToker who we truly respect and want to keep up with, we think of the woman behind the Leftover Gains account. She goes by Lefty, she's a veteran, and her content is part accountability, part call to action about local police and the ongoing challenges faced by people experiencing homelessness in metro Phoenix. Whether she's filming the sweeps that Phoenix Police routinely do in the Zone (a homeless encampment downtown), or chronicling her frequent trips around town to stock free community refrigerators, she advocates for some of the city's most vulnerable citizens with passion and intelligence. We can find the next cool bar on our own, thank you very much. We'd much rather have our FYP filled with people trying to make Phoenix a better place.

Head to Old Town Scottsdale any night of the week, and you can't miss them: roving packs of young women, often identifiable as a bride-to-be and her friends by matching sashes, themed T-shirts, and/or coordinating cowboy hats. The uptick in bachelorette getaways held in Scottsdale was noticed by no less than the New York Times, which published an article in June about the phenomenon. As of 2021, Scottsdale was the second-most-popular destination for brides and their bridesmaids (just behind Nashville), sparking a cottage industry of people who decorate the incoming women's Airbnbs with wedding-themed decor and bachelorette-specific events companies. Though we've heard some longtime Old Town barflies complain about the bachelorettes, we don't mind when we see a group walk through the door of our watering hole du jour: They pump money into the local economy, they bring good energy to even the emptiest bars, and if nothing else, the people-watching is epic.

Arizona has produced its fair share of celebrities, but not many can say they've won the highest honor in the world of cinema. The latest is Mesa native Troy Kotsur, whose revelatory performance as a struggling fisherman in the 2021 film CODA earned him the 2022 Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Kotsur is the second Arizona native to win an acting Oscar (the first was Emma Stone for La La Land in 2017), and more importantly, he's the first deaf man to win one. In his signed acceptance speech, Kotsur thanked his "hometown of Mesa, Arizona," and declared, "This is dedicated to the deaf community, the CODA community [besides being the name of the film, CODA stands for children of deaf adults], and the disabled community. This is our moment!" Since his win, Kotsur's face has appeared on banners in downtown Mesa and Mayor John Giles gave him the key to the city, solidifying his status as the east Valley city's favorite son.

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