Best All-Around Pundit 2023 | Laurie Roberts | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

Laurie Roberts is about the only reason we bother to read The Arizona Republic these days. Let's be real, Gannett has nearly sucked the Rep dry of all value, and in about five years or less, there will be nothing left but the husk and E.J. Montini. Worry not for the ever-acerbic Roberts, though. She's been there long enough that her buyout will no doubt be fat, and if she goes the route of many journos these days and signs up for Substack, people will actually pay to read her columns. (Novel idea, that.) In recent years, Roberts has targeted mostly Republican stupidity. But as our purple state trends blue, you can expect her to shift like a mood ring to assailing Democrat inanity, of which there will be plenty. Roberts, thankfully, is an equal-opportunity cynic.

Russell Pearce's death on Jan. 5, at age 75 epitomizes a famous line from Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar": "The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones." So it is with Pearce, author and primary pusher of Arizona's racist "papers please" law, SB 1070, which effectively turned local police into immigration agents with a green light to pull over brown people on the flimsiest of excuses and then inquire into their immigration status. Passed in 2010, the law sparked a boycott of Arizona, multiple lawsuits and a wave of anti-Hispanic hatred across the state. Pearce's buddy Sheriff Joe Arpaio used it to terrorize communities of color, while the rest of the country looked on in horror. Pearce became president of the Arizona Senate and ruled with an iron hand. But not for long. Against all odds, Pearce's opponents forced a historic recall election in his Mesa district, and Pearce was defeated by fellow Republican Jerry Lewis. The U.S. Supreme Court threw out much of SB 1070, but let the section allowing local police to do immigration checks remain, with certain restrictions. Pearce's name became a byword for racism. He never regained office.

Bigoted laws and bad policy ideas are constantly emerging, zombielike, from the muck of the Arizona legislature. Yet during the 2023 session, Arizona's Republican lawmakers launched new and particularly vicious attacks on LGBTQ+ people in the state: bills targeting drag performers, bills limiting health care for transgender people and most of all, bills affecting LGBTQ+ youth. Arizona's schools — and students — were a key target for lawmakers. They proposed bills this year that would prevent teachers from using students' pronouns and bar transgender pupils from using bathrooms that aligned with their gender. Most of these bills didn't make it past the desk of Gov. Katie Hobbs. And that was thanks in part to activism by students across the state, including Support Equality AZ Schools, a student collective led by Chandler high schooler Dawn Shim. Beginning in September 2022, after former Gov. Doug Ducey signed several anti-LGBTQ+ bills into law, and continuing through 2023, Shim helped organize walkouts out at their own school and high schools across the Valley, drawing awareness to the anti-LGBTQ+ bills flooding the legislature; the anti-LGBTQ+ crusades of Tom Horne, the new Arizona education chief; and the hostile school environments that queer youth often encounter in Arizona. Hundreds of students took to the streets — and schoolyards — as a result of SEAZS's organizing. But it was, of course, deeply unfair that the walkouts were necessary at all. In the words of one student organizer at a rally, it proved that Arizona had devolved into "pseudo-apocalyptic bullshit."

Carlos Garcia cut his teeth as an activist fighting Arizona's bigoted immigration law, SB 1070, and helping lead the fight against Maricopa County's racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Typically, you would find Garcia in the streets, leading protesters and demanding an end to the mistreatment of his community by law enforcement. In 2019, he became a politician, winning a special election to represent District 8 on the Phoenix City Council. There, he broke all of the rules, often wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with "Stop Police Brutality" and spearheading a successful drive to create a civilian review board to oversee the Phoenix Police Department. In doing so, he butted heads with Mayor Kate Gallego, who engineered a challenge to Garcia by cop-friendly attorney Kesha Hodge Washington. Backed by the Democratic establishment and the real-estate crowd, she handily beat Garcia in a runoff election. So now, we're back to a City Council dominated by status-quo Dems, but at least Garcia tried to change things in a town run by cops and developers. For a moment, he gave us hope.

On July 6, just two days after Phoenix celebrated all things American, Congressional Republican candidate Jerone Davison dropped a political ad that can only be described as confounding. The ad begins with a horde of "Democrats" wearing KKK hoods while wielding bats, garden hoes and, perplexingly, a hatchet, as they ascend on Davison's home in broad daylight. Next, Davison does his best James Bond impression and stares down the assailants while brandishing an AR-15 rifle. And now for the best, maybe worst, moment of the video — Davison's voiceover. "When this rifle is the only thing standing between your family and a dozen angry Democrats in Klan hoods, you just might need that semiautomatic and all 30 rounds." The ad's final scene depicts a Klan mask floating in an empty pool while Davison stares epically into the setting sun. The ad was decried for its promotion of violence, and it did little to help Davison's political career. He ultimately came in dead last in the Republican primary for U.S. House Arizona District 4, but his cringy ad scored him 31,000 post likes on Twitter — not bad for a guy who only secured 9,500 votes.

The Zone — a stretch of downtown Phoenix along Jefferson Street between Ninth and 13th avenues — has been called one of the largest homeless encampments in the nation. It has also become a battleground pitting local businesses against some 1,000 unsheltered individuals who call the area home. On Aug. 10, 2022, business owners in the Zone filed suit against the city for "completely abdicating its responsibility" to police the area. While the suit continued to make its way through the court system, Phoenix Kitchens, a subsidiary of California-based company Maker Kitchens, took matters into its own hands. Under the guise of a utility work permit, the company installed massive metal dinosaur sculptures along its property line on Ninth Avenue in November 2022. Electric Supply, a company located near Maker Kitchens, also helped fund the installation, though the company was not a part of the Aug. 10 lawsuit. Electric Supply's president, Bill Morlan said he "felt [he] could help keep the area safe and clean" by installing the sculptures as a deterrent for Zone residents to set up camp. The city felt differently, and the sculptures were ordered to be removed.

In a moment when LGBTQ+ Arizonans were facing mounting discrimination and vitriol — in the classroom, out on the streets and in the halls of the Arizona statehouse — Lookout Phoenix arrived, a news organization promising to tell the stories and uplift the voices of Arizona's LGBTQ+ residents. The organization was cofounded by Joseph Jaafari, a former investigative reporter at The Arizona Republic. The small team has managed to get Lookout off the ground and started making plans for its expansion — no small feat, and a rare piece of good news about the news in a crumbling media market, both in Arizona and around the country. An important component of Lookout's work is its weekly (sometimes biweekly) newsletter, which highlights the key stories about LGBTQ+ rights in the state, alongside incisive analysis about the state of Arizona politics. Recent newsletter editions have featured in-depth coverage on the ongoing legal battle around the rights of trans student athletes in Arizona, along with roundups of the most important news of the day. "Fierce. Independent. Queer" is Lookout's slogan, and so far, it has more than lived up to that promise.

If all we did was look at the gorgeous nature photography on Arizona Highways' Instagram, it would still be one of our favorite accounts. But the perenially beloved magazine dedicated to celebrating our state's natural beauty knows how to write an engaging caption as well. Whether we're reading fun facts about Arizona's national parks on the National Park Service's anniversary or getting context about an image with words from its photographer, we often come away from a scrolling session a little more knowledgeable. In that way, Arizona Highways' Instagram account is a feast for the eyes and the mind.

Camaron Stevenson, founding editor of Arizona media outlet The Copper Courier, may have started out in print, but he shines on TikTok, where he brings important stories to his 20,000 followers. Whether he's discussing the latest legislative shenanigans at the Arizona State Capitol, visiting a local Target to see where they moved their Pride display or covering issues like the eviction by Grand Canyon University of the mobile home park residents next door, Stevenson explains things clearly, succinctly and without bias. The viewer comes away feeling educated but not condescended to. Stevenson has only been posting TikToks since May, but we hope he's a presence on the app for a long time to come.

The framework of "Rim to River: Looking Into the Heart of Arizona," published by University of Arizona Press, is a north-to-south trek author Tom Zoellner takes across our fair state on the Arizona Trail. Along the way, Zoellner (a former Phoenix New Times contributor) considers the history, culture, politics, food and geography of the state in his typically engaging style. The fifth-generation Arizonan blends affection for his homeland with clear-eyed consideration of its faults, and the result is a must-read book for anyone interested in the Grand Canyon State. Zoellner was the one walking, but he takes the reader along with him for the journey.

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