In Arizona, there will never be a shortage of controversial politicians. The ones who tend to make the national spotlight always seem to be for a negative reason. But for every Jeff Flake or Joe Arpaio, there's an equally good politician like Rep. Athena Salman. Here's every political winner of Best of Phoenix 2018.
Best Interview: Joe Arpaio on Who Is America?
It may have been Joe Arpaio's best interview in 25 years of politicking. The former Maricopa County sheriff has dropped enough bombshells during interviews over the years to flatten the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range. (Remember when he told Lou Dobbs it was an "honor" to be compared to the KKK?) Nothing he's done on TV in the past, however, tops his R-rated appearance with comedian Sacha Baron Cohen on Showtime's Who is America? While he was still running his failed campaign for the U.S. Senate, Arpaio got tricked by Cohen into appearing on the show, thinking Cohen was a YouTube star from Finland. Anyone in their right mind would have pegged Cohen as a kidder, but Arpaio, 86, has been steadily losing his mind for years. When Cohen asked Arpaio if he thought President Donald Trump has had a "golden shower," the ex-sheriff didn't reflect back to the news coverage of the past year. Instead, he told Cohen it wouldn't surprise him. The punch line of the show came when Cohen asked Arpaio what he'd say if Trump offered him "an amazing blowjob." To the delight of nearly everyone, Arpaio responded that he "may have to say yes." Maybe it was a Freudian slip, but Arpaio probably had no idea what Cohen was talking about. He might not have even known what day it was. But Arpaio's last major interview will be racking up views on YouTube for years to come.
Best Place to Find ICE at Night: Motel 6
Not even Tom Bodett could have put a positive spin on this story after Phoenix New Times reporters Antonia Noori Farzan and Joseph Flaherty combed through thousands of court records to uncover a pattern: Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents regularly showed up at one of two corporate-owned Motel 6s in Phoenix to arrest guests who had been deported but had re-entered the country illegally. Our reporters learned that the motels were sending their full guest lists every night to ICE, whose agents were comparing them to the names they had of undocumented immigrants, then making more than 20 arrests when they found matches. The story went viral, and within 24 hours Motel 6 said that it was ending its policy of handing over guest lists, and that the practice had been limited to only two motels in Phoenix. However, in January, the attorney general of Washington state announced that, based on our reporting, his office began an investigation and found at least six more Motel 6 properties that had been handing over information on more than 9,000 guests in that state. The Columbia Journalism Review called Farzan and Flaherty's reporting "an advertisement for alt-weeklies." We like to think of that reporting as shining a light on Motel 6 and leaving it on.
Best Politician: Athena Salman
Progressive state representative Athena Salman has been killing it this year. To start, she represents Arizona's 26th legislative district, which includes the cities of Tempe, Mesa, Phoenix, and the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community. She gained further notice from those not already paying attention when she introduced House Bill 2222, otherwise known as the #LetItFlow campaign, which highlighted how incarcerated women were given just 12 sanitary pads a month. Salman, an Arizona State University magna cum laude graduate, has continued the year supporting the #RedForEd movement, LGBTQ equality, women's rights, and many more issues.
Best First Responder: Jeff Flake
Arizona's departing junior senator has a weird knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time — or the right place at the right time, depending on how you look at it. First, there was the baseball game in Alexandria, Virginia, where a lone gunman opened fire and shot Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise. Flake immediately rushed over and applied pressure to the wound until paramedics arrived, then called Scalise's wife so that she wouldn't find out about the shooting through the news. Then, in January, Flake was on his way to a GOP retreat in Virginia with other Republican lawmakers when their train collided with a garbage truck. Unscathed, he immediately began helping to treat the injured passengers. What's next for Flake after his retirement from the Senate is unclear, but we're guessing that it might mean some volunteer stints as an EMT.
Best Power Couple: Joel Edman and Marilyn Rodriguez
Some power couples seek out fame and fortune. This duo just want to make Arizona more equitable for everyone. Often spotted in the halls of the state Capitol, Marilyn Rodriguez is a founder of the progressive lobbying firm Creosote Partners, and works tirelessly to advance environmental causes and criminal justice reform. Meanwhile, Joel Edman runs the Arizona Advocacy Network, a nonpartisan group fighting voter suppression. The do-gooders got engaged last December, and we couldn't be happier for them — and their adorable rescue dog.
Best Sex Scandal: Steve Montenegro
Smack-dab in the middle of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and general male asshole-ism, Republican Congressman Trent Franks got caught in a sexual misconduct scandal and resigned. Steve Montenegro and nine other GOP candidates decided to run for his seat, and for a while, Montenegro was the leader. He'd had a short but successful career in the Arizona Legislature, with a stint as Republican Majority Leader of the Senate. If you think a holier-than-thou politician who works part-time as a preacher has something to hide, you'd be right. The family man was sharing bawdy text messages with the Senate's social media coordinator, who used her skills to send Montenegro at least one topless photo on Snapchat. Montenegro looked like the biggest boob in town for a week or so after someone leaked the texts to the media. Who leaked it and why? The answer proved elusive. But the damage was done when the story hit the papers, and Montenegro's star fell. Voters elected Debbie Lesko to Congress. Hint to other high-profile Don Juans: Just because you put your sex fantasies on Snapchat doesn't mean they'll disappear. But your political aspirations just might.
Best Expulsion: Don Shooter
Arizona has had several #MeToo issues by this time. But the case of Don Shooter helped set the bar at proper Arizona depth. Shooter had a good run in the state Legislature, but only because Harvey Weinstein had not yet happened. Shooter was known to be a serious horndog and lech — a guy who never let an emotion come between him and a crass wisecrack, especially if the target was a woman. As former Arizona Republic publisher Mi-Ai Parrish later related, when he met her, he quipped that his one regret in life was failing to nail "Asian twins." But she didn't say anything. It wasn't until well after Weinstein, but just before Matt Lauer, that women, starting with state Representative Michelle Ugenti-Rita, finally came forward publicly to out Shooter as the harasser he was. The Legislature commissioned an investigation that released a damning report in January that concluded Shooter had created a hostile work environment at the state Capitol. House Speaker J.D. Mesnard asked Shooter to resign, but, true to form, Shooter stood his ground and tried to play the part of a political victim. The House voted 56-3 to oust him, forcing Shooter to take his disgraced nameplate back to Yuma. One problem: The law didn't prevent Shooter from running for office again, which he did. Voters chose the clear solution and sent him packing in the August primary election.
Best Viral Newsmaker: David Stringer
David Stringer is the gift that keeps on giving Phoenix New Times more internet traffic. He created his first digital sensation in 2017 when, according to fellow legislator Jesus Rubalcava, the Prescott Republican with the bad toupee told a group of businesspeople and educators that teachers are paid well enough because they have an easy, part-time job that doesn't require a specific skill set. And they get two months off in the summer. (That set social media on fire.) Then, he acknowledged earlier this year that the job might have a certain degree of difficulty because, as he told attendees at a Yavapai County Republican Men's Forum, "there aren't enough white kids to go around" in Arizona schools. He blamed the problem on immigration, which he called "an existential threat to the United States" and "politically destabilizing." That prompted even staunch Republicans like Governor Doug Ducey to call for Stringer to resign. He did not. In fact, he doubled down on his anti-immigration stance in a campaign ad, claiming immigration "creates a permanent underclass and traps people in poverty." Apparently, there were still enough white, non-teacher Republican voters to go around in the Legislative District 11 primary because they voted for him to run again in the fall.
Best Farewell: John McCain
There was never any love lost between Phoenix New Times and the Arizona senator, but we have to admire the final words John McCain left to be read after his death from brain cancer on August 25. An excerpt: "I lived and died a proud American. We are citizens of the world's greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil. We are blessed and are a blessing to humanity when we uphold and advance those ideals at home and in the world. ... We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been. ... Ten years ago, I had the privilege to concede defeat in the election for president. I want to end my farewell to you with the heartfelt faith in Americans that I felt so powerfully that evening. I feel it powerfully still. Do not despair of our present difficulties but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history." Rest in peace, sir.
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