The Dumbest Ideas by Arizona Politicians in 2019

The Arizona Legislature had several bills that could be considered lemons in 2019.
The Arizona Legislature had several bills that could be considered lemons in 2019. public domain photo
Believe it or not, 2019 was a comparatively sane year in the Arizona Legislature. No one tried to give the government the power to seize the property of people who plan protests. Abortion rights went relatively unscathed. No one argued with furries on Twitter.

But as always, this state's lawmakers still found a way to introduce some batshit ideas in the fabled halls of the Arizona Capitol. Here are four that stood out:

Introducing a Bill Drafted by a 'Hate Group'

State Representative Mark Finchem, a Republican from Oro Valley, once described the white supremacist murder in Charlottesville, Virginia, as a "Deep State" psychological operation possibly involving liberal crisis actors. He has palled around with the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia group known for sending heavily armed men to political hot zones, like Cliven Bundy's ranch and Ferguson, Missouri. And he has introduced legislation that would allow Arizona to subvert U.S. Supreme Court rulings and transfer federal land into state management.

That's to say Finchem is a man on the fringe. So it did not come as a surprise to Phoenix New Times when we discovered that he lifted a bill — a "code of ethics" for teachers  — straight from the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a group whose founder has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as "a driving force of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and anti-black movements." Bills drafted by outside groups, known as model legislation, regularly work their way into statehouses across the country. As much as we might hate the idea of special interests writing our laws, it’s the way things work right now. But when the special interest you’re pushing is known for calling Obama a Muslim, you might want to re-evaluate some things. On top of its nefarious source, Finchem’s bill was completely pointless. The legislation aimed to prevent teachers from bringing political activism into the classroom, something already prohibited by Arizona law. Finchem's bill did not receive a committee hearing.

Taxing Pornography to Fund the Border Wall

It was a big year for smut in the state house. First, your House of Representatives, including legislators who     have definitely never hit it solo to videos of people boinking, voted to declare pornography a “public health crisis.” The legislation died in the Senate. But as a mere resolution, it would not actually have changed any laws. The same cannot be said about a bill from Republican State Representative Gail Griffin that would have required all computers sold in Arizona to come with software blocking access to pornography. In Griffin’s puritanical — not to mention unconstitutional — alternate universe, would-be wankers would have to pay the state $20 to watch naked folks doin' it on camera.

A porn advocate who spoke with local news site said he’s seen similar proposals in other states. What was new about Griffin’s bill? A stipulation that the porn tax could fund “a border wall between Mexico and this state or fund border security.” While Griffin’s bill stood no chance of passage, her idea for new border wall revenue makes sense if you think about this fact: Multiple studies have shown that red states, where people are more inclined to support Trump’s immigration policies, have higher rates of porn consumption.

Declaring Lemonade the State Drink

A cold Arnold Palmer after a Sunday golf outing. A margarita glass the size of your head. Horchata. Tequila Sunrise. Milk. Water. All of these beverages make more sense than lemonade as Arizona’s state drink. And yet, as of May 2019, lemonade is the official drink of the Grand Canyon State.

You can thank State Representative Warren Petersen, a Republican from Gilbert, for introducing the mismatched designation. Petersen got the idea from a high-schooler who squeezed his out of some windy logic. It went like this: One of Arizona’s “five C’s” is citrus. (The others are copper, cattle, climate, and cotton.) But Florida has already claimed orange juice as its state drink. Arizona, meanwhile, is the second-biggest producer of lemons in the United States. Ergo, lemonade.

Despite complaints by House Democrats, 26 of 29 of them ultimately voted for it.

When they got word of Petersen’s bill, March For Our Lives high-schoolers pointed at the irony of their lawmakers for finally listening to a teen when the issue at hand was of no consequence.

Senate Democrats mocked the bill with unserious amendments to change the official drink from lemonade to other drinks, including sun tea and a margarita. It then narrowly passed the Senate along party lines, with all but one Democrat voting against it, and was signed by Governor Ducey.

An Ex-Code Enforcement Officer Trying to Make It Easier to Hide His Misconduct

Birds will fly. Fish will swim. Lawmakers will push laws that benefit them, whether it's championing some kind of deregulation to appease a campaign donor or advocating for policy that will fly with their constituents. Some legislators take self-interest to another level, introducing bills with more personal stakes. This year, there was Republican State Senator David Gowan, a fireworks salesman who sponsored a bill expanding fireworks sales. There was Republican State Representative Kevin Payne, a food truck owner who sponsored a bill deregulating food trucks.

But the most shameless example of this practice this year came from Republican State Representative Anthony Kern. A former El Mirage code enforcement officer, Kern was fired from his law enforcement job years ago for lying to his supervisor. As New Times revealed, Kern’s lapse of judgment earned him a spot on Maricopa County's Brady list, a document kept by prosecutors that lists police officers with a history of dishonesty or misconduct. This year, Kern persuaded his colleague, State Representative John Kavanagh, to sponsor a bill that would make it easier for officers to remove their name from that list. The bill was replaced by another piece of legislation related to animal cruelty laws. Gotta love the process! 
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Steven Hsieh was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from August 2018 to April 2020.
Contact: Steven Hsieh