KJZZ is a service of Rio Salado College,
and Maricopa Community Colleges

Copyright © 2024 KJZZ/Rio Salado College/MCCCD
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

GOP accused Democrat Mayes of weaponizing attorney general's office. She scoffed at their committee

House Republicans are accusing Democratic Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes of overstepping her authority and abusing her office for partisan gains. 

But Mayes says it's the GOP state representatives who are pulling a partisan stunt by forming a legislative committee to investigate her alleged misdeeds.

“I have no idea what they’re trying to do, but it won’t succeed, and it certainly won’t stop me from doing my job,” Mayes said Thursday morning, ahead of the committee’s first hearing.

Much of the Republican lawmakers' frustration with Mayes stems from her ongoing investigation in rural Arizona areas, where residents are running out of groundwater and say that megafarms are pumping it all up, causing dangerous fissures to open up in the earth. 

Mayes said Thursday she’s gathering information at town halls in rural areas to prepare for a potential lawsuit under Arizona’s “public nuisance” laws. 

At a recent town hall meeting, Mayes also said she’d dedicate her own time to pass a citizen initiative on groundwater conservation if the Legislature doesn’t pass its own substantial groundwater protection legislation.

Republicans like Rep. Austin Smith (R-Wittman) accused Mayes of election interference.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for the attorney general of the state of Arizona to go on a fishing expedition and use public resources and taxpayer money to essentially campaign against the Legislature on water issues,” Smith said at the hearing.

Republicans on the committee argued farms are exempt from prosecution under public nuisance statutes, even if those farms are harming the public. 

They cite a portion of the law on nuisance liability, which states: “Agricultural operations undertaken in conformity with federal, state and local laws and regulations are presumed to be good agricultural practices and not adversely affecting the public health and safety.”

The committee has also demanded records from the Attorney General’s Office related to her groundwater investigations.

A spokesperson for Mayes confirmed Wednesday that her office is processing the request.

In the meantime, Mayes said she won’t stop her work and announced that she’s deployed several investigators and hired a hydrology expert for the job.

“The ground is opening up beneath the people of Cochise County. People are watching their livelihoods be destroyed because [the Legislature] can’t get its act together. Because this place is dysfunctional because this place, and basically one or two legislators, are basically standing in the way of sane reforms,” she said.

The House committee was formed with the permission of Speaker Ben Toma (R-Peoria), who says it’s scope is not limited to Mayes — it may turn its gaze to other elected officials — but for now, Mayes is the target because of unspecified “allegations” made against her by unnamed members of the public and state representatives Toma declined to identify.

Democratic representatives refused to participate. And while Mayes is the subject of the committee’s ire, Republicans didn’t ask her to testify. 

They instead invited former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Andrew Gould, who unsuccessfully ran for attorney general as a Republican when Mayes was elected in 2022.

Republicans on the panel questioned whether Mayes has the authority to pick and choose which laws to defend. Mayes has refused to defend some laws she says are constitutionally unsound, like a territorial law limiting almost all abortions in Arizona.

Gould said there’s a “general duty to defend.” But “if the AG thinks that the law is unconstitutional, then he or she doesn’t have to defend it.”

Apart from that and groundwater issues, Republicans accused Mayes of a host of other wrongdoings.

They allege that Mayes has engaged in “malfeasance” by opposing the GOP-backed universal school voucher program and threatening elected officials with prosecution, among other things. 

Toma denies that the committee has anything to do with Mayes' ongoing investigation of Arizona’s slate of fake electors: 11 Republicans who signed documents sent to the National Archives claiming former President Donald Trump won the state’s popular vote in 2020.

But multiple Republicans on the new committee have spoken out against Mayes for her investigations of election-related matters.

Shortly before the Thursday hearing, Politico reported that Arizona Republican Congressmen Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar were subpoenaed in the investigation. Members of the Arizona Freedom Caucus, including Smith, condemned the subpoenas of Biggs and Gosar, and accused Mayes of political persecution.

“The weaponization of government must come to an end, and all constitutional remedies need to be employed to do so. We are all protected under the Constitution, and this attorney general has a blatant disregard for it,” Rep. Austin Smith said in the statement. 

Committee Chair Jacqueline Parker (R-Mesa) has also accused Mayes of targeting elected officials in Cochise County. Earlier this year, a grand jury indicted two Cochise County supervisors for refusing to certify the 2022 election results until order to do so by a judge.

Parker claims Mayes is attacking the supervisors because they’re Republicans.

Get more Arizona politics news

Camryn Sanchez is a field correspondent at KJZZ covering everything to do with state politics.