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KJZZ's Friday NewsCap: 'Fake elector' indictments put Arizona Republicans in a tough spot

KJZZ’s Friday NewsCap revisits some of the biggest stories of the week from Arizona and beyond.

The state House of Representatives voted this week to repeal Arizona’s 1864 near-total ban on abortion. The Senate is expected to follow suit, but there are still questions about whether that law could still take effect — even for a short time.

And an Arizona grand jury has indicted 11 Republicans who submitted documentation falsely claiming former President Donald Trump, not President Joe Biden, won the state’s popular vote in 2020.

To break down these headlines and more, The Show sat down with former state lawmaker Regina Cobb and attorney and former Congressional staffer Roy Herrera.

Conversation highlights

On the ‘fake elector’ indictments

MARK BRODIE: Regina, let me start with you. The so-called fake electors. Arizona of course not the first state where a case like this has been brought up. Two of these individuals, these Republican individuals are currently members of the state Legislature (Sens. Jake Hoffman and Anthony Kern). One of them is the former chair of the state party (Kelli Ward), and other one is the husband of the former chair of the party. This seems almost like a who’s-who in conservative Republican politics here.

REGINA COBB: It is. And it and they’ve all put us in a very difficult position, I think, right now. And having these indictments come down at this point, there’s a couple of them. I’m sure that, Sen. Hoffman is going to be running this next time. And so is Anthony Kern for the Congressional district.

And I think this affects their ability for running. Now, I know Mr. Hoffman doesn’t have an opponent. So fundraising is probably not a big item on his list at this point. But, it still affects it.

BRODIE: Does it affect someone like Anthony Kern in a Republican primary in a very conservative district, though? I would imagine there are some political observers who might say this could actually, in theory, help him.

COBB: You’re right. It could go the other direction. He’s had a difficult time fundraising at this point. If you look at the polls, I think he’s toward the bottom of what the fundraising has been this last quarter. And I don’t think it’s going to help him. I think it’s probably going to hinder him, even though it is a Republican district.

BRODIE: So Roy, we heard from Attorney General Mayes. She released a video at the time that she announced the grand jury indictment and basically acknowledged there are some folks for whom this should have happened months ago, and some people will say, this is just politics and should never have happened at all. As an attorney, how do you try to sort of walk that line?

I mean, she has obviously said the investigators went where the facts took them. And now these people will be able to try to prove they’re innocent until proven guilty. Try to convince a judge and jury of their innocence. But how do you try to walk that line of, people on the left are like, “This should have happened three months ago,” people on the right like, “This just shouldn’t happen”?

ROY HERRERA: First of all, I don’t think anyone was surprised that these indictments happened, right? I mean, we’ve seen it in other states. I think anyone in the political or legal community expected at some point that we would see something like this here. But I think there’s a good explanation for the timing, because to your point, I think there was some criticism or concern about how long it took for this to happen.

But the reality is that Kris Mayes was elected in November 2022. And the prior attorney general seemingly did not pursue this line of investigation at all. So she was really starting from scratch. And this is an incredibly complex investigation. It’s a conspiracy investigation.

And if you look at the indictment, it’s most similar to Georgia in that defense are not just the 11 fake electors. There are additional codefendants. Their names are redacted, but I think we have a sense of who they are.

BRODIE: It’s been pretty widely reported.

HERRERA: Exactly. So probably some former legal counsel to Donald Trump, other folks that worked on Donald Trump, as well as a series of unindicted coconspirators, which also might be some former Arizona lawmakers — at least that’s the speculation.

So there’s a lot of moving parts to this in the next few weeks as these folks make their initial appearances. And I’m sure all major criminal defense lawyers in town are getting phone calls right now. It’s going to be really interesting to watch it proceed going forward.

BRODIE: So how do you anticipate all of that affecting the race between now and November? And we’ll mention you are doing work with the Biden reelection campaign. So with that, I would imagine there are a lot of Democrats who are somewhat excited about this.

HERRERA: And I was Biden’s counsel in 2020 as well. So I’ve been watching this in real time since then, for a long time, with great interest. My sense is that this will be bad politically for Republicans in general.

There's an element to this like, well, we need to believe in the rule of law. So you can’t just get away with doing something like this and and at the very least, the deterrent effect, perhaps, of this investigation will help as we enter this election, to prevent something like this from happening again. But that being said, I think politically speaking, there’s a lot of Arizonans that just don’t want to deal with this election denialism anymore. And that’s, I think, the political risk.

BRODIE: Regina, you mentioned that this might make things slightly difficult in some ways for folks like Sens. Kern and Hoffman. On a broader scale, does this affect Republicans more broadly coming up in November, do you think?

COBB: I don’t think so. I think we’re going to be looking at each of the individuals that are, involved in this. And I think that those are going to be the issues that we come up with. Is it a political move? I would think it is.

BRODIE: The indictment, you mean?

COBB: Yes, I do. I know that Attorney General Mayes, I think, has political aspirations going forward, and I think that this is part of that. Because I think it’s going to end up taking a few months, and it’ll probably be close to the election cycle, or to the November election when we finally get a result from the indictment.

On the state House voting to repeal the near-total abortion ban

BRODIE: Speaking of an issue that we have been talking about for several weeks and probably will continue: Regina, your former colleagues in the state House this week voted to repeal the 1864 near-total ban on abortion.

There had been some question about whether it was going to happen. Not so much to actually repeal it, but to get to the point where you get it on the board to vote. There seemingly was a big difference between supporting a repeal and supporting essentially going over the head of the speaker of the House to put it on the board when he very clearly did not support it. Were you surprised at all that the way things went down this week?

COBB: I was not surprised. I felt like it was early from when I expected it to happen. I probably didn’t think it was going to happen for two or three more weeks. And it wasn’t just this week. It was last week. I mean, you look at what happened when (Rep.) Matt Gress brought it to the floor — not this last Wednesday, but on Wednesday before ÿ— I think that that was a surprise.

I felt that there was a conversation that needed to be had: Did he do it for the right reasons? I think everybody has a reason for why they’re doing things. And you look at the people that did vote to repeal it: (Tim) Dunn and (Justin) Wilmeth. I’m sure their philosophy of why they did it … they’re going to have good conversation about this. They know why they did it.

And so it wasn’t a surprise to me that it happened. I was just surprised that it happened so quickly.

BRODIE: Roy, there was maybe some sense that the Senate would be the first chamber to vote to repeal. They started the process last week when they had the same kind of motion to bring the bill up for consideration. They first read it, they second read it this week. Presumably they’ll do something next week.

But I’m curious if you were at all surprised, maybe to Regina’s point about the timing of the fact that the House sort of barreled through this week.

HERRERA: Yeah, I was a bit surprised as well. And speaking purely from a political perspective, I think what that demonstrates to me is that at least some of these Republicans — certainly the ones that voted for the repeal — understand that this is a political disaster for Republicans. And so it’s just an issue that is very much going to hurt them in the November election.

So you take a Matt Gress for example, who is in a very competitive district. He’s probably very worried that if this issue is active in November, which it will be, he’s going to potentially be not reelected.

And so again, it's a similar idea to the election fraud and denial stuff. I think most Arizonans actually don’t agree with Republicans, or at least some Republicans on this, and so they had to act fast in order to try to prevent it.

But I will say it’s not the end of the story here, because the Senate has to come back next Wednesday and try to get this done. And there’s also, of course, going to be an abortion ballot measure in November no matter what.

BRODIE: At least one.

HERRERA: At least one on the sort of pro side. And then there’s the question of the Legislature referring something out that might look a little bit different to compete with it.

BRODIE: Yeah. Regina, we saw the House Rules Committee gave permission to introduce up to three ballot referrals. Speaker Toma, the Senate (President) Pro Tem Travis Grantham both said, “We don’t know. Maybe there will be something. Maybe there will be some things. Maybe there will be nothing.”

If you were still in the house, what would be your preference? Would you want to be referring something else to the ballot on this issue?

COBB: I am not a big fan of ballot referrals. And the reason why is because I think that there’s a lot that goes into ballot referrals, and I don’t think the voters necessarily read the whole ballot referral. And so I am not a big fan of ballot referrals.

I think that if there was one, I think it would cause confusion during. And there’s going to be people that are going to be voting for and against on both sides, and maybe it’s going to be “no” all the way down the ballot because there’s so many ballot measures that are coming forward this next election cycle.

I would not want a ballot measure to go forward. I think that what we have in place, the 15-week rule, would be almost a defense to the ballot measure that you have out there right now.

BRODIE: So you’d be okay with that as sort of the binary? … The 15-week rule as the law, and then you also have the viability — the 23, 24-week — and potentially something else. You’d prefer just sort of leaving the binary between the referral that’s already having signatures collected for and the current law.

COBB: I would. I think that the ballot referral is very extreme at this point. And I think if most people read that, it is going to be a “no” down the ballot. So I hope that that would be the way it be. And if we have something in law on the books right now, I think that’s a good defense.

BRODIE: Roy, for folks who are advocating for the citizens initiative, how concerning is it that the Legislature might refer something or somethings else?

HERRERA: You know, I don’t think they should be that concerned, at least in my view. I say that one because first of all, this initiative’s going to have all kinds of resources, right? I mean, millions and tens of millions of dollars to make their case.

And we’ve seen this in other contexts, not just on the abortion issue but in other issues where the Legislature says, “Well, I’ll refer something out, maybe to confuse voters.” And I’ve never really seen it work in practice. It’s always an idea, but I sort of wonder whether in the end of the day, that kind of thing will actually result in less people voting for the actual ballot initiative.

And to your point and to your point about is it better to create that binary for political reason? Probably it is. I mean, just again, talking about political strategy. So I’m not sure that the proponents of the ballot initiative should be concerned at all about this extra referral.

KJZZ’s The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ’s programming is the audio record.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.