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KJZZ's Friday NewsCap: Republican border bill likely to end up on a crowded Arizona ballot

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

To talk about a border security ballot measure stalling — at least temporarily — in the Legislature, another ballot measure on elections moving forward and more, The Show sat down with Lorna Romero Ferguson with Elevate Strategies and former state lawmaker Aaron Lieberman.

Conversation highlights

On a pair of housing bills approved by the state Legislature

MARK BRODIE: So let’s start with the pair of housing bills that state lawmakers sent up to the governor. This has, of course, been a huge topic of discussion throughout the session. So Lorna, one of them deals with so-called middle housing: sort of duplexes, triplexes fourplexes. Within a mile or so of city center, cities set up a certain amount of land that can be used for that.

The other has to do with accessory dwelling units, which is a phrase that just rolls off the tongu, doesn’t it? Basically like backyard casitas, things like that. Both had bipartisan support. Both had bipartisan opposition. Is the difference, though, for what the governor’s going to do that one of them is backed by the League of Cities and Towns and one is not?

ROMERO FERGUSON: Well, that could potentially be a factor, right? Obviously, she vetoed similar versions of these bills earlier in the session. And there is a concern with the casita bills about the fact that people can use them for short term rentals.

And that’s been a big topic of concern when we’re talking about the housing issue throughout the state, especially when you’re looking at places in rural Arizona like Sedona and other places where people can’t afford to live near where they work because of the increase of short-term rentals.

And so I understand that being a concern, but the policy benefits kind of outweigh those concerns at this point, right? Doing nothing is not going to be helpful to the current situation that we have.

And by no means are both of these bills like the golden ticket to solving Arizona’s housing affordability issue. By no means is that the case, but at least it’s a step forward to something in the short term that can happen as we continue to address long term affordability, because this is a growing issue.

BRODIE: Aaron, as Lorna mentioned, the Casita bill is the one that’s not supported by the League of Cities and Towns for the reasons that she pointed out: they’re worried about short term rentals. The governor has in the past vetoed bills that the Cities and Towns are not happy with. Do you think she continues to do that here?

AARON LIEBERMAN: It’ll be really interesting to see. And I should say full disclosure, I’ve been working with ZenniHome, which makes these manufactured homes up on the Navajo Nation that can be used for this purpose.

And look, the reality is we have a huge problem with supply of housing. We need way more of it at every level. When I was in the Legislature, the biggest issue with short-term rentals. They devastated parts of my district, particularly the Paradise Valley side. It was just an absolute nightmare.

This is actually something different. They’re talking about a casita with an owner-occupied home. The big problem with short-term rentals that we always ran into was just these out-of-control parties. And that’s just less likely to happen in this situation.

It’s hard to go against theLeague. I think the League has enjoyed having an advocate in the governor’s office. But this may be one of those where when you really look at it, even if it’s short-term housing, at least that short-term housing isn’t coming out of the rest of our housing stock.

We just need so much more housing in Arizona. By some estimates, I think we’re 50,000 units short. I’m kind of in the “all of the above camp.” It was great that they were able to work out that other compromise to get that housing as of right. And I hope we were able to get these casitas done too.

BRODIE: This is such a big issue. And survey after survey of Arizonans shows that people are really concerned about housing, be it the price of housing, the availability of housing, the availability of affordable housing for workforce type housing. But, Lorna, when you look at the issues that candidates are talking about, we don’t really see much about housing.

ROMERO FERGUSON: Not so much. I mean, they kind of loop it into like cost of living increases in general. And obviously they focus more on the inflation factor of this or how expensive interest rates are at this point, and that’s a barrier to entry for anybody who’s trying to buy a house at the moment because you’re looking at doubling or tripling your mortgage payment just because of these ungodly interest payments.

I think they’re looping it in on that, but it’s a much bigger issue that I think Republicans and Democrats need to talk about more about what these actual solutions are. Like Aaron was saying, we have a significant shortage. And in the past it used to be the Phoenix metro area, always there being high demand. But you see this throughout the entire state, the fact that it’s impacting rural communities to the point that it is.

I have a friend that’s relocating to Arizona because they have a job in Sedona, and they’re living in Clarksdale. That’s where they can afford a house, you know? And so then it gets to the point where if you have people who are living 45 minutes to an hour away from their home for a job, are they going to continue that commute, or are they going to find a job elsewhere?

And so that’s where it becomes a bigger problem for employers. And I think that’s why you’re starting to see major corporations getting more involved in this issue, because it’s a workforce housing issue as well for them. I think a lot of folks have considered this like a low-income housing issue in the past. This is impacting the middle class significantly, and there needs to be tremendous conversations about how we deal with this moving forward.

On the Republican border bill stalling in the state Senate

BRODIE: Aaron, speaking of businesses getting involved in policy issues, the business community is starting to really get involved in this border security proposal that state lawmakers are looking to put on the ballot in November. The Senate was going to vote on it this week. They had a member absent — a Republican member, we should point out — and a Republican member, Sen. Ken Bennett, who had some concerns about the potential impacts of this measure on DACA recipients. Do you think it’s safe to say that at the end of the day, this ends up on the ballot?

LIEBERMAN: I in my view, unfortunately so. My big worry is that we’re going to end up in the bad old days where we all get lumped into this — like we did with SB 1070 — with people feeling like if you’re if you’re a person of color and you get pulled over for any reason, someone can ask for your your papers and start that whole process.

Something needs to get done on the border. It’s not clear to me that this is the right solution. I think what Sen. Bennett is holding out for is really important, from a DACA perspective. And it’s great that we have at least one senator who cares about this group of Arizonans. But it’s one of those things where it looks like it’s pretty much on the tracks and moving towards resolution.

BRODIE: Lorna, given the fact that the DACA provision was taken out of this measure, if it is in fact put back in, does that lose other Republican votes in the Legislature potentially?

ROMERO FERGUSON: I’m not sure the number, but potentially. I think when you’re looking at those Republicans that are in those competitive seats that are going to determine the future of the Legislature — whether that remains in Republican control or Democrat control — I think they’re going to look at this issue very closely. Obviously the DACA issue with their constituents, it rings differently than when you’re looking at a very solid red district than let’s say Southeast Valley and whatnot.

And so I think they’re really going to have to consider this. The bigger question that I posed to Republicans — well, I guess two — is one, why do we want to voter protect any of this stuff in statute? Me personally, as a policy geek, I’m just always apprehensive of anything being voter protected.

And two, is this really driving out the Republicans and independents that you need to be successful statewide? I think this really is going to drive out more of the Trump-MAGA crowd that are already really excited for this election. I’m not sure if this is going to bring out the swing voters and help Republicans in November.

BRODIE: In terms of helping Republicans in other places on the ballot, not so much just on that. Do you think that if it makes the ballot, it passes?

ROMERO FERGUSON: Potentially. I think it really depends on how these campaigns are run. And that’s always the bigger question is when the Legislature refers things to the ballot — which they’re doing a number of this cycle — is who’s paying for the campaign, right? And I think we can all see, based off of the folks who signed in an opposition, the people who will have a comprehensive no campaign against this.

So it really comes down to the resources and the messaging battle. But I think it’s a crapshoot at the moment.

LIEBERMAN: It’s also a dangerous game because at this point, the ballot is going to be a small novel. Just so many things that have been referred. And people either give up or just start voting no in most cases and just say, no, no, no, no, no all the way down the line. And there’s some really important things in there where you want a yes, and some other things where you might want a no.

So it’s an unfortunate situation that we’re getting all of these referrals just as a way to go around the governor’s office. It’ll be really interesting. It is the number one thing that’s motivating people from the Democratic side to say how important it is to flip the Legislature, because we’ve got a Democratic governor vetoing, in our view, some of the craziness of the past decade. But the one thing that can still happen is these direct referrals. That ends the day we’re at 30-30 in the House or 15-15 in the Senate.

ROMERO FERGUSON: But I think from a Republican standpoint, there’s been frustration for a very long time for Republicans and Democrats in the state of Arizona at this the lack of action on the federal level when it comes to immigration policy. There was a glimmer of hope a few months ago with Sen. Sinema working on a bipartisan bill. But you can’t do anything bipartisan in D.C. anymore, right?

LIEBERMAN: What happened with that, Lorna? Who backed away from that when it was up for a vote?

ROMERO FERGUSON: We all know what happened.

LIEBERMAN: Say it out loud.

ROMERO FERGUSON: And I called it out then, too. It’s just unfortunate because 15 years ago you had the Gang of Eight and people working on comprehensive immigration reform, and now you can’t even say that word, that phrase anymore. But it’s something that needs to be done, and it’s just becoming such a lightning rod issue where Republicans and Democrats are unable to come together on the federal level to do anything that remotely moves the needle.

And so I don’t blame state lawmakers for wanting to take action. I’m just not sure this is the right action to take to actually move the needle for the crisis that’s happening.

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.