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Unapologetic Ducey says schools that lost enrollment should lose funding
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PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey said Monday he will not fund “empty seats’’ in classrooms or allow schools to remain in “a perpetual state of closure.’’

“Students have been kept out of classrooms for long enough,’’ the governor said in his seventh State of the State speech. “They’ve lost out on childhood experiences that can’t be duplicated on a computer screen.’’

Ducey said parents and teachers have done the best they can with remote and online learning.

“But it’s time to get our students back where they belong,’’ he said.

“With every public health professional, from Dr. Fauci and the CDC on down, saying that the safest place for kids to be is in schools, we will not be funding empty seats or allowing schools to remain in a perpetual state of closure,’’ he said. “Children still need to learn, even in a pandemic.’’

But after the speech, the governor’s press aide insisted that was not a threat to cut off state dollars for schools that operate entirely online or with hybrid programs.

“Gov. Ducey supports virtual options for those parents who want them,’’ said C.J. Karamargin. “He is not considering cutting funding for virtual students.’’

And what of not funding those “empty seats’’?

Karamargin said that simply means that, beginning next school year, if a parent chooses a different option for a child, the state aid will follow that child to a new public school, whether a district school or charter school.

But Karamargin emphasized that Ducey’s preference remains to have kids in seats.

“With the vaccine now here, teachers are being vaccinated with high priority,’’ he said. “Any student who wants to be in a classroom should have that opportunity.’’

The governor also made it clear that he doesn’t believe that virtual learning produces the same results as being in a classroom with a teacher at the front.

“Before COVID, we had an achievement gap in our schools,’’ he said. “And it’s only gotten worse,’’ the governor said, with a definite correlation between that gap and economic and racial lines.

“Distance learning has not be good for these students, who often don’t have Wi-Fi or a laptop available,’’ the governor said. And that, he said, leads to his suggestions of summer school, longer school days and one-on-one targeted instruction and tutoring.

“It should be our goal that every student graduates high school on time and at grade level,’’ Ducey said.

Karamargin stressed, though, that the governor was not seeking to mandate summer school, longer school days or private tutoring.

“We’ll provide funding to schools for families that want it,’’ he said.

In the speech delivered virtually from his office due to COVID concerns, the governor also proposed lowering taxes on both individuals and businesses which he said will preserve the state’s competitive advantage and selling off state buildings which he said are not necessary given the shift to remote work by employees.

But much of his emphasis was in providing a full-throated defense of what he has — and has not — done to deal with COVID-19 even as the state continues to set new records. And he had strong words for those who have suggested that the virus can be curbed through new restrictions on business operations, closed schools and public gatherings.

“It’s a question that only makes sense if you forget about everything else, all the other troubles that lockdowns set in motion,’’ the governor said.

“The rest of life doesn’t stop in a pandemic, lease of all our basic responsibilities,’’ he continued. “People still have bills to pay, children in need of schooling, businesses top run and employees who depend on them.’’

And the governor, departing from his previously released remarks, took a specific slap at mayors who have publicly urged him to do more. While he didn’t name names, that was a clear reference to the mayors of Tucson, Phoenix and Flagstaff, all Democrats, who have criticized him for lack of action.

But there’s another reason Ducey is raising that point.

Several lawmakers are moving to dissolve the emergency declaration the governor declared in March. And in that declaration he specifically forbade local governments from imposing any restrictions that he, himself, had not approved.

If the statewide declaration no longer exists, then local government would again be free to use their own powers to decide what to implement. And Ducey said he will oppose any move to strip him of emergency powers, for no other reason that only he stands in the way of local officials who have different ideas.

“I’m not going to hand over the keys to a small group of mayors who have expressed every intention of locking down their cities,’’ he said.

Ducey’s argument comes as the Arizona Department of Health Services reported that a record 4,957 hospital beds were occupied with patients with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19.

The issue is even more pronounced looking at beds in intensive-care units, where 1,158 COVID patients are now occupying 65% of all ICU beds in the state. That compares with the prior peak of 970 in July.

Overall, 10,147 Arizonans have died from the virus, with 627,541 having been diagnosed with the disease.

Ducey, however, said lots of Arizonans do not have the option of remote work and are not getting direct deposits.

“To make as living, they have to show up somewhere,’’ he said. “And if the doors are closed, then at a certain point they are never going to open again.’’

And then there’s what Ducey said is the other side of the issue, including increased opioid abuse, alcoholism, addiction, mental health issues and “the sheer loneliness of isolation,’’ including suicide.

Anyway, the governor said he doesn’t believe that other states with stricter mandates are having any better luck in curbing the spread of the virus.

“They’re still dealing with the worst of it, just as we are,’’ he said.

But what Ducey did not address is that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Arizona has the second highest daily case rate in the past seven days of any state in the nation.

In that period, CDC says Arizona has 122 cases per 100,000 residents. That was exceeded only by Rhode Island at 130.3.

And a separate metric shows that only six states have a more rapid rate of spread than Arizona.

Ducey was unapologetic.

“I’m well aware that taking the measured, steady, responsible approach will continue to invite criticism from all directions that we’re doing too much or not enough,’’ the governor said. “The critics can say what they want, but the path I’ve outlined is the right path for Arizona.’’

Instead, the governor is effectively counting on the newly available vaccine to solve the problem, boasting about the new 24/7 vaccination site now available at State Farm Stadium in Glendale for those who are eligible at this point.

“Everyone needs this vaccine,’’ he said. “And the sooner we all receive it, the more quickly we can get on with life.’’

Ducey’s decision to stay the course is likely to get a fight from both fellow Republicans who resent the restrictions that remain on things like restaurant and gym capacity and Democrats who say the state needs to do more to get ahead of the infection before it gets worse.

All that leads into Ducey’s position on getting kids back in school — and ways to get students caught up on what they’ve missed.

In talking about taxes, the governor never made a direct reference to the decision by voters to approve a 3.5% income tax surcharge on earnings of Arizonans about $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for married couples filing jointly.

But Ducey, who opposed Proposition 208, said states that take more money from residents “chase away opportunity with their new taxes.’’

“Why on earth would we ever want to follow their failed and depressing example?’’ he asked. The governor said he wants to “reform and lower taxes’’ to “preserve Arizona’s good name as a responsible, competitive state.’’

“On tax reform, let’s think big,’’ Ducey said.

An aide to the governor said what his boss has in mind includes both reductions in both business and individual taxes.

Ducey also said he wants lawmakers to create “better roads and bridges.’’ But the governor has consistently opposed any effort to raise gasoline taxes which finance those improvements even as vehicles are more fuel efficient and revenues are not keeping pace with traffic.

The governor also made passing reference to the violence this past week at the nation’s Capitol.

“In the United States of America, violence and vandalism have no place in the people’s House,’’ he said.

“Perpetrators should be prosecuted to the full extend of the law,’’ Ducey continued. “Let us resolve that it never happens again.’’

But Ducey, in an earlier conversation with Capitol Media Services, refused to say that President Trump bore any responsibility for inciting the riot.

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Finchem claims antifa behind storming but officials say otherwise
  • Updated

WASHINGTON — Despite the claims of an Arizona state lawmaker with Pinal County ties, the vast majority of the mob that stormed the nation’s Capitol last week were Trump supporters, officials say.

They came from across America, summoned by President Donald Trump to march on Washington in support of his false claim that the November election was stolen and to stop the congressional certification of Democrat Joe Biden as the victor.

“Big protest in D.C. on January 6th,” Trump tweeted a week before Christmas. “Be there, will be wild!”

The insurrectionist mob that showed up at the president’s behest and stormed the U.S. Capitol was overwhelmingly made up of longtime Trump supporters, including Republican Party officials, GOP political donors, far-right militants, white supremacists, off-duty police, members of the military and adherents of the QAnon myth that the government is secretly controlled by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophile cannibals. Records show that some were heavily armed and included convicted criminals, such as a Florida man recently released from prison for attempted murder.

The Associated Press reviewed social media posts, voter registrations, court files and other public records for more than 120 people either facing criminal charges related to the Jan. 6 unrest or who, going maskless during the pandemic, were later identified through photographs and videos taken during the melee.

The evidence gives lie to claims by right-wing pundits and Republican officials such as Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, and others that the violence was perpetrated by left-wing antifa thugs rather than supporters of the president.

“It is of course tragic that individuals positively identified as antifa infiltrators, entered the building by force, and that an Air Force veteran was shot and killed by a Capitol security officer, Finchem said in a statement Monday.

Finchem represents Legislative District 11, which includes Maricopa, Arizona City, Picacho, Red Rock and parts of Casa Grande and Eloy in Pinal County. He had attended the President’s rally but said he was about 500 yards away from the Capitol when the mob broke into the building.

“I was scheduled to visit with Congressmen from Arizona, and I was invited to speak at a permitted event scheduled for January 6th to be held on the steps of the Capitol. The event was planned to begin at 1:00 pm, coinciding with the joint session to hear objections from the states in controversy involving the Electoral College Electors,” Finchem said. “However, the President’s speech at the ellipse went long, so I was late to the Capitol grounds. I walked at the rear of the crowd that made its way down Pennsylvania Avenue.”

Finchem said that upon his arrival he was told by the event organizer that the speaking engagement was canceled. He said he stayed there for about 20 minutes, took a few photos and left the area.

“I did not learn of the Capitol penetration until shortly before 5:00 pm EST when I was about to record a podcast interview. I was told that individuals believed to be antifa had breached an area of the Capitol building that was out of my view, around the corner from where I was located,” Finchem said. “I have since been told by investigators, that through the use of facial recognition software, the antifa link was confirmed.”

Finchem did not identify the investigators, or the agency they were with, who allegedly told him of the antifa link.

Steven D’Antuono, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office, told reporters that investigators had seen “no indication” antifa activists were disguised as Trump supporters in Wednesday’s riot.

The AP found that many of the rioters had taken to social media after the November election to retweet and parrot false claims by Trump that the vote had been stolen in a vast international conspiracy. Several had openly threatened violence against Democrats and Republicans they considered insufficiently loyal to the president. During the riot, some livestreamed and posted photos of themselves at the Capitol. Afterwards, many bragged about what they had done.

As the mob smashed through doors and windows to invade the Capitol, a loud chant went up calling for the hanging of Vice President Mike Pence, the recent target of a Trump Twitter tirade for not subverting the Constitution and overturning the legitimate vote tally. Outside, a wooden scaffold had been erected on the National Mall, a rope noose dangling at the ready.

So far, at least 90 people have been arrested on charges ranging from misdemeanor curfew violations to felonies related to assaults on police officers, possessing illegal weapons and making death threats against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Jake Chansley, who calls himself the “QAnon Shaman” and has long been a fixture at Trump rallies, surrendered to the FBI field office in Phoenix on Saturday. News photos show him at the riot shirtless, with his face painted and wearing a fur hat with horns, carrying a U.S. flag attached to a wooden pole topped with a spear.

Chansley’s unusual headwear is visible in a Nov. 7 AP photo at a rally of Trump supporters protesting election results outside of the Maricopa County election center in Phoenix. In that photo, Chansley, who also has gone by the last name Angeli, held a sign that read, “HOLD THE LINE PATRIOTS GOD WINS.” He also expressed his support for the president in an interview with the AP that day.

The FBI identified Chansley by his distinctive tattoos, which include bricks circling his biceps in an apparent reference to Trump’s border wall. Chansley didn’t respond last week to messages seeking comment to one of his social media accounts.

A judge has scheduled a detention hearing Friday for  Chansley, has been jailed on misdemeanor charges. He hasn’t yet entered a plea on charges of entering a restricted building without lawful authority as well as violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.

His court-appointed attorney, Gerald Williams, told the judge Monday that his client has been unable to eat since he was arrested Saturday. He said his client has a restricted diet, though it was unclear to Williams whether Chansley’s food issues were related to health concerns or religious reasons.

The judge ordered Williams to work with the U.S. Marshals Service to address the issue.

Williams didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment from The Associated Press.