Winkle for Mesa … In Tempe?

You would think that when you’re running for a local office that you would hold your events in the district, right? Apparently, Ryan Winkle who is running for Mesa City Council in District 3 would disagree!

Winkle is hosting an event that he’s calling a “Community Celebration,” in Tempe. Is that a slap in the face to the voters in Mesa’s 3rd District? We think so… That is the equivalent of someone running for the Phoenix City Council who campaigns in San Tan Valley. It just does not make sense!

Maybe he’s confused about what district and city he is actually going to represent?

Winkle, we know you’re young and naive, but if you’re running to represent people then please run in the district you’re aiming to represent. You are not running for Tempe City Council. The people of Mesa deserve better and deserve to know that you care about them and the issues facing the community. Evidently, you do not.

Solar Money Buying the Election for Bob Burns?

The past few years have seen an explosion of outside money to aid campaigns. Outside money is not new to politics and has been around since the dawn of democracy. What is new, however, is that much of it can be spent without knowing who is funding it. In the fights over election spending in Arizona, a lot has been made of outside money that the utilities may have given to aid Corporation Commission candidates. The Commission regulates utilities, so it seems to be a fair question. In the newspapers’ zeal to find out everybody’s sources except their own, (which they conveniently feel a 1st amendment right to do) they have launched some serious charges against local utility companies. What they haven’t done is given the same level of scrutiny to solar companies who have used outside money to aid pro-solar commission candidates.

Recently, Chris Mayes, Janet Napolitano’s spokeswoman and a Napolitano appointee to the Corporation Commission, has been leading efforts by solar companies to spend millions of dollars to aid the already largely subsidized solar industry. Voters should be wary when they see mail and hear calls from Mayes and solar dark money so that they don’t fall for the attacks on the current commission or commissioners. The current commission supports Arizona’s renewable energy mandate, which requires the utilities to use a mix of renewable energy already for distribution to Arizona homes. However that does not seem to be enough for the solar industry that wants to make profits off of government tax credits and federal dollars. Conservatives shouldn’t be deceived by claims made by solar alleging that those who want the market to decide the best energy sources are somehow anti-solar. Solar is already a part of the energy mix and will continue to be prevalent for quite some time. How much it should be subsidized by other rate payers is the real question before voters this November. Should a small percentage of solar users get tax credits and raise the cost for other energy users? Voters will weigh in August and November on these critical issues.

Bob Burns: The Third Democrat for the Corporation Commission

The news is out! Have you heard? Bob Burns who currently serves on the Arizona Corporation Commission–and is running for re-election this year–is now working with the Democrats! The two liberals, William “Bill” Mundell and Tom Chabin, have been searching for their third musketeer and they finally found him in Bob Burns.

It seems as though Bob Burns has taken a liking to being a career politician and doing whatever it takes to stay at the top no matter whom he hurts in the process. In the meantime, who suffers? Arizona taxpayers, ratepayers, and businesses, of course. Evidently, Mundell and Chabin did not have to look far and wide across Arizona to find someone who voted like a Democrat and fought against Arizona businesses for his own agenda. (If you’re not following along, we’re still talking about Bob Burns here.)

Frankly, this is just downright disappointing and a slap-to-the-face to Republicans who voted for Bob Burns when he first ran for the Arizona Corporation Commission. What is even more disheartening is that Mundell and Chabin come with some pretty serious baggage of their own. Mundell, a career politician, was fired from being Registrar of Contractors (ROC) during Governor Ducey’s first month in office. Mundell is also a turncoat recently changing from Republican to Democrat to try and win a seat in office. Evidently there is a trend going on here… As for Chabin, he is just clueless and is running hoping that outside solar dark money buys him a seat. When he was asked about his thoughts on Arizona’s energy efficiency levels, Chabin said that simply he did not know. That’s right, he doesn’t know.

Downright disgrace. From Bob Burns running on a slate with liberal Democrats, to Mundell’s ineptitude at the ROC, and to Chabin’s ignorance about issues affecting the Commission, we cannot allow this slate to win. How can we trust these three anti-business liberals to sit on Arizona’s fourth branch of government and represent taxpayers to their best abilities? It is simple: we cannot trust them, and we must not elect them.

The Jana Jackson Saga Continues

This past week Sonoran Alliance reported that Janifer “Jana” Jackson, a candidate for the Superintendent of Maricopa County schools, has a serious ghost in her closet that voters deserve to know about. Years ago, when she was living in Indiana, she was taken to court over “check deception.” The plot twist? She failed to appear in court and subsequently had a warrant out for her arrest (see case number 53C06-9309-CM-04018).

Today, however, we are ready to divulge that this was actually neither the first nor the last time Jackson was charged with a crime, taken to court, and failed to show up. To be exact, while she was living in Indiana, she failed to appear in court on six other occasions. See the end of the article for the case numbers for further information.  

These cases range from Jackson being taken to court by her former home-county, the Monroe County Bank, the Bloomington Herald Times, all the way to being sued by the State of Indiana. Ladies and gentlemen, this may be the year of the outsider to run for office, but it is not the year of the criminal. We must hold our elected officials to a higher standard, especially those who influence our children, their education, and their subsequent futures. Jana Jackson is absolutely unqualified to be the next Superintendent of Public Instruction for Maricopa County.

 

Case numbers: 53C05-5903-SC-00591, 53C05-9408-CP-00841,  53C01-9405-CP-00556,  53C02-9311-SC-03072, 53C06-9311-CP-01378, and 53C03-9308-CP-00940.

Jana Jackson: The Wrong Choice for Superintendent of Maricopa County Schools

Amidst this year’s biggest political races ranging from Arizona’s heated U.S. Senate race to different Congressional races, we often overlook other, important elections. For example, the election for Maricopa County Schools’ next superintendent is absolutely critical to the county and all of our children. According to Wikipedia, Maricopa county is the “most populous county in the state, and the fourth-most populous in the United States. It is more populous than 23 states.” These statistics only add to the increasing importance of electing the right person for the job, which in our opinion is not Jana Jackson.

Why, you ask? Because as an education leader for this nation’s 4th largest county and someone who will influence our children’s’ futures, we expect nothing short of complete honesty and integrity. Let’s start off with this simple requirement: we expect the Superintendent to never have a warrant out for his or her arrest due to failing to appear in court for charges of any kind. Janifer “Jana” Jackson, previously Janifer Mayden, would not fulfil such a requirement back when she lived in Indiana (click link to see more). Besides, “check deception” is not exactly a speeding ticket or two… this is a serious charge. A charge which Jackson evidently avoided and ran from seeing as she never appeared in court.

We all make mistakes, yes. However, what sort of example would Jackson be setting for our children and for the county if she is elected? This is not a record suitable for a public official in charge of our schools.

Consultant Legislators: A conflict of interest?

In the most general of terms, a conflict of interest is “a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgment or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest.”

In Arizona, there really are no rules governing legislative conflict of interest statutes.  Essentially, as long as at least 10 people benefit from a piece of legislation, there is no conflict of interest.  Should allegations of conflicts of interest arise, there’s really nothing anyone can do about it.  Arizona is one of only nine states without an independent organization to oversee ethics comp

ethicsIt is not uncommon for legislators to sponsor or vote on bills that affect their personal career industry.  When you have a “citizen legislature” it’s impossible to not vote on bills that relate to education, doctors, lawyers, real-estate agents, landlords, etc.  But what about political consultants?  Does that pass the “citizen legislature” smell test?

The Arizona Republic pointed out earlier this year that there are a number of lawmakers who run or work for consulting firms whose scope of work remains unclear.  The campaign disclosure forms do not require lawmakers to reveal their clients, making their potential conflicts of interest even murkier.  But, some of these contracts are no doubt related to campaigns and public policy objectives.

House Minority Leader and potential Democratic candidate for Governor Chad Campbell lists “public affairs consulting” for Inspired Connections on his financial disclosure form. The “About Us” page for Inspired Consulting does not list Campbell as a member of their staff and it is unclear what his role is with the firm.  Other state legislators who serve as “consultants” include Sen. Al Melvin, Sen. Steve Gallardo, and Rep. Ruben Gallego.  Melvin recently made news by announcing he’s exploring a run for governor.

Former LD15 State Senator David Lujan (and good friend of Kyrsten Sinema) directed an independent expenditure effort against Republicans during the 2012 election cycle.  “Building Arizona’s Future” spent over $700,000 in the last cycle defeating Republicans, funded in large part by national Democratic money from D.C. that Sinema helped direct into Lujan’s committee coffers.  Lujan is now running for Phoenix City Council District 4.

This isn’t the first foray in the consulting arena for Campbell or Lujan.  In 2007 Campbell and Lujan formed a political consulting firm with then Democratic legislator and colleague Kyrsten Sinema.  It is unclear what Forza Consulting did or whom they represented, but according to records with the Corporation Commission the LLC still remains “open.”

Democratic Representative and rising star of the Left Ruben Gallego currently has the most prolific consulting background.  Before being elected to office in 2010, Gallego previously spent time with Valley PR firm Reister, and also served as Chief of Staff for Democratic Phoenix City Councilmember Michael Nowakowski.  He was also the Vice Chair of the Arizona Democratic Party.  Gallego’s wife, Kate Gallego, is running for Phoenix City Council in District 8 to replace term-limited Councilmember Michael Johnson.

Ruben Gallego is listed as the Director of Latino and New Media operations for Strategies360’s Arizona office.  Gallego works with Director of Arizona Operations Robbie Sherwood, a former reporter for the Arizona Republic and former Congressman Harry Mitchell’s Chief of Staff.

10-veterans-videoDuring the 2012 election cycle, Strategies360 was paid by the Yes on Prop 204 committee (“Quality Education & Jobs”) to handle communications on behalf of the union-funded campaign.  Prop 204 proposed the single-largest permanent sales tax increase in Arizona’s history and was viewed by many as a “special interest giveaway.”  Voters defeated the proposition nearly 2-to-1

Strategies360 was also paid at least $10,000 during the 2012 election cycle to handle “earned media outreach & strategic communications” for the Arizona Accountability Project (AAP).  The AAP was one of the chief committees used to funnel liberal money into the last election cycle to defeat Republican candidates.  AAP spent almost $600,000 last election cycle targeting Republicans including efforts against Jerry Lewis, Joe Ortiz, Frank Antenori, and John McComish.  They also did work in support of Democrat Tom Chabin.

Strategies360 was involved in the 2012 election to defeat Sheriff Joe Arpaio and is currently involved in the present effort to recall Arapaio.  Recently, Gallego appeared at a “Respect Arizona” rally (the group organizing the recall).  Also present at that event was Minority Leader Chad Campbell.

During 2012, Gallego even helped lead the efforts of the group opposing Arpaio, Citizens for Professional Law Enforcement PAC.  Arpaio’s campaign manager at the time, Chad Willems, questioned the financial motivations of Gallego and others:

“This is just another group out there of people lining their pockets,” Willems told HuffPost. “It seems like a full-time employment group for these guys.”

Gallego’s reach into the far-Left elements of the Democratic Party are deep.  He even served as the professional consultant for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona during the 2012 cycle, orchestrating their attacks against pro-life Republicans.  His firm was paid nearly $5,000 in consulting fees, and they were paid more than $20,000 to handle the mail program attacking several Republican lawmakers and candidates.

Let me be clear: there’s nothing illegal about what Gallego or his firm is doing.  Consultants on both sides of the political spectrum are involved in these sorts of efforts every cycle.  Some would argue this is no different than the efforts of the Senate President and the Speaker of the House and their Victory Funds last cycle.  That’s a fair comparison, but unlike Gallego (and possibly other legislators), the President and the Speaker were not financially compensated for their involvement.

Current Arizona statute provides for a one-year ban on former legislators serving as lobbyists after they leave the legislature.  Specifically, ARS 38-504(a)(b) state that for one year, a former public officer, including legislator, shall not represent another person for compensation before the legislature concerning any matter with which the legislator was directly concerned and personally participated.For two years after he or she leaves office, no public officer, including legislator, may disclose or use for personal profit information designated as confidential.  Further, section c states:

A public officer or employee shall not use or attempt to use the officer’s or employee’s official position to secure any valuable thing or valuable benefit for the officer or employee that would not ordinarily accrue to the officer or employee in the performance of the officer’s or employee’s official duties if the thing or benefit is of such character as to manifest a substantial and improper influence on the officer or employee with respect to the officer’s or employee’s duties.

When legislators like Gallego are using their positions of influence to help direct thousands of dollars in independent expenditure efforts designed to defeat their colleagues and change the partisan make-up of their chamber, while simultaneously making money off of these efforts, how is that not a conflict of interest?

MIHS Meets in Closed Door Session to Discuss Controversial State Contract


The Maricopa County Integrated Health Systems Board of Directors
is currently meeting in closed-door Executive Session to discuss the current legal challenge and protest filed by Magellan and United RHBA against MMIC (Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care), MIHS CEO Betsey Bayless, and Maricopa County Special Health Care District.  The current agenda shows a 30-minute spot dedicated to discussion of this subject, all of which will be exempt from records requests and exempt from public inspection.

It is not surprising that the MIHS Board is keeping a low profile and is remaining tight-lipped about this controversial contract after being awarded a possibly illegal $2 billion to $3 billion dollar contract from the State of Arizona.  This came on the heels of a controversial pay raise for MIHS CEO Betsey Bayless that raised her taxpayer salary to $500,000.

Accountability and SunshineThe board will apparently receive legal advice on the protest to the bid and discuss options moving forward.  An administrative law judge is likely to uphold the Department’s awarding of the contract, leaving a lawsuit targeting the state as a possible option.  Magellan has already filed a civil suit seeking financial damages in Maricopa County Superior Court against MIHS and MIHS’ CEO Betsey Bayless.  Magellan alleges MIHS was awarded the contract improperly and used proprietary information from Magellan to win the bid.

The new contract was set to begin on October 1, 2013, but the protest and lawsuit are likely to delay implementation.  Previously MIHS responded to the formal protest with the following statement:

“We are studying those protests and will respond in the appropriate venues,” the statement said. “We are confident in the strength of our bid, and we are proud to offer a unique, collaborative approach to meet Maricopa County Medicaid recipients’ behavioral-health needs and to integrate the behavioral- health and medical services for those with serious mental illness.”

If you recall, the lawsuit also alleges “serious conflicts of interest” by MIHS because Mercy Maricopa both manages the system and provide services, which is “prohibited by the contract and by state law.” Magellan also alleges that the bidding process contained “serious irregularities,” such as the state’s bidding process being amended twice to unfairly benefit MIHS over their private competitors.  Additional claims include conflicts of interest, improper scoring, licensing problems, and disclosure of proprietary information to competitors. Magellan originally serviced the state contract since 2007.

The serious allegations require attention and deserve public scrutiny.  MIHS should be holding discussions on the contract and the protest, but they should be doing this in the face of the public.  Not behind closed doors immune from public records requests. MIHS is a government entity that collects nearly $60 million dollars in property taxes every year and is run by a publicly elected Board of Directors.  When the state awards a contract that could be worth up to $3 billion dollars, possible bias in favor of a taxpayer funded MIHS over private competitors deserves more sunshine and certainly more accountability.

If you’d like to contact the MIHS Board of Directors and demand more transparency for taxpayers, they can be reached via email as follows:

 

Follow the Money…..

MIHSThe recent mental health contract awarded by the state to Maricopa County Integrated Health System or MIHS is raising eyebrows. MIHS, a government funded and owned entity, is on the cusp of receiving a 3-year contract that is potentially worth $3 billion dollars.

Any $3 billion dollar deal should be viewed as suspect by watchdog groups and taxpayers, but what makes this deal special is that MIHS is a government owned, property tax levying entity bidding against private providers.  In fact, MIHS currently collects nearly $60 million dollars in property taxes each year.  MIHS is even allowed to go into debt with revenue bonds that can be paid for through the district’s operating property tax levy without voter approval.

To secure the lucrative contract, MIHS teamed up with Aetna-owned Schaller Anderson, Medicaid provider Mercy Care Plan, Carondelet Health Network and Dignity Health.  Not surprisingly, private providers Magellan Health Services and UnitedHealthcare (both of whom bid on the same contract) have filed formal protests against MIHS and MIHS CEO Betsey Bayless.

MagellanWhy would the state award the largest contract its ever offered to another government entity in what appears to be a clear violation of the Arizona Constitution’s “gift clause?”  When you pull the thread and follow the money trail, it’s hard to not suspect corruption, cronyism, and a healthy dose of conspiracy.

MIHS was created by Proposition 414 in 2003 after voters approved the measure in a special election by a margin of 58% to 42%.  At the time, AZ Republic columnist Robert Robb called the establishment of a property-tax-supported hospital district “unnecessary and unwise.”  Robb even warned voters that “…special tax districts, focused on only a single service with independently elected boards, are bad fiscal policy.  Hard choices are good for taxpayers and make for more efficient government.”

Robb even called the publicity pamphlet and ballot question used to promote the measure “the most blatant case of government propagandizing I’ve seen in over a quarter century of Arizona elections.”  Bold statement for a columnist who typically calls it as he sees it.

The lobbying firm responsible for the passage of the ballot referral legislation at the Capitol also ran the ballot campaign.  Phoenix-based HighGround public affairs is run by consultant Chuck Coughlin, Brewer’s campaign advisor and a man who has been referred to as Arizona’s “shadow governor.”   According to their website:

“Our team was the principal public affairs and lobbying team for the legislation that authorized the creation of the new Maricopa County Hospital District on behalf of Maricopa County.  Following the successful passage of the legislation, HighGround was retained as the principal campaign consultant for the Yes on 414 Committee.”

Fast forward to 2008.  HighGround is once again rewarded for their work and is retained by MIHS with their first lobbying contract.  Today, HighGround works hand-in-hand with Betsey Bayless who was hired as MIHS’ CEO in September 2005.

BaylessIn February 2013, Bayless was given a 33% pay raise, an extra $125,000 per year, bringing her annual taxpayer-funded salary to a whopping $500,000.  This despite a poor rating issued by a national accrediting group, the Joint Commission, which found widespread record-keeping problems and other flaws that posed risks to patients’ safety.  This even despite the fact that Bayless has already announced she’s leaving her position at the end of 2013.  Two of MIHS’ board members even voted against the pay raise, saying they opposed raising the pay of a CEO who is leaving in less than a year and working for a public hospital.

“It really rubs me the wrong way that we’re spending this type of money,” board member Elbert Bicknell said. “Don’t get me wrong. Betsey is a smart … woman, and she’s done a hell of a job from 2005 to now. But a ($125,000) raise in a year when we give our janitors maybe a 1 percent raise or lay off people? It just doesn’t make sense.”  Dissenting board member Sue Gerard commented: “I think having that kind of salary is totally inappropriate.”

Could the pay raise have anything to do with the fact that it was widely speculated that MIHS was going to be awarded the enormous mental health contract?  Was this Betsey’s “swan song” on her way out the door?  Possibly.

But where this story gets really tangled is when one considers the ramifications of the state adopting Governor Brewer’s Medicaid expansion proposal.  Again, the value of the contract could increase an additional $1 billion dollars if the state accepts federal Medicaid dollars.  Who is running the campaign in Arizona for Medicaid expansion?

If you guessed Chuck Coughlin and HighGround, you’re correct.  Serving as Coughlin’s wingman is Peter Burns, a former Brewer budget advisor.  Perhaps that explains the governor’s complete flip-flop on this issue from less than a year ago.  The Wall Street Journal went as far as to describe the governor’s flip-flop as a “political 540°” and “a case study in the political pressure and fiscal gimmicks designed to get states to succumb.”

The New York Times sums up the magnitude of political forces and financial incentives behind this coordinated effort:

Recently, 40 lobbyists, representing at least 110 groups pushing for the expansion, among them hospitals, health care associations and business organizations, huddled in the executive wing of the State Capitol to update the governor’s advisers on their progress and hone strategies.

The Wall Street Journal goes further, discussing how “Ms. Brewer was nonetheless besieged by health-industry lobbying, especially from hospitals that want more government money and the insurers that administer Medicaid.”

There is something wrong with the State of Arizona climbing into bed with private business to give away billions of dollars in public funds.  When those decisions are tied to the largest health contract the state has ever awarded and possibly the biggest expansion of federal government our state has ever seen, tax-paying citizens are owed an explanation and deserve transparency.

Aside from the arguments of whether accepting federal Medicaid dollars related to the full implementation of Obamacare is good or bad policy, the one thing that is clear is that the consultants, lobbyists, and hospital administrators pushing the plan stand to make millions of dollars in profits.

Money makes people do strange things, indeed.

Government Contract Rigged for MIHS?

CASH

Magellan Health Services filed a “formal protest and a lawsuit” against Maricopa Integrated Health Services or MIHS. Magellan had managed a contract that included serving Maricopa County’s poor since 2007. Magellan’s complaint alleges numerous irregularities:

In its protest, Magellan alleges that Mercy Maricopa has “serious conflicts of interest” because Mercy Maricopa intends to both manage the system and provide services, which is prohibited by the contract and by state law. Magellan also claims that Mercy Maricopa should have been ineligible to bid on the contract but that state procurement officials improperly amended the request for proposals “to permit the winning bidder to qualify as an eligible bidder.”

Magellan Arizona CEO Richard Clarke told The Arizona Republic that there were “serious irregularities in the bidding process,” such as the state twice amending the proposal request “at the last moment” to allow bidders to subcontract services, which benefited the Mercy Maricopa proposal.

Magellan also claims that the bids were improperly scored and that “there was an overall bias in favor of the winning bidder.”

For example, Clarke said, both organizations proposed eliminating the separate provider network for children’s treatment and using the administrative savings for direct services. Mercy Maricopa earned points for that portion of its proposal, but Magellan did not, he said. “There are a number of errors like that where it’s really clear to us that the two entities were judged very differently,” he said.

Magellan’s complaint targets not only MIHS but Betsey Bayless, MIHS’ CEO. Bayless has previously been under scrutiny for receiving a $125,000 taxpayer funded pay raise earlier this year, bringing her annual salary to $500,000 – in taxpayer money.  Bayless was viewed by many as a spoiler in the 2002 governor’s race between Matt Salmon and Governor Napolitano. Napolitano won by less than 10,000 votes and in return, Bayless was appointed as director of the Department of Administration. Bayless’ appointment would serve as a launching pad to her lucrative position at MIHS, a position which many view is beyond her qualifications.

The Arizona Republic also states an interesting fact about the state contract:

The contract, worth $2 billion to $3 billion, depending on whether the state expands Medicaid, is the states first for integrated health care, which blends physical- and mental-health treatment.

The difference between $2 billion and $3 billion is staggering. The Arizona Republic understates the amount and ignores the underlying possible nefarious motive for the changing of state law, bidding processes, and why MIHS would want the contract.  To put this into context, the difference between $2 billion and $3 billion is the difference between, say, Jerry Jones and Steven Spielberg.

Another key factor easily glossed over by the Arizona Republic is that MIHS receives nearly $60 million dollars in property taxes each year.  So, you essentially have a taxpayer-subsidized government entity bidding against private providers for the largest behavioral health contract the state has ever offered.  Does that seem fair?

The legal challenge by Magellan will hopefully shed light on the seemingly back door deal and reveal what really took place in the bidding process. When $3 billion in taxpayer dollars is at stake, the people deserve complete transparency on state contracts.