Rep. Gallego announces bid for Sinema’s Arizona Senate seat
PHOENIX (AP) — Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, a liberal firebrand and prominent Latino lawmaker, announced Monday he’ll challenge independent U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema in 2024, becoming the first candidate to jump into the race and setting up a potential three-way contest.
Gallego said he’d fight for normal people struggling to make ends meet and losing faith in politicians. He said he and Sinema both come from “modest to poor means” but have taken different paths in Congress.
“I’m better for this job than Kyrsten Sinema because I haven’t forgotten where I came from,” Gallego told The Associated Press. “I think she clearly has forgotten where she came from. Instead of meeting with the people that need help, she meets with the people that are already powerful.”
Gallego, a 43-year-old military veteran first elected to Congress in 2014, had made no secret of his interest in challenging Sinema, a longtime rival in Arizona politics who has been a roadblock and irritant to Democrats during Joe Biden’s presidency. She left the Democratic Party in December, registering as an independent and saying she doesn’t “fit well into a traditional party system.” She has not said whether she plans to run for a second term.
Although no Republican has entered the race, potential contenders include former gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, former U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters and Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb — all of whom are closely aligned with former President Donald Trump. Karrin Taylor Robson, a housing developer who lost to Lake in last year’s primary, and former Gov. Doug Ducey are also possible contenders.
A three-way race, coupled with the risk that Sinema and the eventual Democratic nominee will split the vote, would complicate the party’s already uphill battle to maintain control of the Senate in 2024. Democrats will be forced to defend 23 seats, including Sinema’s and two others held by independents, compared with just 10 seats for Republicans.
With tough and expensive races on the horizon, it remains unclear just how firmly the Democratic establishment and major donors will line up against Sinema, who has voted for most Democratic legislation even as she’s stood in the way of major priorities for the White House, congressional leaders and the progressive movement.
“I’m assuming that they will be with us because we are going to run the winning campaign, and because at the end of the day, if you look at where Arizonans are going to be, they’re going to be with us and not with her,” Gallego told the AP.
A spokesperson for Sinema, Hannah Hurley, declined to comment on Gallego’s announcement.
Gallego, an acerbic presence on social media who is quick to take down rivals from both parties, floated the idea of challenging Sinema to raise money last year and has for weeks been publicly assembling a team of advisers, hiring Democratic campaign veterans with experience working on tough swing-state Senate races in Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania.
He announced his campaign with an online video that shows him talking to veterans at an American Legion post in Guadalupe, a Latino and Indigenous community just outside Phoenix. He said his path from humble roots, beating the odds by getting accepted to Harvard University, motivates him to fight to preserve the American dream, first in the military and now in politics.
The son of immigrants from Mexico and Colombia, Gallego was raised in Chicago by a single mother, after his father was imprisoned for dealing drugs. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Reserves while he was on a break from Harvard, where he struggled with culture shock. He wrote in a 2021 book, “They Called Us Lucky,” that he was asked to leave during his sophomore year, when he partied too much, his grades slipped and he broke unspecified rules. He was later allowed to return.
He fought in Iraq in 2005 in a unit that sustained heavy casualties, including the death of his best friend, and he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder after returning. He moved to Arizona to join his Harvard girlfriend, who had become active in Democratic politics in the state. The couple married in 2010 and divorced in 2017, a month before their son was born. His ex-wife, Kate Gallego, is now the mayor of Phoenix.
Gallego was elected in 2010 to the state Legislature, where Sinema also served for one of his two terms. In 2014, he won a bitter congressional primary, toppling a dynastic figure in the Phoenix Latino community. He’s giving up a safe Democratic seat in Congress, a district that includes the Black and Latino neighborhoods of south and west Phoenix.
In Congress, he has focused on veterans and military issues.
Sinema has modeled her political approach on the maverick style of the late Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who alienated the grassroots of his party by sometimes crossing the aisle to work with Democrats. She’s become a fierce advocate of bipartisan compromise in an era when extreme partisanship has made it much more difficult.
She has been at the center of many of the biggest congressional deals of Biden’s presidency, from a big, bipartisan infrastructure package to a landmark bill to legally protect same-sex marriages. But she’s also become estranged from many Democrats, who blame her for voting down progressive priorities like a minimum wage hike and watering down others, like Biden’s big social spending initiatives. She single-handedly thwarted Democrats’ longtime goal of raising taxes on wealthy investors.
Her support for maintaining the filibuster, a Senate rule requiring 60 of 100 votes to pass most legislation, has made her a pariah among Democrats, who need Republican support to pass most bills despite controlling a majority of seats. The tension reached a head in 2021, when Democrats tried and failed to pass voting rights legislation.
Sinema doubled down on her position last week, telling global elites in Davos, Switzerland, that democracy didn’t collapse in the 2022 election despite her support for the filibuster.
Is DeSantis darkening Florida’s sunny open-records laws?
Florida has long been known for sunshine — not only the warm rays that brighten its beaches but also the light of public scrutiny afforded by some of the nation’s strongest meetings and records laws.
Although years of rollbacks have gradually clouded the impact, advocates are ringing alarms that this year presents the greatest threat to transparency yet in the state that coined the name “Sunshine Law” for its open-government rules.
Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, weighing a presidential bid, is pursuing a home-state agenda that could make it harder for people to learn what public officials are doing or to speak out against them. In an unprecedented move for the Sunshine State, DeSantis has claimed an executive right to keep key government records secret. He’s also seeking to weaken a nearly 60-year-old national legal precedent protecting journalists and others who publish critical comments about public figures.
Florida’s Republican-led Legislature appears eager to carry out his vision. As their annual session began last week, lawmakers filed dozens of bills that would add to the state’s lengthy list of open-government exceptions.
“The state of sunshine is in peril,” warned Barbara Petersen, executive director of the Florida Center for Government Accountability, who has been tracking the state’s public access laws for three decades.
DeSantis, who is expected to launch a presidential bid following the session, has thrilled conservative activists nationwide by leaning into fights against the GOP’s perceived political adversaries: public health officials, so-called “woke” leaders in business and public education — and the press.
Former President Donald Trump, a potential rival and fellow Floridian, also is well-known for lambasting the press — describing the U.S. media as “the enemy of the people.” Such criticism often plays well within the modern-day Republican Party, where mainstream media are perceived to side with the interests of Democrats and liberals.
But it runs contrary to Florida’s historic reputation as a place where reporters — and curious members of the public — can unearth government data and documents that shed light on the decisions made by elected officials.
Florida’s law making government records open to public inspection dates to 1909, long before similar measures emerged in many other states. It added a Sunshine Law requiring public meetings in 1967. Then, in 1992, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment guaranteeing a public right to access records and meetings. A decade later, as lawmakers were adding exemptions, voters approved another a constitutional amendment making it harder for legislators to approve future exceptions.
Florida newspapers launched the first “Sunshine Sunday” in 2002 to highlight the importance of public access to government information. That one-day event has since grown to an annual Sunshine Week observed nationally by media and First Amendment advocates.
As this year’s Sunshine Week began Sunday, lawmakers in state capitols were pursuing a mixture of proposals — some excluding more government records from public inspection; others increasing the ability of people to keep an eye on their government. But nowhere, perhaps, have Sunshine Week issues garnered as much attention as in Florida — due largely to DeSantis’ powerful platform to voice his complaints about the media.
Last month, DeSantis hosted a livestreamed “panel discussion on defamation” while attempting to build support for his plan to make it easier to bring defamation lawsuits against the media or people who post things on the internet about public officials and employees.
“You smear somebody, it’s false, and you didn’t do your homework, you’re going to have to be held accountable for that,” DeSantis said while concluding the event. “Hopefully, you’ll see more and more of that across the country.”
DeSantis is seeking to undercut a 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decision that shielded news outlets from libel judgments unless proven that they were published with “actual malice” — knowing that something was false or acting with “reckless disregard” to whether it was true. Florida legislation to carry out DeSantis’ plan would make it unnecessary to prove “actual malice” when the allegedly defamatory statements don’t relate to the reason why someone is a public figure.
Other provisions of the legislation would presume anonymous statements in news stories are false for the purposes defamation lawsuits and would treat accusations of racial, sexual or gender discrimination as intrinsically defamatory.
Petersen said such provisions appear to be a first nationally and could have a freezing effect on free speech.
But Republican state Rep. Alex Andrade, who is sponsoring the bill, said it is “a sincere attempt to try and fix the problems that exist in this type of law.”
“This bill would make it easier for someone who’s actually been harmed by a defamatory statement to pursue justice in Florida courts,” Andrade said.
The defamation legislation is just one of several DeSantis administration policies prompting concern among media organizations.
Earlier this year, a Florida trial judge upheld DeSantis’ assertion of “executive privilege” in refusing to turn over information requested under the state’s public-records law about his screening of potential state Supreme Court nominees. That case is being watched by national media organizations as it’s being appealed.
The Florida Constitution contains no specific mention of “executive privilege.” Neither does the U.S. Constitution, though courts have upheld the president’s prerogative to withhold documents to protect the confidentiality of advice received in the decision-making process. Governors in Oklahoma, Tennessee and Washington also have previously asserted the privilege.
Another DeSantis administration policy has slowed access to some public records. Television station WKMG reported last month that public records requests to some state agencies were being routed for review to the governor’s office, sometimes delaying their release by weeks or months.
Public protests at the Capitol also have been limited. Under a DeSantis administration rule that took effect March 1, demonstrations at the Capitol Complex are only permitted outdoors. Requests to use space in the Capitol Complex must come from state agencies, the Legislature or judiciary, must be “consistent with the agency’s official purpose” and cannot include displays with “gratuitous violence or gore” that are “patently offensive to prevailing standards in the community.”
Florida’s open-government reputation already was fading before DeSantis took office in 2019, but that trend has gained steam. In his first year, lawmakers expanded the list of personal details forbidden to be disclosed about various public officials. Last year, DeSantis signed a law shielding information about candidates for college and university presidencies.
This year, roughly five-dozen bills already have been filed proposing more open-government exemptions, Petersen said. Some of those would prohibit the agency that provides security for DeSantis from disclosing the governor’s travel arrangements — even after the fact.
Though DeSantis said he doesn’t support it, another bill filed this year would require bloggers to file periodic reports with the state if they are paid for posts about the governor, lieutenant governor, cabinet members or legislative officials.
The cumulative effect is that “open government and public records laws are very much under the gun right now,” said Bobby Block, executive director of the First Amendment Foundation, a Florida nonprofit that advocates for the public’s right to open government.
“Every year, we’re seeing the vast sweep of the original intention chiseled away – sometimes bit by bit, other times chuck by chuck,” Block said, “and it’s definitely not the way it used to be.”
Missouri debates ban on LGBTQ education for all grades
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri lawmakers argued Wednesday over a bill that would ban most LGBTQ education subjects for all grades in the state’s public schools.
The proposal is modeled after a Florida education law passed last year, touted by supporters as protecting “parent’s rights” and dubbed by opponents as a “ Don’t Say Gay ” law.
The Missouri bill debated in a state House committee hearing would ban K-12 public school staff from teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation.
The Florida law only prohibits teaching those subjects from kindergarten through third grade, although any lessons on those topics for students of any grade are also banned if they are not age-appropriate.
“Exposure to such topics is inappropriate for children, creating confusion which may then cause doubt in their identities,” said Rep. Ann Kelley, a former teacher and the Republican sponsor of the Missouri bill. “It is not the place of the school to indoctrinate our children by exposing them to gender and sexual identity curriculums and courses.”
Kelley said her bill will need to be amended so it does not limit teaching for Advanced Placement courses.
In response to a question from a committee member, Kelley said she assumes that under her bill, educators would be banned from explaining the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-sex marriage.
“It seems like the things that you want to prohibit are targeted to one particular group that you find disfavorable,” Republican Rep. Phil Christofanelli told Kelley.
Democratic Rep. Ian Mackey, a former teacher who is openly gay, asked Kelley if him “being gay in the classroom” and not hiding that from students would be limited under her bill.
“Did you ever inform your students on your beliefs?” Kelley asked Mackey.
“They did know I was gay,” Mackey said. “They would see my wedding ring and they would ask about it, and I would say I have a husband.”
A committee vote on the bill was not scheduled as of Wednesday afternoon.
The White House, Disney, and LGBTQ advocates criticized the passage of the Florida bill last year. Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the bill was a victory for parents and would prevent “indoctrination.”
Secretary Blinken to Honor International Women of Courage Awardees at White House Ceremony
WASHINGTON, DC – Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and First Lady Jill Biden will honor a group of extraordinary women at the 17th annual International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award Ceremony on Wednesday, March 8, at 2:00 p.m. The ceremony will take place at the White House for the first time in the award’s history.
The annual IWOC Award recognizes women from around the globe who have demonstrated exceptional courage, strength, and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equity and equality, often at great personal risk and sacrifice. Since 2007, the Department of State has recognized more than 180 women from more than 80 countries.
The ceremony will be pooled press and streamed live on whitehouse.gov/live and state.gov.
Following the IWOC ceremony, the awardees will participate in an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), the U.S. Department of State’s premier professional exchange program, where they will meet with American counterparts in various cities throughout the country.
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