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Arizona State Senator Accuses Fellow Republican Of Seeking Political Payback

By Ben Giles, Mark Brodie
Published: Tuesday, February 16, 2021 - 7:43pm
Updated: Wednesday, February 17, 2021 - 10:36am

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Sen. Paul Boyer
Howard Fischer/Capital Media Services
Paul Boyer in 2019.

One day after all Republicans in the Arizona Senate voted to pass a controversial school voucher bill, a handful of those same Republicans voted to halt the bill in its tracks.

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale) gave no explanation why she made the motion to request that representatives send SB 1452 back to the Senate from the House— when a bill is first approved in one chamber, it’s transmitted to the other.

To Sen. Kelly Townsend, the intent was clear: Ugenti-Rita was retaliating against fellow Republican Paul Boyer, the sponsor of the voucher bill.

Moments earlier, Boyer had cast the decisive vote against Ugenti-Rita’s election bill. SB 1069 would remove individuals from the state’s permanent early voting list if they didn’t use their early ballot in two consecutive primary and general elections. 

Boyer was the lone Republican to vote against SB 1069. Since Republican’s hold a 16-14 majority in the Senate, his dissent left Ugenti-Rita’s bill one vote short.

Townsend, a Mesa Republican, said it was a mistake to seek payback at a fellow senator for his or her vote.

“I think that is beneath us. I think we should be ashamed of ourselves,” she said after the motion was approved.

“It’s tempting. We want to do that to each other, but this isn't high school. This is the Arizona state Senate,” she added.

Neither Ugenti-Rita or Boyer could immediately be reached for comment.

Michelle Ugenti-Rita
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Michelle Ugenti-Rita in 2018.

The motion to get the bill sent back from the House passed with an oddly bipartisan mix. 

All Democrats voted in favor of it, seizing an opportunity to stall, and potentially defeat, a bill they oppose. They were joined by Ugenti-Rita and five other Republicans: Sens. Sonny Borrelli, David Gowan, David Livingston, Tyler Pace and Wendy Rogers.

The fate of the voucher bill now rests in the hands of the House and Speaker Rusty Bowers. The House must make a motion to transmit the bill back to the Senate, according to legislative staff. It’s possible a representative could object to that motion and force a vote on Ugenti-Rita’s procedural request.

If the bill is sent back to the Senate, a separate motion would have to be made to revote on the bill. Otherwise, it would languish in the Senate and die.

SB 1452 would dramatically expand Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program, better known as the ESA program. Conservatives hail the measure as an expansion of school choice, while critics say it’s simply the latest effort by Republican lawmakers to siphon money away from Arizona’s public schools.

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