Contempt resolution fails after Boyer breaks with Senate GOP colleagues

By: - February 8, 2021 5:17 pm

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, is flanked by child sexual abuse survivors and Democratic lawmakers at a May 20, 2019, press conference opposing House Bill 2746, a Republican-backed measure to expand the rights of child sexual abuse victims that opponents say will actually protect sexual predators and the institutions that enable them. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Unanimous Republican support for a resolution to hold the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in contempt amid a dispute over a proposed audit of the 2020 general election fractured after a lone GOP senator broke ranks with his colleagues.

Like the other 15 Republicans in the Arizona Senate, Sen. Paul Boyer co-sponsored the resolution to hold the supervisors in contempt for refusing to comply with two wide-ranging subpoenas for all 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County in the November election, along with ballot tabulation machines and other equipment and data. With only 16 votes in the 30-member chamber, Senate Republicans could only pass the resolution if they supported it unanimously.

But to the surprise and chagrin of his colleagues, Boyer, a Glendale Republican, voted against holding the supervisors in contempt, averting a potentially ugly situation where the Senate president would have been empowered to actually order the arrest of the supervisors, who could have also faced misdemeanor charges.

Boyer said he struggled all weekend with how to vote on Senate Resolution 1005. He said he thought he knew how he would vote on it. In the end, he said his decision to vote against the resolution was intended to give the county more time to seek legal clarity and figure out how to comply with the subpoenas while alleviating its concerns, such as how to provide ballots to the Senate while protecting the privacy of people’s votes.

“I’ve always said, so long as there’s hope for both sides to work with one another that I want to do all I can within my limited power to have us work amicably together. Members, we still have time to work on this,” Boyer said. 

Though the Board of Supervisors has consistently resisted the Senate’s subpoenas and its demand for an audit, Boyer said he believes it’s not opposed in principle to more audits. Boyer said he believes an audit is necessary, and that the Senate’s subpoena power is clear. But that audit should happen without contempt charges.

“Make no mistake. Today’s vote merely provides a little bit more time for us to work together charitably and amicably as friends for the sole purpose of gaining more clarity. This is not a final determination, nor is it the end of the process,” he said.

Boyer’s unexpected vote set off a flurry of activity on the Senate floor. Other Republicans railed against the supervisors’ intransigence while Boyer’s colleagues, including Senate President Karen Fann, urged him to change his mind. In the meantime, Senate Democrats sat quietly while the drama unfolded, not giving Republicans any additional talking points as they sought unsuccessfully to persuade Boyer to change his vote.

Fann made the last speech before the 15-15 vote was finalized, saying she was pleading with Boyer to change his mind. The Prescott Republican said she wouldn’t have put the resolution up for a vote if she hadn’t been under the impression that all 16 Republicans would vote in favor of it. She later told the Arizona Mirror that Boyer told the Senate GOP caucus last week that he would vote for the resolution.

The Senate president described a contempt vote as a procedural step that would help the issue reach a resolution in the courts. 

“It is not mean. It’s not hateful. It’s not trying to poke anybody in the eye. It is a procedural move that is required by law for us to do so that we can move forward with compelling this information that we need to get the forensic audits done,” she said.

Fann also emphasized that the audit has nothing to do with attempting to overturn the results of the election, in which President Joe Biden became the first Democrat to win Arizona’s electoral votes since 1996. Instead, it was about ensuring that Arizona has fair and honest elections. Several other Republican senators said they supported the audit and the subpoenas because they’d heard from so many constituents who questioned the validity of the election.

Lies, damn lies and the Republicans destroying our elections

The subpoenas, issued originally in December, came as baseless allegations and conspiracy theories about the election reached a fever pitch, despite a lack of any evidence that the election was rigged against former President Donald Trump.

If Boyer and Fann want clarity from the courts, they may soon get it. The supervisors on Friday filed a new complaint asking a Maricopa County judge to quash the subpoenas, which they argued were unlawful on several grounds. 

The supervisors argued that state law strictly governs the possession of ballots after an election and that it would be illegal to turn them over to the Senate. They argued that allowing unqualified companies to examine the machines could cause their decertification. And they argued that the Senate simply lacked legal authority to demand any of these materials or to conduct an audit of the election.

Another legal maneuver by the county may have stopped a second Republican senator from voting against the contempt resolution. Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said the decision initially seemed a difficult one, but it got easier over time. The final deciding factor, he said, was the county’s decision on Monday to ask a judge to block the Senate from holding its contempt vote.

“That is beyond outrageous. That is like out-of-this-universe ludicrous,” he said.

Other Republican senators accused the supervisors of backtracking on agreements and of shifting their legal arguments.

Sen. Warren Petersen, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and jointly issued the subpoenas with Fann, said Boyer was wrong about the Board of Supervisors wanting to work with the Senate. He also argued that it’s not illegal for the county to turn over the ballots, and that state law grants the supervisors immunity for doing so in response to subpoenas. And he decried two separate audits that the county authorized of its election equipment as insufficient.

“When it comes to obstruction, lies and deception, the Maricopa County board gets an A-plus,” said Petersen, a Gilbert Republican.

One concern voiced by the Board of Supervisors in its recent legal filings is that Fann wanted to hire a company known for spreading election falsehoods to conduct the audit. Emails show that Fann planned to have Texas-based Allied Security work under another auditor. The firm and some of its members have made headlines since the election testifying on behalf of Trump’s campaign for spreading baseless allegations and compiling a widely debunked report regarding the election in a northern Michigan county.

Phil Waldron, a member of ASOG’s proposed audit team, falsely claimed during a November hearing in Phoenix that election workers in Arizona don’t verify signatures on mail-in ballot envelopes and that Maricopa County’s voting machines were connected to the internet during the vote count.

Fann now says she’s leaning against hiring ASOG, a firm that has gained tremendous popularity among Trump supporters who falsely believe the election was stolen.

“We will hire an independent forensic audit firm. It would be difficult to hire ASOG at the time because of the negative press piled … on them,” Fann told the Mirror.

Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said if the Senate won’t ensure the integrity of Arizona’s elections, members of the public are forming a coalition to do so on their own, though it’s unclear exactly what they might do. 

“It should be us doing it. But we have someone who has reneged on his word, and now it’s going to have to go into the hands of the public. And right now, the last place this needs to be is in a place where the public is so lathered up over all of this. We need to do this in a way that’s professional, legal and proper,” Townsend said. 

But it appears that’s not going to happen, Townsend said, adding, “So, public, do what you’ve got to do.”

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”