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Fireworks salesman backs bill to expand fireworks sale. Why isn’t it a conflict?

By: - April 8, 2019 2:30 pm

David Gowan at a rally for Donald Trump in Phoenix on June 19, 2016. Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

There are a few certainties in a legislative session: Fights over the budget will be centered on education funding, Democrats will get upset that moderate Republican peers vote like Republicans, and David Gowan will push legislation to expand the use and sales of fireworks in Arizona.

Hyperbole aside, Gowan, a Republican from Sierra Vista who is in his second tour of duty at the Capitol, has a history of sponsoring bills and introducing amendments that boost the fireworks industry here. For instance, in 2016, while Gowan was the speaker of the House of Representatives, he testified in favor of a bill that would have dramatically expanded allowable fireworks in Arizona to include “mine and shell” fireworks.

Why?

At the time, Gowan’s son worked as a salesman for TNT Fireworks, a California-based company that sells fireworks in Arizona. You’ve no doubt seen their tents set up in parking lots across the state during the holidays when Arizona law allows fireworks to be sold.

And according to his most recent financial disclosure form, Gowan was employed in 2018 as a salesman for TNT Fireworks.

This year, Gowan is sponsoring Senate Bill 1348, which expands the limited number of days fireworks retailers can sell their product to include two new holidays: Cinco de Mayo and Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. While I don’t know that the latter holiday is likely to be a major driver of sales, given than only about 1 percent of Arizona residents are Hindu, I fully expect that Cinco de Mayo would be a boon for those who sell fireworks.

While TNT Fireworks has supported bills to expand fireworks sales in the past, the firm is absent this year. But Gowan’s bill is supported solely by an entity that has weighed in on past legislation: the United States Fireworks Safety Council. While such a name implies some sort of trade group for the fireworks industry, the reality appears to be something else. An online search returns primarily references to the company’s lobbyist in Arizona, Michael Williams.

It has no discernible website, Facebook page or Twitter page. Curious, no?

Now, if you’re like most people, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Wait a minute! A lawmaker who makes a living by selling fireworks has introduced legislation that would expand firework sales in Arizona, which would allow him to make more money selling fireworks. That’s a conflict of interest!”

But you’d be wrong, because the legislature has extremely permissive conflict-of-interest rules. So permissive, in fact, that they make it nearly impossible for a conflict to exist. The conflict rules boil down to this: If there are more than 10 people who would benefit from a new law, there is no conflict, and the legislator can vote on the measure. Or sponsor it.

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Jim Small
Jim Small

Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications, the Yellow Sheet Report and Arizona Legislative Report. Under his guidance, the Capitol Times won numerous state, regional and national awards for its accountability journalism and probing investigations into state government operations.

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