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Benji Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Coconino Panthers middle blocker Sophie Sinek (11) reaches up to stuff a weak pass for a point Tuesday during a home match against the Mingus Union Marauders.

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Flake blasts Trump, Senate GOP in announcing retirement

PHOENIX -- Calling the president's behavior "dangerous to democracy," Sen. Jeff Flake announced Tuesday he won't seek another term.

In a speech on the Senate floor, the state's junior senator decried what he said has been "the indecency of our discourse" and "the coarseness of our leadership." He also spoke of "the flagrant disregard for truth and decency" and his belief that the nation's values -- and even the stability of the entire world -- "are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters," a blatant reference to Trump's tendency to make pronouncements on his Twitter account.

And he chided members of his own Republican Party for standing silent in the name of party loyalty or fear of drawing a primary challenge.

"Politics can make us silent when we should speak," he said. "And silence can equal complicity. I will not be complicit or silent."

Flake, in the 17-minute floor speech, conceded there was a political basis behind his decision.

He said that the current climate in the GOP makes it impossible for "a true conservative" to win nomination. And polls already have shown him running behind former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who has aligned herself with the president and effectively received his endorsement.

"Arizona voters are the big winner in Jeff Flake's decision to not seek reelection," Ward said in a prepared statement. "They deserve a strong conservative in the U.S. Senate who supports President Trump and the 'America First' agenda."

But his withdrawal from the race could decrease the chances that Ward will end up the nominee. Other Republicans, sensing Flake's vulnerability even before Tuesday's announcement, were already testing the waters before Flake's announcement.

One of those is Jay Heiler, who served as chief of staff in the 1990s to Republican Gov. Fife Symington. He now serves on the Arizona Board of Regents.

Heiler, who confirmed his interest Tuesday, starts out with something that could help him defeat Ward: the endorsement of former Gov. Jan Brewer, who has been -- and remains -- one of Trump's key supporters. That sends the signal to those who back Trump that Heiler would be acceptable.

"He's a breath of fresh air," said Brewer, who already was supporting Heiler to run even before Tuesday's announcement. "I think he can get the job done and represent Arizona in a fashion that it should be represented."

Former state GOP Chairman Robert Graham said Tuesday he also is exploring whether to enter the race, saying he may be the best bet to keep the seat in Republican hands.

"I don't think it's any secret that I'm not a fan of Kelli Ward," he said. "I believe that if she were to become the nominee she'll have a hard-pressed chance to win."

But Graham acknowledged members of the GOP congressional delegation may have their own ideas, including David Schweikert, Martha McSally, Paul Gosar and Trent Franks.

Then there's state Treasurer Jeff DeWit, who also has shown some interest in the seat. Graham said he's close to DeWit and will meet with him, with the presumption that if one runs the other one will not.

At this point the presumed Democrat frontrunner is Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema. But other announced candidates include attorney Deedra Abboud, Bob Bishop, Jim Moss, Chris Russell and Chris Sherzan.

Flake said his decision to free himself from having to worry about winning what would have been a brutal primary gives him a chance to focus on other issues in his remaining 14 months.

Potentially more significant, it frees him up to take a much more high-profile role in speaking out against the president and the politics of fear he believes Trump represents.

"We have given in or given up on the core principles in favor of a more viscerally satisfied anger and resentment," the senator said in his floor speech.

"To be clear, the anger and resentment that the people feel at the royal mess that we've created are justified," he continued. "But anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy."

And he had a special message for GOP colleagues about "the impulse to scapegoat and belittle."

"In the case of the Republican Party, those things also threaten to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking minority party," Flake warned.

In his speech, the senator never actually mentioned the president by name. But he made it clear about whom he was talking.

"Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified," he said.

"And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else," Flake continued. "It is dangerous to democracy."

More to the point, he said it's important to speak out, particularly as a member of the president's own party.

"I'm aware that there's a segment of my party that believes that anything short of complete and unquestioning loyalty to a president who belongs to my party is unacceptable and suspect," Flake told his colleges. And he said it's not because he enjoys criticizing the behavior of the president.

"If I have been critical, it is because I believe it is my obligation to do so," Flake said.

The senator's announcement drew the usual -- and expected -- statements of praise for his service. But none of the Republicans was willing to respond to Flake's comments about the party's silent acquiescence to Trump and his policies and practices.

For example, Gov. Doug Ducey issued a statement praising Flake as "a voice for fiscal responsibility at the federal level before it was popular." But gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato said he did not know whether his boss had seen, heard or read Flake’s comments -- and whether Ducey agrees with anything Flake said.

State GOP Chairman Jonathan Lines called Flake "a tried and true Arizonan who has served our state honorably for more than 18 years," first as a member of House of Representatives before being elected to the Senate in 2012. But party spokeswoman Torunn Sinclair said there would be no response to the actual content of the senator's speech

Ditto Arizona Chamber of Commerce President Glenn Hamer, who had similar praise.

There was no immediate comment from Sinema, who just recently jumped into the race. But Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said Arizonans should not elect "another rubber-stamp Republican for Donald Trump's reckless right-wing policies that hurt working families."

An open seat in the Senate could give Democrats the first chance in decades to put an Arizonan in the U.S. Senate.

The last time that happened was in 1976, when a divisive GOP primary between Sam Steiger and John Conlan, both members of Congress, left so much bad blood that Democrat Dennis DeConcini from Tucson snatched the seat in the general election with 54 percent of the vote.

In publicly lashing out at Trump, Flake finds himself even closer aligned with John McCain, the state's senior senator, who, with a diagnosis of brain cancer, has been taking more pronounced stances against the president. Just a week ago that took the form of a speech denouncing the administration's "half-baked spurious nationalism" and the use of "scapegoats" to deal with problem rather than working toward solutions.

Benji Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Halloween is fast-approaching and the number of Flagstaff residents assembling spooky and clever decorations increases day by day.

Randy Wilson, Arizona Daily Sun 

This home on Cherry Hill in Flagstaff is daring trick-or-treaters not to look up as they ring the doorbell. Send your photos of any clever, eerie, or noteworthy Halloween decorations to 

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AG rules Bisbee plastic bag ban illegal

PHOENIX -- Saying state law trumps local control, Attorney General Mark Brnovich ruled Tuesday that a Bisbee ordinance banning plastic bags is illegal.

Brnovich told Capitol Media Services that city attorney Britt Hanson presented several "compelling reasons'' why the community should be able to outlaw plastic bags and require retailers to charge a nickel for paper ones. And the attorney general said he understands the concerns about dealing with flyaway trash.

But he said all that is legally irrelevant.

The only thing that matters, Brnovich said, is that the Arizona Legislature voted last year to prohibit local governments from regulating "auxiliary containers.'' That means no fees or prohibitions on anything ranging from bottles and cans to bags.

And the attorney general said, the 2016 law spells out that lawmakers believe such issues are a matter of statewide concern and not subject to local regulations. That, Brnovich said, overrules the city's contention that the ban is strictly a local issue.

Brnovich, using the power granted to him under a separate 2016 law, gave the city 30 days to rescind the ordinance. And if the council refuses, the attorney general said he will direct the state treasurer to begin withholding Bisbee's share of state aid.

The more likely prospect is that the city will file suit, asking a judge to block the cash loss until there is a final ruling by a court on whether the ordinance really does conflict with the preemption.

Among the arguments will be that Bisbee is a "charter city'' with state constitutional powers to enact laws on strictly local matters. And Hanson contends that how the city deals with trash is strictly a local concern.

Bisbee Mayor Dave Smith said the council will discuss Brnovich's ruling -- and what to do next -- at its regularly scheduled Nov. 7 meeting, if not earlier given that 30-day deadline.

But the odds of the city winning a legal battle may not be good.

Earlier this year the Arizona Supreme Court looked at a Tucson ordinance which required police to destroy weapons that are seized or surrendered. Officials from that city argued that it, too, is a charter city and that what happens to guns is none of the state's business.

But the justices unanimously noted that the Legislature had approved various laws declaring the regulation of guns to be a "matter of statewide concern.'' And that, they concluded, overrode the city ordinance.

More to the point, the justices strongly suggested they believe that the right of charter cities to ignore state laws applies only in two areas: how and when cities conduct local elections and how they decide to sell or otherwise dispose of land.

And the question of bags clearly falls outside both areas.

The ordinance at issue prohibits retailers from providing free single-use plastic bags to customers; paper bags from recycled material can be provided with retailers required to charge a nickel.

The result, Hanson said said, has been a cleaner community and lower costs for retailers.

Brnovich said there's nothing wrong with that goal.

"I am very, very sympathetic to what the city of Bisbee is trying to do,'' he told Capitol Media Services.

"I think it's laudable,'' Brnovich continued. "In fact, in their response to us there was literally dozens and dozens of local businesses in Bisbee that liked this ban.''

But he said none of that overrules the state law barring cities from enacting such rules.

Still, Brnovich said, there are legal options.

"If the businesses in Bisbee and the folks in Bisbee want to voluntarily not use plastic bags, no one is stopping them from doing it,'' he said. And nothing in state law requires businesses to offer paper or plastic bags -- or any bags at all for that matter -- to their customers.

"I think that's the key,'' Brnovich said.

None of this would be an issue if the Legislature had not stepped in last year to preempt local regulation of auxiliary containers -- and specifically to overrule the Bisbee ordinance, which has been in place since 2013.

"We're protecting the individual business from being forced to do something,'' argued Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, the sponsor of the legislation.

But there was also the fear that other cities, seeing what happened in Bisbee, might decide to strike out on their own. That got the attention of Tim McCabe, president of the Arizona Food Marketing Alliance ,which represents grocery stores and supermarkets.

"What if, for example, Phoenix banned 32-ounce fountain cups, Mesa put a deposit on water bottles, Peoria put a fee on all bags and Chandler banned plastic bags?'' he argued to lawmakers. And McCabe said such local control would create situations in urban areas where shoppers who want free bags could simply walk across the street to another market in another city.

Flagstaff’s City Council launched an initiative in 2015 to regulate plastic bags but suspended it after state lawmakers passed the preemption law. The council on 4-3 vote in December 2015 rejected a request by Bisbee and several other cities to join a lawsuit challenging the state law.

The preemption had support from the Arizona Restaurant Association. Its lobbyist said her establishments do not want limits on take-out bags, which often carry the establishment's logo and become part of their marketing.

In approving that measure, lawmakers spelled out they want to avoid putting a burden on small businesses that are "particularly sensitive to costs and expenses incurred in complying with regulatory actions.''

Separate from that, Brnovich told Capitol Media Services that lawmakers had a good reason for keeping each community from enacting its own rules.

"What the Legislature is trying to do is make sure that you don't have dozens and dozens of different ordinances or contradictory city ordinances all around the state, frankly causing havoc,'' he said.