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.
WASHINGTON — A non-partisan federal watchdog says climate change is already costing U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars each year, with those costs expected to rise as devastating storms, floods, wildfires and droughts become more frequent in the coming decades.
A Government Accountability Office report released Monday said the federal government has spent more than $350 billion over the last decade on disaster assistance programs and losses from flood and crop insurance. That tally does not include the massive toll from this year's wildfires and three major hurricanes, expected to be among the most costly in the nation's history.
The Senate on Monday gave preliminary approval to a $36.5 billion hurricane relief package that would provide Puerto Rico with a much-needed infusion of cash and keep the federal flood insurance program from running out of money to pay claims from hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. That's on top of another $15.3 billion aid package approved last month.
The report predicts these costs will only grow in the future, averaging a budget busting $35 billion each year by 2050 — a figure that recent history would suggest is a conservative estimate.
"Climate change impacts are already costing the federal government money, and these costs will likely increase over time as the climate continues to change," the report said.
Calculating just how much of the spending from disasters is directly attributable to the changing climate is not possible, the report's authors conclude, but the trend is clear: "The impacts and costs of extreme events — such as floods, drought and other events — will increase in significance as what are considered rare events become more common and intense because of climate change."
The federal government doesn't effectively plan for these recurring costs, the report said, classifying the financial exposure from climate-related costs as "high risk."
"The federal government has not undertaken strategic government-wide planning to manage climate risks by using information on the potential economic effects of climate change to identify significant risks and craft appropriate federal responses," the study said. "By using such information, the federal government could take the initial step in establishing government-wide priorities to manage such risks."
GAO undertook the study following a request from Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
"This nonpartisan GAO report Senator Cantwell and I requested contains astonishing numbers about the consequences of climate change for our economy and for the federal budget in particular," said Collins. "In Maine, our economy is inextricably linked to the environment. We are experiencing a real change in the sea life, which has serious implications for the livelihoods of many people across our state, including those who work in our iconic lobster industry."
The report's authors reviewed 30 government and academic studies examining the national and regional impacts of climate change. They also interviewed 28 experts familiar with the strengths and limitations of the studies, which rely on future projections of climate impacts to estimate likely costs.
The report says the fiscal impacts of climate change are likely to vary widely by region. The Southeast is at increased risk because of coastal property that could be swamped by storm surge and sea level rise. The Northeast is also under threat from storm surge and sea level rise, though not as much as the Southeast.
The Midwest and Great Plains are susceptible to decreased crop yields, the report said. The West is expected to see increased drought, wildfires and deadly heatwaves.
Advance copies were provided to the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency, which provided no official comments for inclusion in the GAO report.
Requests for comment from The Associated Press also received no response on Monday.
President Donald Trump has called climate change a hoax, announcing his intent to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accords and revoke Obama-era initiatives to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Trump has also appointed officials such as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, all of whom question the scientific consensus that carbon released into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels is the primary driver of global warming.
Earlier this month Trump nominated Kathleen Hartnett White of Texas to serve as his top environmental adviser at the White House. She has credited the fossil fuel industry with "vastly improved living conditions across the world" and likened the work of mainstream climate scientists to "the dogmatic claims of ideologues and clerics."
White, who works at a conservative think tank that has received funding from fossil-fuel companies, holds academic degrees in East Asian studies and comparative literature.
The National Park Service is considering a steep increase in entrance fees at 17 of its most popular parks, mostly in the U.S. West, to address a backlog of maintenance and infrastructure projects.
Visitors to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion and other national parks would be charged $70 per vehicle, up from the fee of $30 for a weekly pass. At others, the hike is nearly triple, from $25 to $70.
A 30-day public comment period opened Tuesday. The Park Service says it expects to raise $70 million a year with the proposal at a time when national parks repeatedly have been breaking visitation records and putting a strain on park resources. Nearly 6 million people visited the Grand Canyon last year.
"We need to have a vision to look at the future of our parks and take action in order to ensure that our grandkids' grandkids will have the same if not better experience than we have today," Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a statement. "Shoring up our parks' aging infrastructure will do that."
Annual $80 passes for federal lands would not change, though fees would go up for pedestrians and motorcyclists. The higher fees would apply only during the five busiest contiguous months for parks -- for most that's May through September when many families are on vacation.
The proposal would not affect several free weekends and holidays at parks throughout the year.
It comes not long after many of the parks that charge entrance fees raised them. The rationale is the same this time around — to address a backlog of maintenance and infrastructure projects.
The Park Service estimated deferred maintenance across its parks at $11.3 billion as of September 2016, down from $11.9 billion in 2015.
Kevin Dahl, Arizona senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, said maintenance costs should fall to Congress, not visitors.
"We've supported increases at the parks, they are a huge value for the price of entrance," he said. "But we want to look closely at this and we want local communities to look closely at this to see if it would impact visitation because we don't want to price people out of the parks."
Not all Park Service sites charge entrance fees. The 118 that do keep 80 percent of revenue and send 20 percent into a pot to help all park units with things like fixing restrooms, signs, trails and campgrounds.
The proposal applies to Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Zion in Utah; Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Joshua Tree in California; Grand Teton and Yellowstone in Wyoming; Mount Rainier and Olympic in Washington; Shenandoah in Virginia; Acadia in Maine; Rocky Mountain in Colorado; the Grand Canyon in Arizona; and Denali in Alaska.
Denali is structured differently because it's largely a drive-through park. The fee there would not be per vehicle, but per person, going from $10 to $30.
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.