The Arizona Republic’s politics team discusses the ongoing McCain/Trump feud, Gov. Ducey’s veto pen on recent legislation and drama in Phoenix City Hall.
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The Arizona Republic’s politics team talks about unfinished business, potholes and an avalanche of unwanted shoes. Hannah Gaber/azcentral.com
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The Arizona Republic’s politics team looks back wistfully, maybe even sentimentally, “on the session that was,” and looks forward hopefully to sine die. Hannah Gaber/azcentral.com
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The Arizona Republic’s politics team discusses teachers’ “boat parade,” a protest for pay raises; the upcoming state budget; and what’s up with Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton.
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The Republic’s political team on April 25, 2017, talks about the latest political news affecting Arizona, including the protests surrounding the future of school vouchers and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema’s donation controversy.
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The Republic’s political team on April 18, 2017, talks about the latest political news affecting Arizona, including 2018 candidates, Sen. Jeff Flake’s town hall and how a bill to require child-welfare officials to get warrants fell apart.
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The Republic’s political team on April 11, 2017, talks about “zombie” health care reform in Congress, and the expansion of the school voucher program headed by Gov. Doug Ducey.
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The Republic’s political team on April 4, 2017, talks about the state of the filibuster and the latest on Secretary of State Michele Reagan’s “Show Me the Money” campaign.
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The Republic’s political team on March 28, 2017, talks about funding for teacher raises in the state budget, what comes next after the non-vote on the ‘Obamacare’ repeal bill in Congress and proposed restrictions on citizen initiatives in Arizona.
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The Republic’s political team on March 21, 2017, talks about the possible impact on the president’s blueprint for a budget, and the lack of female representation in Arizona’s legislative leadership.
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The Republic’s political team on March 14, 2017, talks about how much of Arizona’s delegation has been quiet about the “Obamacare” replacement, but even Republicans don’t seem to like it.
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The Republic’s political team on March 8, 2017, talks about the latest political news affecting Arizona, including a failed tax-cut bill, a congressman’s tweets and how a former state senator isn’t working at the White House after all.
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The Republic’s political team on March 1, 2017, talks about the latest political news affecting Arizona, including the state of Senate Bill 1142 and the rowdy crowds at U.S. Rep. Martha McSally’s Town Hall.
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The Republic’s political team on Feb. 21, 2017, talks about recent political news, including Trump’s Arizona announcement about Intel, McCain and Obamacare, and House Bill 2404 targeting voter initiatives.
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The Republic’s political team on Feb. 6, 2017, talks about the latest political news affecting Arizona, including how much debt is too much for the state and which lawmaker wants to be shot.
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The Gaggle: McCain Trump feud, Ducey’s veto pen and Phoenix city hall
The Gaggle: Unfinished business and hallway laments
The Gaggle: Legislative session recap, May 2017
The Gaggle: Teachers protesting, a budget afoot and what’s up with Stanton?
The Gaggle: Voucher vote, Arizona university funding
The Gaggle: DCS warrants and Flake gets scorched
The Gaggle: Health care in Congress and school voucher expansion
The Gaggle: Is the filibuster busted and will Michele Reagan show us the money?
The Gaggle: Teacher raises, ACA repeal and ballot initiatives
The Gaggle: Federal budget and few women in the Legislature
The Gaggle: Obamacare replacement, George W. in town and TANF benefits
The Gaggle: Tax that did not get cut, tweets from Gosar and a non-job
The Gaggle: SB 1142 is dead and town halls get rowdy
The Gaggle: Bigfooted, McCain and HB 2404
The Gaggle: How much debt is too much?
Among the individuals named in a federal indictment this week was one who has touched almost every corner of Arizona power politics: lobbyist Jim Norton.
A familiar figure for years at the state Capitol, Norton was among Gov. Doug Ducey’s earliest political backers and a friend since college. His firm helped guide U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs to victory last November. He’s also the business community’s leading voice at the state Capitol.
And, according to federal prosecutors, Norton was “a conduit” for bribes that water-company owner George Johnson is accused of paying to former Arizona Corporation Commission Chairman Gary Pierce. Authorities allege the money helped secure commission approval of higher rates for Johnson Utilities in the East Valley and Pinal County.
Norton, along with Johnson, Pierce, and Pierce’s wife, Sherry, were named in the eight-count indictment, as well as “an unindicted co-conspirator.”
In lobbying, reputation and credibility are vital. And the reaction in political circles to the indictment has been a mix of shock, disbelief and, in some cases, silence.
“I really don’t know what to say,” said former Gov. Jan Brewer who dealt with Norton and his clients during her decades at the state Capitol. She described him as “well respected.”
“I am really shocked and I’m really confused about the whole situation,” Brewer said. “It just seems like such a web that has been woven. I think it’s probably a lot more complicated than what we have learned about.”
In a written statement Friday, Norton declared his innocence.
“I am innocent and will be entering a plea of ‘not guilty,’ ” he said in the statement. “I look forward to my day in court, when I am confident these allegations will be shown to be without merit.”
“The motivation behind these allegations will become transparent when the identity of the ‘unindicted co-conspirator’ is revealed,” Ivan Mathew, Norton’s legal counsel, said in a written statement.
With a background in state government, Norton represents a wide range of powerful businesses, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, as well as feel-good non-profits such as the March of Dimes, according to a client list on the chamber’s website.
Also among his clients: Cox Communications; defense contractor Raytheon; and the cities of Phoenix and Goodyear.
The Chamber of Commerce did not respond to requests for comment. By Friday afternoon, a list of Norton’s clients no longer appeared on the chamber’s website.
Norton’s reputation and clients allowed him to leave the public-affairs firm R&R Partners in 2015 and establish a new firm, Axiom Public Affairs.
Norton is the firm’s managing partner, working with other well-known consultants, including Sean Noble, a political operative who distributed millions of dollars in so-called “dark money” to assist Ducey’s gubernatorial bid in 2014, as well as other conservative campaigns. Adam Deguire, former U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon’s chief of staff, left Capitol Hill last year and joined the firm.
There’s a widely held perception at the Capitol that Axiom’s clients can get access to Ducey, as well as high-profile state lawmakers.
The governor’s staffers blanch at that characterization. But Noble was involved with the 2012 congressional campaign of former state House Speaker Kirk Adams, who is Ducey’s chief of staff. The pair subsequently ran two Arizona-based dark-money groups affiliated with the conservative Koch brothers’ network.
Eric Meyer, a former Democratic lawmaker who spent eight years at the state Capitol, said Norton “seemed to be very close to the Ducey administration,” a conclusion he based on conversations with lawmakers about why certain legislation advanced or didn’t.
Norton “seemed to be a pretty influential guy down at the Capitol because of his ties to certain Republicans,” Meyer said.
Norton over the years has built relationships with some of Arizona’s top elected officials.
Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for Ducey, confirmed that Norton and the governor have been friends since their days as students at Arizona State University.
Matthew Benson, who is acting as Norton’s spokesman, declined to characterize Norton’s relationship with the governor.
Axiom ran Biggs’ successful campaign for the 5th Congressional District seat in the East Valley. Biggs, a former Arizona Senate president, also hired Sherry Pierce to work in his staff.
“Because this is an ongoing case, we will not be making any further comments regarding this matter,” a Biggs spokesman said in a statement.
State campaign-finance records show that both Jim and Kelly Norton have been active contributors to Arizona political candidates and causes. (Norton and his wife, who is president of the Arizona Mining Association, recently divorced.)
Norton frequently posts on social media about lobbying victories, his clients, Ducey’s legislative wins, and from political events where he is photographed with the governor, top aides, and lawmakers.
Days after the state Legislature adjourned this month, Norton was with Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, vacationing near “The Lowest Bar in the World,” at the Dead Sea.
He documented his attendance at the 2016 Republican National Convention last July in Cleveland.
Earlier posts show him at a reception following Ducey’s first State of the State address in 2015, a behind-the-scenes glimpse of “the new commission” in 2015 before members of the Corporation Commission were to be sworn in, and images announcing his support for Ducey and Commissioner Tom Forese.
David Garcia, a Democrat running for governor, called on Ducey to further detail his relationship with Norton.
Bill Scheel, Garcia’s spokesman, said the campaign planned to submit a public-information request to the Governor’s Office for records that could shed light on the relationship between the key figures of the investigation and the Governor’s Office.
‘Did his job’
Those who know Norton attribute his success as much to hard work and candor as friendships and other connections.
He’s often seen at the Capitol rushing from meeting to meeting with lawmakers.
In lobbying, Norton is known for being frank about the implications, political and otherwise, of the policies he’s advocating.
Former state lawmaker Bob Robson, a Republican from Ahwatukee Foothills who served 14 years at the Legislature, characterized Norton as among the most influential lobbyists at the Capitol, given his clientele.
“Jim Norton was a lobbyist who did his job and represented his clients when I was at the Legislature,” Robson said, adding, “I think his reputation, up until yesterday, was that he was a hard-driver — he represented the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and the aerospace industry — a whole lot of people.”
Former state Sen. Steve Pierce, a Republican, said he considers Norton a friend. He called him “one of the better lobbyists” at the state Capitol because he is thoughtful and respectful.
“… He’s influential, and as far as I know, he’s always done a good job,” Pierce said. “That’s what lobbyists do: They’re supposed to influence you.”
Asked if Norton was skilled at that, Pierce said, “Yeah.”
Republic reporter Ronald J. Hansen contributed to this article.
Jim Norton’s clients
Arizona Historical Society
Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry
AZ Ophthalmological Society
Arizona Pharmacy Alliance
Arizona Self-Insurers Association
City of Goodyear
City of Phoenix
El Paso Electric Co.
March of Dimes
PacifiCare, A United Healthcare Company
Republic National Distributing Co.
Ridgeway Oil and Gas Corp.
Valley Metro Rail/RPTA
Yavapai County Fair Association
Luke AFB/West Valley Partners
Source: Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry
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