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Arizona holds formal inaugurations for state leaders

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Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes speaks to the public at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. He is only the second Latino elected to high office in Arizona along with former Gov. Raul Castro, who served from 1975 to 1977.

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- Arizona's new secretary of state called for the prosecution of people who harass those involved in running elections.

In his inaugural address Thursday, Adrian Fontes spoke of the lessons he learned as a boy in Nogales about honor. He said that carried him through his time in the Marine Corps and later to become Maricopa County Recorder.

And when he was defeated two years ago by Stephen Richer, Fontes said it was a "solemn but honorable duty'' to hand the office over to him, "peacefully and without complaint.''

"He and (Maricopa County) Supervisor Bill Gates, like so many around the nation, are now fulfilling their duties under the disgraceful and anti-American circumstances involving harassment and threats to their lives,'' Fontes said.

"This domestic terrorism is anathema to the constitutional order and must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,'' he said. "Elected officials who do their work nobly, in the face of these threats, should be commended, properly compensated, and supported robustly in the work they do on behalf of the democracy that upholds this great republic.''

Fontes, who is now the state's chief elections officer, said he wants to do more than make the process more efficient.

"I will use this office to educate the public about the work election officials do and promote the integrity and safety of these individuals,'' he said.

Fontes also spoke about his agency's role in the state's archives and libraries as not only repositories of state history but the accumulation of knowledge.

"We need to make them accessible, usable and attractive, because wisdom and experience and knowledge they contain can illuminate the road we take.

Fontes also vowed to increase the speed at which his office provides business services. These range from registering trade name and keeping track of companies that do telephone sales to regulating notaries public.

Kris Mayes, the newly inaugurated state attorney general, laid out a series of promises for how her office will operate.

"I will fight to protect our most vulnerable residents,'' she said Wednesday. "I will fight to protect our most precious natural resources like water.''

And Mayes specifically vowed to fight to "protect our bodily autonomy,'' a reference to her campaign promise not to enforce abortion restrictions.

While the state Court of Appeals has said a territorial-era law virtually outlawing the practice cannot be enforced, that still leaves the state with a ban at 15 weeks, with no exceptions for rape or incest. That is a far shorter period than what existed before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and its constitutional right to abortion up to the point of fetal viability.

Mayes contends that right remains in Arizona, legislative action notwithstanding, based on the fact there is a specific right of privacy in the state constitution.

"I am committed to following through with everything I said on the campaign trail,'' she said. And Mayes said that includes tackling the fentanyl crisis to prosecuting elder abuse and consumer fraud as well as protecting natural resources like water.

"I will fight to protect your families like I would fight to protect my own,'' the new attorney general said.

She also vowed to work to secure the ports of entry at the border but made no mention of the state or her office having a role in curbing the flow of migrants or drugs brought in by smugglers through the spaces in between.

State Treasurer Kimberly Yee, the only incumbent statewide office holder to gain reelection in 2022, boasted of the accomplishments of her office in the past four years, doubling state assets to $30.9 billion ad having earnings of $2.3 billion.

That produces material results, with K-12 education receiving $400 million this year from investments made from the proceeds of the state land endowment.

But Yee took most of the time she was allotted at Thursday's inaugural to talk about her family's "story of the American dream.''

It started with her grandparents immigrating from China and, in the 1930s, deciding to settle in Arizona and open one of the first grocery stores in South Phoenix.

"All of the children, including my mother, worked in the store stocking the shelves, taking inventory and even running the cash register,'' Yee said.

Her paternal grandfather, she said, owned and operated a laundry business in Pittsburgh, Pa. And during World War II, Yee said, he worked a full day at that business while also having a night shift as a welder building ships for the U.S. Navy.

And she told the story of her father, at age 9, working at the laundry and asking, "What if I don't ant to do this anymore?''

Yee said her grandfather responded that he did not have to because they lived in the United States, "this Golden Mountain where you can be anything you want to be in this great country.''

"These values helped pave the way to allow me to become the first Chinese American Republican woman elected to a major statewide office in United States history,'' she said.

Tom Horne, the superintendent of public instruction, vowed Thursday to increase academic results at Arizona schools. And he said that will show up through improved test scores.

But Horne said getting there will require a focus on ensuring that students are being taught the things that are in the existing state standards of what children are expected to know.

"Our tests will be solely on materials that the schools have been told need to be taught,'' he said. "That makes it fair to test for those standards.''

Horne said this means more than "teaching to the test.''

"The reading test asks students to read a passage and show in answering questions whether the have understood it,'' he said.
"The only way to teach to that test is have students do a lot of reading.''

Ditto, Horne said, of the math test which asks students to solve problems.

"The only way to teach to that test is to teach the required math and practice problem-solving,'' he said.

"These are reasonable requirements.''

Horne also wants a return to what he called "traditional discipline in our schools.''

"When a student misbehaves and there is no consequence, other students learn that they can also misbehave,'' he said. "The situation gets out of hand, and teachers understandably don't want to teach under these conditions.''

He promised to have a "discipline initiative'' to help schools do better and "hold them accountable for orderly classrooms.''

Horne, who was state schools chief from 2003 to 2011, said while he and the new governor are of different parties "we have the same imperative: to improve education in our state.''