Az Republicans investigate AG Mayes over water policy inquiry

Arizona House Republicans convened in a newly created committee
Thursday afternoon to discuss an investigation into the state’s Democrat
attorney general.

The conservative lawmakers announced the
creation of the House Committee on Executive Oversight Wednesday in
response to Attorney General Kris Mayes’ ongoing investigations into
“megafarms” she says are overusing groundwater and draining the wells of
rural Arizonans. 

“The attorney general has no role in water
policy,” committee chair Austin Smith, a Republican from Surprise, said
Thursday afternoon. “The last time I checked, the legislature did not
fund her office to weaponize our public nuisance laws against lawfully
operating businesses that are vital to the state’s economy.”

Mayes
has recently indicated in multiple town halls across rural Arizona,
specifically La Paz County, her intent to file a public nuisance
complaint against large industrial farms and corporations that she says
are sucking rural Arizonans dry.

One such corporation is Fondomonte, the Saudi Arabian company that was cut off from its lease in the Butler Valley in March. But that lease represented only a third of the company’s holdings in La Paz County, and it is still sucking up Arizona water to grow alfalfa for cattle halfway around the world. 

Mayes
said her team of investigators, including an outside expert in
hydrology, is still “developing the evidence,” to bring against
corporations that on paper seem to be following state groundwater law,
which allows for nearly unlimited pumping in rural areas. 

“We’ll see in a court of law whether or not I’m right,” Mayes said. “The people in these counties are desperate for help.”

Committee members denounced Mayes’ actions as beyond her statutory authority, and filed two public records requests
for everything she’s said in public town halls on water policy, emails
she’s sent and received about groundwater pumping and all expenses
regarding the town halls.  

Mayes called the committee a “sham,” in a press conference hours before the committee convened. 

Members
heard a presentation from former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Andrew
Gould, who lost the attorney general race to Mayes in 2022. Mayes called
him a “sore loser.” 

Gould explained that Mayes has no common law
authority, and can only take legal action against state agencies if
given specific statutory authority by the state Legislature. While Mayes
doesn’t represent the Arizona Department of Water Resources, he said
she still has authority to investigate on their behalf. 

Members
asked Gould whether she has the authority to start her own
investigations, or if it has to be requested by a state agency. Gould
said investigations are typically requested by a police agency, but he’d
“have to think about” whether the attorney general can start one on her
own accord.

Gould didn’t provide direct answers to the majority of the
Republicans questions, instead admitting he wasn’t sure about most of
them. State Representative John Gillette from Kingman asked whether the
attorney general can threaten state officials with prosecution if they
disagree with her legal opinion. Gould said he couldn’t answer that
question. 

To combat the attorney general’s efforts, Republicans in the Senate amended House Bill 2124
— which is still awaiting a floor vote — to eliminate Mayes’ authority
to bring a public nuisance complaint, instead vesting that power into
local elected officials like city and county attorneys.

“House
Bill 2124 will prevent the attorney general from continuing to harass
our farmers and act outside the scope of her authority,” committee chair
Austin Smith said in a House Republicans press release. “We can’t allow Arizona’s laws to continue to be weaponized by General Mayes.”

Outside
the meeting, Gould said while the Legislature is allowed to amend the
attorney general’s statutory authority, they cannot “take away their
ability to perform their constitutional function.”

It’s unclear which bucket that amendment would fall in. 

Mayes
called the Republicans’ investigation a distraction from “everything
we’re doing at the AG’s office,” notably, her own investigation into the
11 “fake electors” who tried to give Arizona’s 2020 electoral votes to Donald Trump rather than rightful winner Joe Biden.

Those
included current Republican Sens. Anthony Kern of Glendale and Jake
Hoffman of Queen Creek, the former of which is under FBI investigation
for his presence at the January 6 insurrection. 

The committee
invited three House Democrats to participate in the meeting, but state
Representative Oscar De Los Santos told a gaggle of reporters that they
“will not be participating in this joke of a committee.”

“As always, House Democrats are proud to be the adults in the room,” the Laveen Democrat said on the House lawn. 

Gillette criticized the decision.

“This
is a bipartisan committee, and the other side didn’t even bother to
show up,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll show in the future so we can have
some dialogue.”

Committee chair Jacqueline Parker of Mesa invited the public to submit to her complaints about Mayes’ “dereliction of duty.”