House Elections Committee: Don’t say ‘conspiracy theory’

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BY: CAITLIN SIEVER || Arizona Mirror 

The leader of the Arizona House of Representatives House Municipal Oversight and Elections Committee doesn’t want speakers in front of the committee to utter the words “conspiracy theory.” 

This comes just two weeks after a hearing in which that same House committee met jointly with its Senate counterpart and allowed a Gilbert insurance agent to spread wild and utterly unfounded conspiracy theories about a multitude of state and local officials during one of its meetings. 

Parker’s directive not to use the words “conspiracy theory” was aimed at Ben Scheel, executive director of the left-leaning nonprofit Opportunity Arizona, who has been a frequent and vociferous critic of the committee and its work. 

Rep. Alexander Kolodin, R-Scottsdale, repeatedly interrupted Scheel, who attended the hearing to speak about several election bills the committee was considering, saying that Scheel was violating the rules of order by impugning the motives of the members of the committee. 

During Breger’s 45 minutes of testimony that day, Kolodin did not speak up to mention the rule against impugning members of the legislature until his Republican colleague Ken Bennett stopped Breger and said her comments were not appropriate.

Kolodin then calmly redirected Breger to avoid casting aspersions about the GOP lawmakers listening to her speak — all of the Democrats on the committees boycotted the hearing — and called her testimony “explosive.” 

Invoking the ‘great replacement’ conspiracy triggered fireworks

Scheel attempted to say on March 8 that all of the bills heard by the Municipal Oversight and Elections Committee were based on conspiracy theories and falsehoods, citing previous presentations in front of the committee by We The People Arizona Alliance, a far right group that has made spurious and debunked claims including that early ballot drop boxes are regularly used for fraud. 

“This committee continues to perpetuate falsehoods,” Scheel said before Kolodin cut him off. 

On March 8, the committee heard several bills that had already been passed by the Senate, including Senate Bill 1141, which would require voters to present ID when they drop off mail in ballots in person; Senate Bill 1201, which would prohibit the use of a voter’s previous signatures on electronic poll books for comparison to verify their signature on a mail-in ballot; and Senate Bill 1213, which would require the state Elections Procedures Manual, issued before every election by the secretary of state, to receive approval from the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. 

The manual already must receive approval from the governor and the attorney general. 

But it was when Scheel commented on Senate Bill 1142, which would require the secretary of state and county recorder to post the dates and locations of all of their voter registration events, that things really got heated. 

After Scheel mentioned the great replacement theory, Kolodin loudly called for Scheel to stop and said that he was accusing Kolodin, who is Jewish, of being a white supremacist. 

Parker then halted Scheel’s testimony. 

Scheel told the Mirror that he doesn’t believe he violated the committee’s rules.

“I was speaking to the bill,” Scheel said. “I never mentioned any legislator’s names, or any person at all. I was speaking to the bill, and I never said the words ‘racist’ or ‘white supremacist.’” 

Still, he apologized to the committee later in the hearing after Parker told him he wouldn’t be allowed to testify in the future until he could be respectful to the committee members. 

“My reaction was that they really just don’t want to hear public testimony that contradicts them,” Scheel told the Mirror. “It’s unfortunate that they’re not willing to listen for 30 seconds and that I kept getting cut off.”

This won’t stop Scheel from holding the committee accountable for “using public dollars to broadcast lies,” he said. 

If Scheel does testify in the committee again, he won’t get any leeway from Kolodin, who said he’s “had to deal with real white supremacists” and won’t tolerate being accused of being one.

“You don’t do that,” Kolodin said. “He can go f*** himself.”

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March 2023