PHOENIX — Changes among Arizona’s congressional delegation in 2017 sent shockwaves across the nation and set the state for a political shake-up next year.
The brain cancer diagnosis of longtime Sen. John McCain riveted the nation, with the Republican acknowledging in July that the prognosis is poor but vowing to fight. As the year came to an end, McCain returned home for physical therapy after cancer treatment complications and did not vote on a historic Republican overhaul of the federal income tax system.
Fellow Republican and junior senator, Jeff Flake, decided in October not to seek re-election next year as his ongoing battle with President Donald Trump hurt his support in Arizona and he didn’t see a path to victory. Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema is running to replace him. On the Republican side, former state Sen. Kelli Ward is campaigning for the seat and Rep. Martha McSally has told colleagues she also plans to run, although she formally hasn’t launched a campaign.
Republican Rep. Trent Franks resigned in early December amid reports he asked staffers to carry his baby and offered one $5 million, setting up a special election to fill his seat early next year that could add to the reshuffling of many other political offices.
Those changes in the state’s delegation make Arizona’s stormy politics the top story of 2017.
Here are the other top stories of 2017:
Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt of court on July 31 and faced jail time for the misdemeanor case until President Donald Trump stepped in with a full pardon less than a month later. Arpaio’s conviction for defying a federal judge’s order to stop traffic patrols targeting immigrants marked a final rebuke for a politician who once drew strong support from such crackdowns. Frustrated voters booted him from office in 2016 as his legal troubles deepened and amid headline-grabbing tactics, such as jailing inmates in tents during triple-degree summer heat and making them wear pink underwear. But the pardon resurrected his political capital.
FLASH FLOOD DEATHS
Ten members of an extended family vacationing in the mountains northeast of Phoenix died in a massive flash flood July 15. The flood was triggered by a thunderstorm over a recently burned mountain and swept into a canyon where Hector Miguel Garnica, his wife, three young children and other family members were gathered at a popular swimming hole in the Tonto National Forest. The victims had gathered to celebrate the birthday of Garnica’s wife. Officials said they had no warning.
An immigrant mother in Phoenix who was granted leniency during the Obama administration was deported to her native Mexico in February in an early example of President Donald Trump making good on his campaign vow to crack down on illegal immigration. The deportation of Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos became a rallying cry for advocacy groups who say Trump’s policies will tear families apart. In addition to the crackdown on immigrants who weren’t targeted by President Barack Obama, Trump ended a program called DACA that shielded people brought to the U.S. as children and pushed to made good on his pledge for a “big, beautiful wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Phoenix police arrested a former city bus driver for a string of nighttime serial killings of people outside their homes or sitting in cars — slayings that kept residents of a Phoenix neighborhood afraid to venture outside after dark. Aaron Juan Saucedo, 23, dubbed the “Serial Street Shooter” by authorities, was charged with fatally shooting nine people and wounding two others during a nearly one-year period that ended in July 2016. He has pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. Police accuse Saucedo of carrying out 12 shootings beginning in August 2015.
Twin towns along the remote Arizona-Utah border slipped further from the grasp of a polygamous group after a judge ordered an overhaul of the police department and four people not tied to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were elected to a town council. The overhaul was a punishment for a civil jury verdict that concluded Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, had discriminated against people who weren’t members of the church. The towns long have been dominated by a polygamous sect overseen by imprisoned leader, Warren Jeffs. A food-stamp fraud case also exacerbated a leadership void in the church with 10 people pleading guilty.
MISSING TUCSON GIRL
Police found the remains of a 6-year-old Tucson girl who disappeared from her bedroom in Tucson in 2012, putting an end to an exhaustive search that roiled the community and beyond. Tucson police announced in March they located the remains of Isabel Celis in a rural area of Pima County. Police haven’t made any arrests or said how they were led to Celis’ remains. Celis last was seen April 20, 2012, in the home she shared with her parents and siblings. Her father reported her missing the next morning.
The Republican-led legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey enacted a new universal school voucher law allowing parents to use state money for private schools, but a citizen effort managed to put the program on hold pending an election next year. The voucher fight was one of the most contentious of the session as Democrats argued it siphons funding from the state’s cash-strapped public schools. Ducey signed the law immediately after it passed April 6, calling it a win for parents who want school choice. The plan is backed by the school-choice group formerly led by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and puts Arizona at the forefront of the voucher fight.
NAVAJO GENERATING STATION
The owners of a massive coal-fired power plant on the Navajo Nation voted in February to shut it down because cheaper power is available from other sources, part of a trend nationwide. The utilities later reached a deal with the Navajo Nation that would keep the Navajo Generating Station near Page operating through 2019. The 2,250-megawatt plant near the Arizona-Utah border helps send water through a series of canals to Phoenix and Tucson. But the closure will be felt most deeply on the Navajo and Hopi reservations, which rely on coal operations for 30 percent and 85 percent of their budget, respectively.
The Arizona House is investigating allegations of sexual harassment at the Legislature that prompted the suspension of Sen. Don Shooter of Yuma from his role leading a powerful committee. Scottsdale lawmaker Michelle Ugenti-Rita alleged that Shooter told her he wanted to have a romantic relationship with her and commented on her body. Shooter fired back with allegations that Ugenti-Rita had an inappropriate relationship with a staffer and made sexually tinged comments during a committee hearing several years ago.