Arizona often found itself in the national spotlight regarding issues around topics like teacher pay, immigration and the midterm election over the last year. Arizona 360 revisited its reporting from the last 12 months to explore how key issues evolved over 2018. We focused on education funding, immigration, the border economy and the election.
At the start of 2018, Gov. Doug Ducey indicated in his State of the State address that increasing education funding would be a priority in his budget. School administrators we spoke to in the early months of the year discussed a desperate need for funding to retain teachers and make improvements to infrastructure.
By spring, the #RedforEd movement emerged, and its calls for pay raises were emboldened by teacher strikes in West Virginia and Oklahoma, among other states. As demonstrations continued and the likelihood of a teacher walkout loomed.
Gov. Ducey's office unveiled a plan to boost teacher pay 20 percent by 2020, including a 9 percent raise for the following school year. It did not prevent teachers from staging a historic walkout and march at the Arizona Capitol. Their demands included pay raises for classified staff. A week later, educators returned to class and accepted a budget that reinforced the governor's initial plan.
In September, Arizona 360 heard from a panel of public school teachers in Pima County to discuss the lasting impact of #RedforEd. All were grateful for the raises promised in the coming years, but discussed ongoing funding challenges in the classroom. Some were hopeful the movement had raised awareness among voters about financial shortfalls that would make a difference at the polls.
In November, voters elected educator and political newcomer Kathy Hoffman to superintendent of public instruction.
In January, the debate over immigration reform focused on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, commonly referred to as DACA. President Trump announced plans to end the program in March and urged Congress to pass a permanent solution that also included funding for a new border wall. Federal lawmakers failed to meet that deadline, however, a federal injunction kept DACA alive by allowing current recipients to apply for renewals.
By spring, attention then shifted to immigration from Central America. Headlines about a migrant caravan traveling through Mexico led to concerned tweets from President Trump and preceded his decision in April to authorize governors in border states to deploy the National Guard. Guard troops supported agents with duties unrelated to law enforcement.
Beginning in May, ports of entry began seeing an influx of families and individuals seeking asylum. Some waited days to make a formal request with federal authorities. By June, much of the discussion around immigration concerned family separations — a consequence of the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy. Pushback was swift and separations ceased that same month. A federal judge also ordered the government to reunite affected families.
As fall approached, Border Patrol agents began apprehending larger groups of asylum seekers in Arizona's western desert, while more families chose to wait at ports of entry to make requests. In late October, news of another approaching caravan from Central America led President Trump to deploy active-duty troops to the border, including more than 1,500 service members in Arizona. Their duties included installing razor wire along portions of the border wall in communities like Nogales in anticipation of the caravan's arrival.
Shortly after Thanksgiving, federal agents in California clashed with members of the caravan who attempted to rush the border in Tijuana. U.S. Customs and Border Protection responded by firing tear gas into the oncoming crowd and shutting down the San Ysidro Port of Entry. By December, lawmakers in Congress prepared to close out their session having not passed any comprehensive immigration reform legislation.
Arizona's economic relationship its largest trading partner, Mexico, came into focus throughout the year amid ongoing North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations between the United States, Mexico and Canada. The sixth round of talks picked up January.
One of the trade deal's original negotiators, former Arizona Rep. Jim Kolbe, appeared on Arizona 360 to discuss NAFTA's lasting impact on improving agriculture, as well as acknowledging the 1993 pact should be updated to reflect the digital age.
The deal's future remained in question until late August, when President Trump announced the three North American nations had reached a consensus reached a consensus. All three leaders signed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement in November. It is not effective until it receives further approval from lawmakers from each country.
Pundits and politicos speculated throughout 2018 if a blue wave would sweep Arizona's midterm election. By summer, the Republican National Committee stepped up its presence in the state with more than 2,000 trained fellows who could coordinate volunteers and register voters on the ground. For comparison, the party had 5,000 fellows nationwide in 2016.
Meantime, the Arizona Democratic Party was enthusiastic about a surge in engagement following the presidential election. In August, partisan politics briefly came to a halt as Arizona and the country mourned the passing of Sen. John McCain. Shortly after, Gov. Ducey appointed Jon Kyl to McCain's seat. Kyl had retired from the Senate several years earlier and agreed to only serve through the end of the year.
After the primary, speculation intensified about whether Democrats could flip seats in federal and state races. Through a series of debates hosted by Arizona Public Media, voters heard from candidates running for governor, the 2nd Congressional District and the 3rd Congressional District. The most closely watched race was the neck-and-neck contest between Reps. Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema for U.S. Senate. Following Election Day, it would take several more days for McSally to concede, making Sinema Arizona's first female Senator.
In December, Arizonans learned they would be represented by both women, when Ducey appointed McSally to succeed Kyl in January. In 2020, voters will decide if she should keep the seat and finish out McCain's term through 2022.