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Ducey touts Az border-crime effort at made-for-campaign event

Gov. Doug Ducey said Wednesday the state will spend $2.9 million in fiscal 2019 on a three-year-old multiagency effort to stop drug trafficking and human smuggling at the border.

The Arizona Border Strike Force has seized 60,000 pounds of marijuana, 300 guns and “enough fentanyl to kill 11 million Americans,” since it was launched in 2015, he told reporters and campaign workers capturing images for a commercial.

Law-enforcement agencies involved in the task force include the state Department of Public Safety and the Cochise and Pima county sheriff’s departments.

“Make no mistake, this is about transnational crime,” Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier said. “This is about a public-health emergency to our state and to our nation with the opiate crisis.

“As much as 40 percent of all the illegal narcotics that come into the United States come through my county at some point. When there’s an overdose of fentanyl in a street in Illinois today, it most likely came through here.”

Ducey has twice before announced the funding for the task force,

Ducey said the federal government too often responds to Arizonans’ requests for help with “empty words and little action.” The state stepped with nearly $3 million in the fiscal 2019 budget to hire 12 troopers, which will expand the strike force to a 24-hour operation, according to a news release.

The press conference at a DPS hanger was organized by Ducey's office, with only reporters who indicated they were covering the event informed of the location. But also in attendance were a videographer and photographer paid by Ducey's political campaign. The Republican governor faces a re-election race this year.

Reporter Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services wrote that "while Ducey billed the event as public, the videographer hired by the campaign, who did not provide his name, repeatedly shielded his face any time someone from the media sought to take his picture."

From Fischer:

The governor, questioned about having campaign photographers videotaping what was billed as a press conference put on with taxpayer resources, insisted there was nothing improper about the event — or their taping it for his campaign.

“This is a public event,” Ducey said. “Anyone who wants to come can come.”

It is not unusual for an incumbent seeking re-election to have their events at public venues, like on the Capitol lawn, videotaped by campaign staff.

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But only the media — and his campaign — were notified less than 24 hours earlier that the governor was going to provide “the latest updates on the Arizona Border Strike Force.”

In fact that invite was conditional: Only after those who received it said they wanted to cover the event were they given the location.

The governor’s office did not respond to repeated requests for a list of those to whom the invitation was sent.

Lori Roberts of the Arizona Republic asked "Why is public footing the bill for Gov. Ducey's campaign ad?," noting the governor had already announced the funding:

The same $2.9 million he announced in January when he put it into the state budget.

The same $2.9 million he announced in March, when he put out a press releaseabout it.

***

There is nothing wrong, of course, with the governor shooting a campaign commercial showing him as tough on the border.  But usually, the campaign pays for campaign ads – not the public.

Ducey’s office did not say how much has been spent on the task force to date.

The money also helps to deter human smuggling, officials said.

“The other thing we don’t speak enough about is the human rights issue associated with our porous border,” Napier said. “Sheriff Daniels and I, every year, recover more than 200 bodies in the deserts of our counties.”

An immigration advocate said the strike force is the wrong approach.

The funding is “highly irresponsible,” said Isabel Garcia, co-chair of Coalición de Derechos Humanos, a Tucson-based grassroots organization that promotes the civil rights of migrants.

“I believe this $3 million is being misspent, and that in fact it helps to create more of the uncertainty, more of the instability and more of the insecurity that we have seen in the past 20 years on this border,” Garcia said.

TucsonSentinel.com’s Dylan Smith contributed to this story.


TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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Rachel Beth Banks/Cronkite News

Gov. Doug Ducey said a state strike force against border crime will get more troops to expand the operation to 24 hours. Border security based on solely on 'talk without action isn’t just cheap, it’s dangerous and deadly,' he said at a press event.