Arizona GOP slammed for changing rules to exempt themselves from public records law
Arizona Republican Kelli Ward. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

In a searing op-ed for The Arizona Republic on Thursday, E.J. Montini tore into Republicans in the Arizona state legislature for changing the rules to exempt themselves from public records law.

"Republicans, using their small majority in the House and Senate, decided this week to exempt lawmakers from public records laws in order to cover up future misconduct," wrote Montini. "That’s not how they described their action, of course. In fact, Republican House Speaker Ben Toma told Capitol Media Services, 'I don’t think there’s any intention on my part to hide anything.' It’s an interesting statement, since what GOP lawmakers did was create rules that allow them to hide their official exchanges from the public."

Under the new rule, passed over Democratic objections, lawmakers and their staff can destroy their email correspondence after 90 days. They are also seeking to limit debate on "controversial legislation" to 30 minutes.

"If such a rule were in place for the past couple of years, for example, we might not have ever known about the extent Arizona Republican lawmakers went to overturn the election victory of President Joe Biden. That’s why records should be maintained," wrote Montini. "Now, lawmakers will be able to shield themselves from future embarrassments (or investigations) by simply destroying the evidence of who they are and what they said. The fact that some lawmakers presume the need for such protection should give us pause, don’t you think?"

READ MORE: Republican staffer resigns from North Carolina legislature after white supremacist comments surface

Last year, investigators on the House January 6 Committee discovered that far-right activist and Supreme Court spouse Ginni Thomas corresponded via email with Arizona legislators, urging them to overturn the state's election results. They did not do so, but ultimately ordered an outside firm called "Cyber Ninjas" to conduct a partisan and controversial "audit" of the results in Maricopa County, which ultimately found no wrongdoing.

A number of states have various public records or "sunshine" laws, and state government officials have been caught trying to circumvent them. In Missouri, a state with strong transparency laws, a judge ruled last year that Sen. Josh Hawley "knowingly" tried to conceal records from public scrutiny by using private email accounts when he was the state attorney general.