First-termer idealism and the awakening
Michelle Ugenti arrived at the Arizona Legislature in 2011 riding in as a Clean Election Candidate, meaning she took no special interest money. On her web page she quotes from the Arizona Constitution, “All political power is inherent in the people, and governments . . . are established to protect and maintain individual rights.”
It appears from her comments about her first term that she ran right into the reality of how bills become laws:
The following two years [after being elected] have taught me what happens when ideas and principles meet head-on not just with competing beliefs but also with individual self-interest, whipped into a frenzy by forces armed with money and power.
She’s talking about the special interest money and the influence it has on legislators. Still, with a positive outlook facing her re-election in 2012 Ugenti writes on her web page, “I hope that my constituents find me faithful to . . . preserving our rights and freedoms.”
But, something seems to have happened to Ugenti upon her re-election in 2012. She seems to have found and adopted the way and the means to make a name and to advance herself in politics. She talks of hard politics, of when to compromise and when to negotiate, and of being successful and effective.
It is precisely this delicate balance of knowing what to give and what to fight for that makes an effective legislator. I believe I am successful because I have the integrity and courage to examine each issue and stand wherever my conscience and conviction demand I stand.
The lure of the special interests
In 2013 we saw Ugenti’s tenacity to fight and stand by her conscience in regard to her HB 2371 HOA bill and incorporating this failed bill into SB 1454. It ran afoul of the Arizona Constitution and House Rules. She showed her conviction before the Senate GE committee hearing on HB 2371 and clearly demonstrated her newly found path to success as a legislator – by advancing the agenda of the HOA “stakeholders,” the special interests who make money from servicing HOAs. And CAI is one leading “stakeholder.” (Stakeholders are not homeowners who are excluded from such meetings. And the legislators well know it.)
At that hearing Ugenti stated that each year there was “a plethora of personal HOA legislation” and tried “to spare the [committee] members the constant agony of many personal pieces of HOA legislation,” as contrasted to the industry legislation. She also said that she “felt very responsible to the stakeholders.” That was in March. In July a lawsuit, Staropoli v. State of Arizona, was filed against the State for an unconstitutional SB 1454. The Attorney General’s office and court agreed, removing Ugenti’s HOA provisions.
Yet, the Arizona Legislature sees no wrong in her conduct leading to the filing an amendment from the floor and refused to discipline her. Ugenti’s integrity and conviction is examined in SB 1454: Machiavelli at work in the AZ legislature – Part 1 and AZ House ‘circles the wagons’ in defense of pro-HOA legislator.
CAI stakeholder support of Ugenti
In October 2013, stakeholder and national HOA lobbyist CAI praised Ugenti for her efforts to advance HOA interests, as CAI sees them. In an article in the Fall 2013 Community Resource magazine, AZ lobbyist DeMenna wrote, echoing Ugenti’s view that only stakeholder legislation has any value:
“Under the leadership of Representative Michelle Ugenti . . . a working group was established to address HOA-related issues advanced by legitimate stakeholders. . . . and Representative Ugenti personally led the effort to ensure that only sensible and functional proposals were considered. CAl played a critical role in this process, although some compromises were required. . . . In the end . . . Representative Michelle Ugenti, is to be commended for her leadership in this area.
And in the AZ CAI chapter’s email, Notice to CAI Members **Very Important-Please read!**, Oct. 18, 2013, the AZ chapter wrote, again echoing Ugenti’s views,
Representative Ugenti . . . is instrumental in the development of HOA policymaking. Representative Ugenti’s stakeholder meetings, formed in effort to tackle the growing number of HOA bills introduced every session, are critical in defeating shortsighted proposals.
The email went on to announce a fundraiser for Ugenti:
Fundraising Reception in support of REPRESENTATIVE MICHELLE UGENTI. Please make checks payable to: MichelleUgenit.com [sic]. If you are unable to attend, you can mail your contribution to CAI’s Arizona Lobbying Team: DeMenna & Associates. . . . Paid for by: www.MichelleUgenti.com.
The decline and fall of a legislator
What happened to Rep. Michelle Ugenti since her first term in 2011? It appears she has serious issues of integrity and the demands of her conscience to fight for her beliefs. She has fallen away from those ideals and values of “preserving our rights and freedoms”; and that governments “are established to protect and maintain individual rights.” The authoritarian, private HOA government has no legal obligations “to protect and maintain individual rights” as does our Constitution with its Bill of Rights.
Apparently, she has succumbed to “individual self-interest, whipped into a frenzy by forces armed with money and power.” Her conscience and convictions have led her to advancing special interest agendas and to crossing the line and violating the Arizona Constitution.