Text messages from Senate President Karen Fann show deterioration of relationship with Maricopa County

Facing mounting pressure to stop, or at least undermine, President Joe Biden's victory in Arizona, Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman sat for hours before a state Senate committee in December and explained why he trusted the results tallied by county election officials.

Hickman touted that a hand count audit perfectly matched results tabulated by machines. He emphasized the advance public hearings on the election process that outlined in detail how the voting process would unfold in Arizona's biggest county. And while the county supervisor said he would welcome an independent audit, he refuted some of the conspiracy theories swirling around the results.

"That was a great opening statement," Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, wrote in a text message to Hickman as the hearing was underway, asking that he send along another county official's slideshow presentation to ensure legislators "see all the correct info."

Fann later added: "I am so praying this helps calm the water."

Hickman's testimony did not seem to do that, though.

The next day, Fann subpoenaed the county, demanding it turn over piles of election materials that would eventually become central to the state Senate's unprecedented and controversial recount of Maricopa County results.

The communications between the two, obtained by The Arizona Republic through a public records request, reveal a moment when the course of Republican politics in the state after the 2020 election began to take a turn.

Though the two prominent Republican officials carried on a collegial relationship as they encountered growing calls from within their own party to somehow overturn Biden's victory, they soon traveled very different paths through a spectacular political feud that culminated in the Senate taking custody of 2.1 million voters' ballots and holding a vote that could have put the board of supervisors in jail.

"I thought 'I'm going to get in front of this judiciary committee and we're going to answer everything,'" Hickman said in a recent interview. "And what I thought is what she thought — we're going to calm the waters."

Republicans face pressure to act

Hickman said, though, that he realized legislative leaders were facing pressure from many inside the Republican Party. His appearance in front the Judiciary Committee in mid-December came amid a mounting campaign behind the scenes to influence officials like him.

Then-President Donald Trump's allies were fixated on how the supervisors were going to address what the Trump team deemed as voting irregularities.

While Fann raised concerns about some of the same issues, quizzing Hickman in one exchange of text messages about the county's vendor for voting equipment, for example, others within the party pressed the supervisors on the same issues.

State Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward tried to get the supervisors "to stop the counting," delay certifying the results and to look into whether voting software added votes for Democrats, according to other messages obtained by The Republic through a public records request.

'We need you to stop the counting':Records detail intense efforts by Trump allies to pressure Maricopa County supervisors

Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, met with Supervisor Steve Chucri in mid- to late-November. Giuliani tried to meet with Hickman, too.

And Hickman got a call from the White House switchboard on New Year's Eve and on Jan. 3 as the president apparently sought to get in touch with him. In both cases, the White House switchboard left voice mails.

At the Legislature, some GOP lawmakers had called for a special session in an effort to choose the winner of the presidential election in Arizona.

But legislative staff issued a memo cautioning that lawmakers were powerless to pick the presidential electors for the election that had just occurred and Fann did not support the effort.

By mid-December, both were stuck together in the pressure cooker, as Hickman described it in one text message.

"Actually I'm getting the brunt of it now for not calling a special session and declaring the election void," Fann wrote in a message to Hickman on Nov. 30.

"Ma'am," Hickman jokingly replied, "you need to consider shredding the Constitution as a way of protecting it."

"So right," Fann said.

But when Fann said she hoped Hickman's appearance in front of the Judiciary Committee would calm the waters, she added: "Know there will be those that still believe in chem trails."

(Ward famously convened a meeting in what was once her state legislative district to address concerns about condensation trails from airplanes actually being chemical agents, though she later denied believing in the conspiracy theory. Fann said the chemtrails remark was not a reference to anyone in particular.)

The ensuing legal battle between the Senate and county was an unlikely turn for some members of a board of supervisors who knew Fann well.

"The Karen Fann I know and have known for a number of years is not the Karen Fann I see in public media," said Supervisor Jack Sellers.

From hearing to subpoenas

What changed from Hickman's opening statement to the time the Senate issued its subpoenas?

Fann and Hickman said they met via Zoom on several occasions, along with staff, in the days preceding the hearing.

The Senate president said she broached the subject of subpoenas with Hickman during one of those meetings preceding the Judiciary Committee hearing.

County officials said they were preparing for additional audits of the election results and Fann said they all seemed to be working together.

Republican senate president Karen Fann, LD-1, as the Senate votes on bills related to the budget on the Senate floor at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix on June 22, 2021.

But Fann said in a recent interview that the county had not taken the steps some lawmakers had sought, such as conducting a larger hand recount audit of results. In text messages before the hearing, Fann pressed that point in particular.

County officials countered at the time that they would follow the letter of state election law and would not go beyond it.

"All of a sudden they started turning their tune a little bit," Fann said.

The committee hearing was meant to be informational and Fann said she believed it was.

But the committee had also drafted subpoenas before the hearing with plans for members to decide amongst themselves afterwards whether to issue them, she said.

"I did not know the committee was going to make that decision at the end of it but I did know they were going to have them prepared," Fann said.

But as Hickman saw it, subpoenas hardly reflected a spirit of collaboration between the Senate and county. And he questioned the point of the Judiciary Committee hearing if the Senate was apparently intent on pursuing its own course in reviewing the election results.

"There's no reason for it if you’re just going to do that on your own," Hickman said in a recent interview.

Contact Andrew Oxford at andrew.oxford@arizonarepublic.com or on Twitter at @andrewboxford. Reach reporter Yvonne Wingett Sanchez on Twitter and Facebook. Contact her at yvonne.wingett@arizonarepublic.com and 602-444-4712.