Russell Pearce, the Arizona Senate president who authored the state’s controversial immigration law and is facing a recall election, is also facing a lawsuit that alleges his supporters have helped run a sham candidate in the election to dilute the vote and help his chances to stay in office.
In August, a judge OK’d a petition by the group Citizens for a Better Arizona to recall Pearce, who said they objected to Pearce’s opposition to the 14th Amendment, his flirtations with tentherism and birtherism, and of course his authoring of the state’s notorious immigration law. The State Supreme Court threw out a challenge to the election by the Pearce camp earlier this month.
Pearce is facing a challenge by two other Republicans (no Democrats), Olivia Cortes and Jerry Lewis, in an election that will take place November 8.
But Pearce’s campaign to fight the recall is plagued by allegations that Cortes is a plant by Pearce supporters to split the opposition vote, particularly among Hispanic voters.
Since she filed to run in July, Cortes has kept a very low profile, dodging reporter questions about her candidacy and platform. She had no campaign events, and only a few signs around the Mesa, Arizona area. Last Friday she sent out an e-mail announcing her campaign website, which lays out some of her policy positions. The site also contends: “I do not know my two opponents at all.”
But local reporters have been documenting incidents in which her campaign workers have admitted they were actually Pearce supporters.
Gary Nelson of the Arizona Republic described this exchange with a paid petitioner for Cortes, who was collecting signatures for Cortes’ nominating petition leading up to the September 9 deadline:
The reporter mentioned rumors that Cortes had entered the race to split the vote.
“Right,” the woman said. “Not away from Pearce. To Pearce.”
Reporter: “So she’s actually hoping that Pearce will win the recall?”
When the reporter said that seemed like an unusual approach to the election, the circulator simply said, “Politics.”
Stephen Lemons of the Phoenix New-Times had a similar experience, reporting another exchange with a petitioner in the district. “She’s running on her own,” the petitioner reportedly said. “But the whole purpose is to split the vote. So that everyone who [is] against [Pearce] will vote for two people instead of one, and that way [Pearce] will get the most votes.”
Lemons also reported that Franklin Bruce Ross, reportedly a friend of Pearce who is the plaintiff on the lawsuit challenging the recall signatures, collected signatures for Cortes’ nominating petition. A number of other known Pearce backers signed the petition as well.
Randy Parraz, a Democrat and leader of CFBA, said in August that “we know for a fact that this person Olivia Cortes was a supporter of Russell Pearce beforehand and would not sign the recall petition.”
Pearce denied the allegations, telling My Fox Phoenix that he’s never met Cortes before and believes Jerry Lewis to be the plant from Parraz. “Never met her, don’t know her, have nothing to do with it, asking the same questions you ask… character assassination, try to divert the truth… Jerry Lewis is a plant. From Randy Parraz, he said he would get a Mormon conservative, Jerry’s more of a moderate, to run against me. Well they’ve been successful, well that’s a plant, but nobody talks about that,” Pearce said.
Last week, a voter in the district filed a lawsuit alleging that Cortes is a “well-known supporter” of Pearce with “no campaign committee, no volunteers for her campaign and her campaign is being financed and operated entirely by those who wish to dilute the vote in favor of recalled Senator Russell Pearce.” Attorney Tom Ryan, who is representing Mary Lou Boettcher in the suit, is asking for Cortes to be tossed off the ballot. “There are laws enacted that you cannot in any way interfere with the free exercise of any voter,” he said, according the Arizona Republic. “You do not get to deceive voters.”
The Secretary of State had previously declined to investigate the allegations after another voter filed a complaint. “No government official has a role, or legal authority, to dictate how a candidate should conduct his or her campaign,” State Elections Director Amy Chan wrote in response to the complaint.