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Judge weighs fate of Cortes campaign

by Alia Beard Rau – Sept. 30, 2011 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

The recall election of Senate President Russell Pearce now lies in the hands of a Maricopa County Superior Court judge.

Judge Edward Burke heard arguments Thursday in the lawsuit filed by a Legislative District 18 Republican alleging that recall candidate Olivia Cortes is part of a sham campaign to draw votes away from candidate Jerry Lewis and help Pearce retain his seat.

A complete look at the Russell Pearce saga

Burke said he will issue a ruling by Monday. If he concludes that the campaign is in some way fraudulent, he also will have to decide what must be done about it. Ballots already have been printed, more than 100 have been sent to voters overseas, and two voters in Paraguay already have cast their votes and sent them in.

County elections officials said it would be costly and difficult to reprint and send out new ballots without Cortes’ name on them in time to meet election deadlines.

Cortes took the stand in the hearing to defend her campaign. Cortes, a 59-year-old Republican and naturalized citizen from Mexico, has avoided the public for weeks.

She said she is not a sham candidate, she was not forced to run and she was not paid to run.

“I wanted to offer my points of view as a naturalized citizen, a concerned citizen for the future of Arizona,” Cortes said. “I want to serve my community.”

She said the accusations make her feel “bad.”

“I feel they are taking away my constitutional right,” she said. “Anybody can run. I’m running to win. I want to win.”

During her testimony, Cortes said she is paying for her campaign but admitted she hasn’t yet spent any money. Both she and East Valley Tea Party Chairman Greg Western, who has been helping her with her campaign despite previously being a vocal supporter of Pearce, testified that they do not know who paid professional circulators to collect the signatures to get her on the ballot. They also said they do not know who paid for the signs with her name on them that were put up around west Mesa.

Cortes said Western is the only one helping her with her campaign and, as a political novice, she has left many decisions to him. Western also has no experience running a campaign.

Cortes spoke about her stances on various issues. She said she wants to improve education and bring more manufacturing jobs and small businesses to the state.

She described herself as a conservative Republican, but not part of the “tea party” movement, and said she has not been a supporter of Pearce in the past.

“I agree with some things. I agree with closed borders, because we don’t want criminality going on in the south,” she said. “But I don’t agree on the way that he is on illegal immigration. He’s too harsh about immigration.”

Several petition gatherers for Cortes also testified. All admitted they had never met Cortes and knew very little about her before agreeing to collect signatures needed to get her on the ballot.

Some of them said they were asked to gather petitions by Western. They also had similar answers when asked why, as supporters of Pearce, they chose to help Cortes. They said they believe Lewis was connected to the recall effort, which they believe was pushed by Democrats outside the district.

“If Russell Pearce is going to be voted out, then I would much rather support another candidate who is not in any way tied to the recall effort,” said Daniel Grimm, a member of the East Valley Tea Party who lives in another district. “To the best of my knowledge, Olivia Cortes is completely independent.”

He said there was a discussion by tea partyers shortly after the recall began about how unhappy they were about Lewis as a possible candidate.

“We sought opportunities to find others,” Grimm said. “(Olivia’s) name was mentioned as someone who might consider running.”

Western testified that he had encouraged Cortes to run.

Pat Oldroyd also collected signatures for Cortes, and said she had never met her and knew little about her political positions.

She lives outside the district but is active with area tea-party groups. She said she was never told directly “that I can remember” that Cortes was intended to pull votes from Lewis. She has been a vocal Pearce supporter.

“I admire and respect Russell Pearce. I did not know if he was going to be re-elected,” she said. “I wanted a good conservative person to be in the Legislature that would closely align with my views.”

Franklin Bruce Ross, who lives in District 18, filed an earlier, unsuccessful lawsuit opposing the entire recall. He was represented by Pearce’s attorney, Lisa Hauser.

Ross also collected signatures for Cortes at Western’s request, despite saying that he and Pearce are “pretty close on political views.”

He has never met Cortes and was unfamiliar with her political views.

“I would vote for Olivia Cortes over Jerry Lewis,” he said.

Burke essentially has two decisions to make in this case: Is Cortes’ campaign fraudulent, violating the Arizona Constitution? And, given that ballots already have been sent out to overseas and military voters, is there anything he can do about it now?

Attorney Tom Ryan, who is representing plaintiff Mary Lou Boettcher in the case, said he wants Burke to order the county to print ballots without Cortes’ name and give overseas voters extra time to return those ballots.

Maricopa County elections officials said the voting process started over the weekend when they printed nearly 70,000 ballots and mailed 102 to overseas and military voters. The cost so far has been $67,000.

“I don’t know if we could reprint them in time,” Maricopa County elections director Karen Osborne said, explaining that one has to be sent to China and others go to military personnel on the battlefield. “I don’t know if we could get them there in time.”

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These are the archived website pages from 2010 and 2011. Visit to keep up with what's happening now.