by Laurie Roberts, columnist - Oct. 4, 2011 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
A Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled Monday that Olivia Cortes was maneuvered onto the ballot as a diversion, a counterfeit candidate intended solely to help Russell Pearce win the Nov. 8 recall election.
And this being Arizona, that's OK.
From a legal perspective, that is.
Judge Edward Burke logically reasons that it's hard to call it fraud when paid petition circulators were up-front with Mesa voters about why they were trying to get Cortes on the ballot.
READ JUDGE BURKE'S DECISION HERE
So the conservative Republican who just happens to have a Hispanic surname stays in the race.
¡Sí, se puede!, suckers.
I'm not sure Burke did Cortes any favors.
For one thing, she's set to debate Pearce and challenger Jerry Lewis on Thursday, and I'm pretty sure that won't be pleasant for someone who last week didn't even know what the word "incumbent" meant.
More importantly, in 23 days, Cortes must disclose who put up the money to circulate her nominating petitions. For normal candidates, this is not a problem. But for Cortes?
"I never know who was circulating my petitions," she testified last week. "I was told that people would be helping me."
Told, that is, by Greg Western, East Valley Tea Party chairman and chief puppeteer of the Cortes candidacy - a guy whom the judge basically called a liar. (Offering testimony, as Burke put it, "too improbable to be believed.")
Western testified under oath that he, too, had no idea who plunked down thousands of dollars to circulate Cortes' petitions. It seems the Petition Fairy must have left them under his pillow because I confirmed on Monday that it was Western who filed those petitions with the Arizona Secretary of State's Office.
He - or rather, Cortes - had better figure out where those mystery petitions came from. On Oct. 27, Cortes must disclose who paid to gather the signatures that qualified her for the ballot.
"If not, we will start an investigation or refer it to the Attorney General's Office for a probable violation of campaign-finance laws," secretary of state spokesman Matt Roberts told me on Monday.
Already, the office is calling sign companies, trying to track down who put up the illegal ¡Sí, se puede! signs. Mesa removed them on Friday, after Cortes admitted they weren't hers.
And so to the winners and losers of the Great Arizona Tea Party Fakeout.
Burke? Winner. His ruling seemed both well reasoned and carefully considered. While it's clear, he writes, that Cortes was "recruited" by Western and other Pearce supporters to divert votes from Lewis, it is not a judge's job to assess the candidate's motives. That, he says, should be done "though the ballot box and not the courts."
Cortes? Winner. Looking like a stooge, after all, is better than looking like a slimeball.
Western and his East Valley Tea Party? Losers. Though they won the day, they look like schemers and bumbling ones at that - even to some of their own.
"What the heck could they have been thinking?" Bill, a West Valley Tea Party member, asked in an e-mail this weekend. "It is embarrassing for many and what is worse it can be used as an example of what 'those tea-party people' will do for their cause."
The paid-petition industry? Losers. Isn't it about time that we require candidates and others who feel passionate about their various causes to pass their own petitions? (And yes, I mean recalls, too.)
Lewis? Too soon to say. After this, I'm fairly sure he'll get every Hispanic vote unless Cortes can somehow transform herself into a credible candidate. . . .
OK, he'll get every one.
And finally, Pearce. If you take him at his word that he had nothing to do with this debacle - that his relatives were free agents, that his tea-party pals are just inartful schemers - there is still the fact that Pearce never trusted his own constituents enough to denounce the diversion and call for a straight-up vote between him and Lewis.
These, are, after all, his peeps, and he should have trusted them. After this PR catastrophe, I'm guessing voter turnout for this race will go sky high.
If you're Pearce, that is not a good thing.
Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/2011/10/04/20111004roberts1004-si-se-puede-suckers.html#ixzz1Zq83e0yv