A judge threw out a complaint alleging that Sen. John Huppenthal, a Republican candidate for state Superintendent of Public Instruction, illegally gathered his petition signatures for the office.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Robert Oberbillig ruled that it was legal for Huppenthal to gather petition signatures before filing a campaign committee.
“This, of course, is a complete vindication and we can move on,” said Huppenthal, who attended the June 17 hearing.
The Arizona Democratic Party, in a complaint filed June 10, argued the Chandler Republican should be removed from the ballot because he collected the signatures under an exploratory committee for the statewide office.
Huppenthal initially filed an exploratory committee on March 19 last year and amended it into an official candidate committee for superintendent on Jan. 11.
He submitted 11,053 signatures on Jan. 20; he needed 5,609 signatures to qualify.
Oberbillig said both sides presented valid arguments, and it was difficult to read the statutes involved.
But the judge focused on the fact that no one was challenging the validity of the signatures; the parties agreed that they were not collected in a fraudulent way.
It would be an “extreme remedy” to throw out the signatures when no one raised questions of irregularity in their collection, he said.
Jason Rose, Huppenthal’s campaign spokesman earlier told the ~Arizona Capitol Times~ that Democrats don’t want to face him in the general election, adding it just reinforces the view that his client is the person to beat in this entire election.
“This is a clear shot at a clear conservative reformer in the race and frankly they don’t like the possibility of a general election pitting their nominee against a conservative reformer,” Rose said.
Jennifer Johnson, spokeswoman for the Democratic Party, said Huppenthal voted to cut the education budget by hundreds of millions of dollars.
“Democrats will be happy to run against a record like that,” she said. “Democrats share voters’ priorities on education. The Republican cuts have been devastating, so we’ll be working hard to help ensure a Democratic win.”
History was on Huppenthal’s side in this legal challenge.
Sen. Jack Harper, a Surprise Republican, also filed a complaint against a primary opponent, Susan Burke, six years ago, saying all her 854 signatures were invalid because they were collected before she officially opened a campaign committee.
The judge dismissed the case.
Harper went on to defeat Burke in the primary.
For political observers, the challenge to Huppenthal’s petitions won’t come as a surprise.
Huppenthal and the Arizona Democratic Party have a history of animosity dating back to 2008, when he campaigned for re-election to his Senate seat.
Democrats targeted the District 20 seat, believing it was vulnerable with retired teacher Ted Maish as the challenger.
Independent expenditure committees supportive of Maish outspent those supporting Huppenthal $53,000 to $30,000.
After the election Huppenthal faced misdemeanor charges for cutting down an opposition campaign sign on Election Day. He was accused of theft and altering or destroying a political sign.
The charges stemmed from a confrontation between Huppenthal and Ruth Levin, a 78-year-old Democratic activist who said the senator cut down the sign and tussled with her over it before driving off in a car.
Huppenthal said he had permission to remove the sign.
A judge ultimately cleared him in the case.
Also in May that year, the Democratic Party filed an election complaint accusing Huppenthal of withholding information about who had paid for automated calls to district residents. The calls related a message about how Huppenthal had helped arrange surgery for a child with a rare case of dwarfism.
Democrats contended the calls should have included a reference to the party that paid for them.
But the Citizens Clean Elections Commission dismissed the complaint.
Last year, Huppenthal and several other candidates, both Democrats and Republicans, were also accused of violating the state’s resign-to-run law. The cases were referred to the Pima County Attorney’s office for review. The office subsequently cleared all the candidates.
The question then was whether Huppenthal violated resign-to-run laws when he personally passed out petitions under his exploratory committee.
The Pima County Attorney’s office said the facts in the case were not within the scope of the law’s disqualification, and it would be inappropriate to conclude that Huppenthal violated resign-to-run statutes.