The Maricopa County Republican Party’s move to strip Grant Woods and two other members of a precinct committee of their voting rights was illegal, interim County Attorney Rick Romley said.
In an Oct. 21 letter to county Republican Chairman Rob Haney, Romley said a party bylaw that allows for such a penalty if members endorse candidates of other parties conflicts with state law.
“Arizona law creates certain voting rights for elected precinct committeemen at the county and state committee levels. A party bylaw that would revoke these voting privileges is inconsistent with the state statutes creating those voting privileges,” Romley wrote.
The county GOP’s Executive Guidance Committee voted on Oct. 7 to strip Woods, Sue Gerard and Kahryn Nix of their voting rights after they publicly backed Democrat Felecia Rotellini for attorney general.
Haney disputed Romley’s opinion and said he plans to speak with the party’s legal counsel about whether the county GOP can still strip the three wayward members of their voting rights. The chairman said he is considering a number of options, including seeking a new opinion from Romley’s incoming successor, asking the Legislature to intervene or forcing a court case on the issue.
Haney said he may seek a more favorable opinion from Bill Montgomery, who beat Romley in the GOP primary and will replace him immediately after the election is certified. Haney said he might ask the Legislature to pass a bill that would ensure the party’s right to enforce the bylaw, or he may continue to deny the three members of their voting rights, regardless of Romley’s opinion, and force a court case that would settle the matter.
“It is absolutely within the statutes that the party can take policing action,” Haney said. “I’m checking legal counsel and seeing what we’re going to do.”
In his letter to Haney, Romley cited a 2001 ruling by Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca Berch, which he said showed that the “mandatory nature” of state law regarding the selection of party leaders includes the voting rights of members of a precinct committee. Berch wrote that the statutes, “provide the means by which government officials can determine the identity of the legal representatives of political parties so that the government officials may perform their statutory duties.”
ARS 16-821, states, “Only a precinct committeman elected at the primary election prior to the date of a state or county committee organizing meeting shall be permitted to vote at such meeting.” Romley wrote in his opinion that the statute, “can be read to grant elected precinct committeemen the privilege of voting at the county committee organizing meeting.”
Haney said Romley should have recused himself due to a conflict of interest. The party’s Executive Guidance Committee endorsed Montgomery over Romley in the GOP primary, Haney noted, and Romley has a history of endorsing Democrats in general elections.
The party’s Executive Guidance Committee voted 21-2 to strip Woods, Nix and Gerard, an ex-lawmaker and former director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, of their voting rights after the three publicly backed Rotellini over GOP nominee Tom Horne. Woods, who hired Rotellini during his time as attorney general, headlined the “Republicans for Felecia” event in September and even starred in a television ad run by a pro-Rotellini independent expenditure.
Haney said he believes the party would be able to actually strip Woods, Gerard and Nix of their status as precinct committee members under the party’s bylaws, but said he has no intention of doing so. The decision to take away their voting rights was a way for the party to punish them for betraying the county GOP without seeking the harshest possible retaliation, he said.
“If everybody did what Grant Woods did, well then we wouldn’t have a very liable party,” Haney said. “That borders on treason. Why not be a Democrat if you’re going to do that?”