A group of moderate, GOP precinct committeemen in Legislative District 25 has filed suit over a disputed organizational election in November and allege that a faction of Russell Pearce supporters is trying to bully its way back into power.
In a case filed Dec. 24 in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, the group asks the court to let stand the Nov. 29 election results for the legislative district’s Board of Officers and prevent Maricopa County Republican Chairman Rob Haney from conducting a new election of state committeemen.
LD25 is located in Mesa and is home to Pearce, the former Senate President. The lawsuit says the district is broken into political factions, one aligned with Pearce and the Tea Party movement and the other with more moderate Republicans.
The lawsuit offers a glimpse of the intraparty feuds between the Tea Party and “established” Republican Party members who are more concerned about electing Republicans and less about philosophical purity. If successful, the lawsuit could help the “establishment” camp consolidate its hold on the district.
John Giles, a former Mesa councilman who was elected as Second Vice Chairman Nov. 29, said rather than simply having another election and beating the Pearce faction again, he and others have opted for a forceful “correction” to stop bullying by Tea Partiers in the district and elsewhere in the state.
“We’re trying to reform a party,” Giles said.
The committeemen, all of whom voted in the disputed election, also want the court to allow them to hold a meeting Jan. 2 to elect state committeemen and void a Jan. 9 meeting for the same purpose called by Haney.
The lawsuit is in part a reaction to an investigative committee’s findings that the Nov. 29 elections were invalid due to voter fraud. The lawsuit says the committee worked in secret in violation of Open Meeting Laws, was stacked with Pearce supporters, and lacked authority of state law and Republican Party bylaws to invalidate the election results.
Kory Langhofer, an attorney for the committeemen, said nullifying the Nov. 29 election would benefit Pearce supporters and harm the more moderate group of Republicans.
Langhofer said there have been problems with the way party officials have treated people who disagree with them.
“What we see in this case is that they crossed the line from bullying to breaking the law,” Langhofer said.
Haney declined to comment because the case is pending in court.
The Nov. 29 election for the Board of Officers occurred without any problems and “represented a decisive rejection” of the Pearce group and significant gains for the group not aligned with him, Langhofer wrote.
Before the election for the state committeemen began, Haney announced that five candidates hadn’t signed their candidacy forms. Several other named candidates also said they hadn’t declared a candidacy. Their names were posted at the front of the room and none were elected.
The results from the election also represented big losses for the Pearce faction and big gains for the other faction, Langhofer wrote in the lawsuit.
Haney sent an email the next day to all committeemen to question the results of the elections. Committeeman Brent Ellsworth filed a challenge to the state committeemen election Dec. 4 and Haney appointed the investigative committee, but he refused to appoint some people who weren’t aligned with Pearce, Langhofer alleged.
The committee met from Dec. 5 to 7 but didn’t provide public notice of its meetings and refused to allow Ellsworth in to watch even though the Republican Party has determined that the meetings of elected Republican Party officials are subject to Open Meeting laws.
The investigative committee worked three days before invalidating both the election of the Board of Officers and State Committeemen because several signatures on candidacy forms didn’t match signatures on record with the County Recorder’s Office.
Langhofer alleges that the handwriting analysis was done without a qualified expert and none of the people whose signatures were called into question were interviewed by the committee.
Giles said his faction and its supporters could have just shown up for another election and stomped Pearce’s Tea Party side again.
He said he was sure the results would be repeated or become even more favorable to his side if went for the “easy route.” But he said their goal is to improve things and “take back the party.”
He said often in district politics, it’s the bullies that take control.
“I think you’re seeing a change in that now. It has gotten out of control. It’s gotten too big of an embarrassment and it’s time to set things right,” Giles said.
Luige del Puerto contributed to this article.