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Moderate Mesa Republicans resolve suit over disputed district elections

Former Senate President Russell Pearce (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Moderate GOP precinct committeemen in Legislative District 25 and the Maricopa County Republican Committee settled a lawsuit today that alleged voter fraud in the district’s organizational elections in November.

In a case filed Dec. 24 in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, the group asked the court to let stand the Nov. 29 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.

According to legal documents filed today, Haney agreed to those terms and he will also turn over records of the Nov. 29 election to the committeemen and certify the results of a planned Jan. 2 repeat election of state committeemen.

LD25 is located in Mesa and is home to Russell Pearce, the former Senate president who lost a recall election in 2011 and was defeated in a GOP primary election this year. 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 offered 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.

Pearce said the dispute over the elections is about fraud, not a power grab.

John Giles, a former Mesa councilman who was elected as second vice chairman, 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 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 results of the elections.

Kory Langhofer, an attorney for the committeemen, said nullifying the Nov. 29 elections would have benefited Pearce supporters and harmed 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 was not immediately available for comment, but Pearce said the assertions that there is a faction of his allies and they are trying to regain power are false.

“This has to do with cheating and fraud and they’re trying to spin the wheels and make it out to be me,” Pearce said.

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 elections 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. 5-7, but didn’t provide public notice of its meetings and refused to allow Ellsworth to observe 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.

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