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Pinal County court candidate tracks down waitress during lunch, qualifies for ballot

Amanda Stanford (Photo by Luige del Puerto/Arizona Capitol Times)

Amanda Stanford (Photo by Luige del Puerto/Arizona Capitol Times)

A 30-year-old political novice who has never voted shook up the race for a little known, down-ballot office in Pinal County by outmaneuvering a veteran attorney in court on a challenge to her petitions.

Judge Steve Sheldon ruled in Amanda Stanford’s favor June 20, finding that she had the exact number of signatures necessary, 265, to qualify to run in the Republican primary for Pinal County Clerk of the Court.

Stanford, who was the business operations manager for the Clerk of the Court, is challenging first-term incumbent Chad Roche.

Harold Vangilder, who has been involved in Pinal County Republican politics for years and is running for the state Senate in Legislative District 8, said the clerk’s race is typically a yawner. But this one has the interest of locals in light of U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s loss to underdog challenger Dave Brat on June 10 and the June 24 razor-thin victory of U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., over a similar opponent.

“To go into the lion’s den and come out like Daniel is a significant thing, so it’s going to be an interesting race to watch,” Vangilder said.

Stanford said she decided to save her money and represent herself in court when Roche challenged the validity of her signatures.

Her courtroom adversary was Carter Olson, the former Pinal County attorney and a former presiding Superior Court judge.

The case came down to one signature, and Sheldon gave Stanford the one-hour lunch break to track down the signer.

Stanford knew that the woman whose signature was in question worked at L&B Inn Mexican Restaurant in Florence, but she didn’t know her hours, only that she worked two days a week. The woman was working and agreed to leave her shift and go testify — in her waitress uniform.

“It was an amazing day and I was hoping and praying that was one of the two days she was working in the week and we were lucky enough it was a day she was on shift,” Stanford said.

The woman testified that she signed the petition in her married name and signed her voter registration in her maiden name. She was able to produce her driver’s license with her maiden name and a book of checks with her married name, evidence Sheldon accepted.

Roche said a County Recorder employee later testified the signature was still invalid because it didn’t match, but Sheldon ruled otherwise.

Stanford was apolitical until she entered the race in March, but she said the values her parents instilled in her of being frugal, not wasteful and respectful, aligned with conservatism.

Stanford worked in the Clerk of the Court’s office for six years and Roche made her the business operations manager.

She said in January that Roche asked managers in a meeting to pass out signature petitions to employees. She told him he was campaigning on taxpayer time.

“He replied he hated me,” said Stanford, who later quit her job.

Roche said the accusation is groundless and he doesn’t plan to respond to her.

“Everybody knows better, especially in the court, we know better,” Roche said.

Roche is campaigning on saving the county $2 million since he’s been in office, but Stanford said he’s wasted nearly $500,000 on a program to improve the processes of the office, and he went around the bidding process to get it. She also points to mugs and bags emblazoned with a redesigned seal featuring his name as a waste of money.

Pinal County Supervisor Steve Miller, a Republican, said the race represents the division in the county GOP between old-guard traditional conservatives and the camp of Sheriff Paul Babeu, who endorsed Roche in 2010 and this year.

“Wherever the sheriff goes, Chad makes himself available to go,” Miller said.

Vangilder said the division in the county GOP is more a product of finally taking charge of the county in 2012 after several decades of Democratic rule. Every elected office is now held by a Republican except one seat on the Board of Supervisors and county treasurer.

The final push to the primary is going to require money, although the race for the office doesn’t generate much in contributions, Roche said.

He said he’s raised $5,000 so far. Campaign finance reports are due on June 30.

Stanford wouldn’t disclose her fundraising efforts, but she said she got commitments from people who were waiting to see if she made the ballot.

“Last Friday the doors started flying open,” Stanford said.

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