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Senate candidates sue state, hit campaign trial

Don Shooter and Tim Jeffries

Don Shooter and Tim Jeffries

A handful of candidates for the Arizona Legislature share the distinction of suing the state they hope to represent.

Tim Jeffries, a Scottsdale businessman running for the state Senate in Legislative District 23, was ousted from state government by Gov. Doug Ducey in 2016. Jeffries, then the Ducey-appointed director of the Department of Economic Security, was forced to resign amid reports that he’d fired hundreds of state workers and used a state plane to fly to Nogales to celebrate with employees who gave up their job protections.

Also ousted from DES that day: Charles Loftus, who’s running for the state Senate in Legislative District 20. Loftus was the agency’s chief law enforcement officer under Jeffries.

Both were excoriated in an audit of security policies at DES. A review by the Department of Public Safety noted the DES security program under Jeffries and Loftus’ watch, when the agency amassed a stash of guns and ammunition to equip armed employees, was “rife with disorganization and inefficiency.”

Jeffries was one of three staffers found not in compliance with DES policies when they carried firearms at state facilities, the audit found.

Jeffries and Loftus deny those findings. Together, they’re suing the state for libel, claiming that the DPS audit amounted to a series of maliciously false statements aimed at undermining their efforts to weed out corrupt contracts at DES.

The former DES workers may soon be joined by former lawmaker Don Shooter, who’s seeking a political comeback less than six months after his colleagues expelled him from the House of Representatives.

The expulsion came February 1 after an investigation initiated by the House found that Shooter, a Yuma Republican, had sexually harassed several women, including a fellow lawmaker, and created a hostile work environment.

Defiant to the end, Shooter claims his ouster was “orchestrated” by House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, and Ducey’s chief of staff, Kirk Adams. There are similar claims made in the lawsuit filed by Jeffries and Loftus, who in court filings allege that Adams and other government agents attempted to silence them for “bringing to light… malfeasance, corruption and incompetent administration” in state procurement practices.

In a notice of claim submitted April 16, Shooter’s lawyer, Kraig Marton, alleged the former lawmaker was expelled to prevent him from uncovering “serious issues of malfeasance in state government contracts.”

Shooter had to wait 60 days before he can pursue a lawsuit in order to give the state a chance to respond. That time elapsed as of June 18, but Shooter has yet to file a lawsuit.

He insisted the pending case will prove that he is the real victim.

“Let the people speak, let the people decide,” Shooter said of his re-election bid. “Let the people say if this is important, or if my seven years of good service to my district and, and, the fact that I’m being harassed and persecuted by people who will be proven to be doing so in the lawsuit, whether that matters.”

Campaign fodder

Loftus said the lawsuit is mostly a non-issue on the campaign trail.

“At first I thought it might be a burden, but when I explain and detail out the circumstances and the reason that we are fighting this, I turned it into a little bit of a positive,” he said. “I’ve only been asked about two or three times. I’ve been asked more by other candidates” than by voters, he added.

If anything, the lawsuit hews closely into an issue that Loftus said is a pillar of his campaign, citing arguments in court filings that “to take away their credibility and prevent further investigation into the corruption and malfeasance that Jeffries and Loftus were trying to uncover,” government forces set out on “a massive campaign of libel.”

“I’m an enemy of public waste, fraud and corruption, and this really solidifies the position I’m taking in the campaign,” Loftus said.

Jeffries, who declined to be interviewed, wrote in an email that the lawsuit “doesn’t adversely impact my campaign one iota.”

He pointed to his experience leading DES, experience he wrote gives him a leg up on legislators who “only know government agencies from the outside, and rarely even visit them to learn about them.”

It may get awkward if either candidate is elected this fall – one of the core duties of legislators is to adopt a budget, a process that the Governor’s Office and his chief of staff, Adams, are deeply involved in – but both Jeffries and Loftus said their ongoing litigation wouldn’t impact their legislative work.

There is a history of sitting lawmakers suing Arizona. A group of GOP lawmakers sued Arizona in 2013 to overturn the state’s Medicaid expansion law. In 2006, lawmakers sued then-Gov. Janet Napolitano over a line-item veto in the budget that cost state and university employees a pay raise.

Those were issues-based lawsuits, unlike the defamation case filed by Jeffries and Loftus.

“It’s going to be awkward anyways. They fired me,” Loftus said. ”Either way, we’re going to have to put our differences apart and do what’s good for the state. You would hope they’d be more reasonable in their approach.”

Shooter likened his own prospective lawsuit to Jeffries and Loftus. He, too, Shooter claims, was silenced by Adams for attempting to expose nefarious procurement practices in state government, though he did not provide details that presumably will be included in his lawsuit.

“All three lawsuits are the result of corrupt procurement practices being foisted on the people. That’s your angle,” Shooter said. “All three of them are trying to tell you the same thing. Why do you think that is?”

A spokesman for Ducey declined to comment.

Headlines

Campaign consultant Kyle Moyer said most voters aren’t tuned in enough to be aware of the pending lawsuits filed by candidates. A perusal of Jeffries and Loftus’ websites shows no mention of their ignominious departure from the Department of Economic Security, or their ensuing libel case against the state of Arizona.

Jeffries, however, fully embraces the persona that sent waves through the agency he once led, for better or for worse. His campaign bio boasts his “21 transformative months” leading the second largest state government agency in Arizona, and cites a questionable statistic he touted while still at DES: “employee satisfaction and morale improved an astounding 300 percent within 13 months.”

Loftus boasts of stints at the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and the Office of the Inspector General within DES.

The only way voters may catch on is if those lawsuits garner significant media attention, Moyer said. While Jeffries caused a media firestorm during his roughly two years at DES, he’s largely stayed out of the news since.

Shooter has made plenty of headlines, but for reasons beyond his claims of a conspiracy to oust him from office.

For every story about Shooter’s attempted comeback, voters are reminded of the behavior that led to his dismissal from office in the first place – the habitual sexual harassment of women at the Capitol.

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale – who coincidentally is running against Jeffries in LD23 – first named Shooter as one of the men in the Legislature who had harassed her, and she filed a libel and slander lawsuit against Shooter on June 14.

After Ugenti-Rita came forward, eight other women told stories of inappropriate, sexually charged comments and unwanted touching, although an independent investigation did not uphold all of the allegations.

Shooter and his attorney tells a different tale.

Marton wrote in the notice of claim that Shooter’s ouster wasn’t for “discriminatory conduct,” but for his years of discreetly raising concerns about “questionable procurement practices and wasteful spending in government.”

“I’ve already said what I’ve done, owned up to it, apologized for whatever I did,” Shooter said. “But the fact of the matter is, what came about, and I’m going to prove it in court, I’m going to prove it, and you’re going to see it all pretty soon…”

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