Anthony Garcia, a veteran signature gatherer, said the lucrative business of circulating petitions helped him stay out of jail.
When he first got started in 2008, Garcia was living in a men’s shelter and needed to find a job to stay in the program. What started off as just a regular job soon turned into a vocation for the West Valley native.
With the money he earned from petition gathering, he said, he was able to buy his first car straight off the lot, his wife was able to go to school, and he had the opportunity to spend a month working in California, the first time he and his family had visited the state.
But Garcia, 39, said despite it being a well-paid position, it’s hard work, and it’s only getting harder with changing signature-gathering laws. Bad apples in the business, he said, are also making it more difficult to collect signatures, an issue he’s all too familiar with.
This year, Garcia, who works in construction framing houses, wound up testifying in court during an election challenge hearing after someone impersonated him and used his name to fraudulently gather signatures for a candidate seeking election to the Senate.
I was in Church on the Street and they said when you’re in Church on the Street you gotta have a job to stay in the mission. I was in recovery in the men’s home. I called my old foreman and he said I could have my old job back but I had to go to orientation. Orientation was at like 5 o’clock in the morning. I had to leave the mission at like 3 in the morning and ride my bike from 43rd and Van Buren to 99th Avenue and Lower Buckeye to get to orientation on time. It was over at like 10 and I rode my bike to 91st and Encanto to catch the free shuttle to Maryvale. When I got there, I started praying. I just said, “God, show me something different because what I’m doing is just wrong and I’m going to be with the same people and I don’t want that anymore. I want something different.” As soon as I got done praying, I promise you, this guy starts walking up to me with petitions in his hand. We started talking and he told me he was about to go to the college and hire and fire some people. I asked him if he owned his own business and I told him I wanted to work for whoever he worked for. He asked me if I was a registered voter and I said yes, and then he asked me to sign his petitions and he gave me the number to his boss. The number was for Pastor Jim, and right off the bat I knew that was God’s answer to my prayer. I went to meet with him and he gave me the lowdown on how it all works. His office was like right down the street from my grandma’s house and everybody there had lived on that block forever and they were all registered voters. So I went straight over there and I got everybody on the block to sign. It was like two hours. I rode my bike back over to his office and the guy gave me a check for like $350 and I was hooked.
Do you circulate petitions for candidates and initiatives?
I go wherever the money is at.
What are some of the big names you’ve circulated petitions for?
Doug Ducey, Kyrsten Sinema, Ruben Gallego. I did a couple justices of the peace.
What’s the secret to getting someone to sign a petition?
If you’re walking down the street and someone’s waving at you, and I wear a lot of gold chains, so you’re walking down the street and you see this guy with gold chains waving at you, you’re going to be like what’s this guy all about. So I’ll do that. Or once I have someone, I’ll talk loud and people are nosy and if they hear something that catches their attention they’ll stop. If you can get just one person to stop, a lot of people will stop because it’s monkey see, monkey do. Or you make a silly sign. You know what gets a lot of people’s attention, if you spell something wrong because everybody will try to correct you. Or compliment them on their shoes or their hat. People are self absorbed so if you talk about them they’ll come talk to you. But it’s always 50-50. There’s people that will ignore you and people that will talk to you. You just have to talk to everybody. The more people you talk to the better your odds are.
Do you have a favorite spot where you usually collect signatures?
I usually go to the DMV on 51st Avenue and Indian School. That used to be my spot but there’s a lady, Darcy, and she kind of took the spot over so I’m kind of stuck walking around that area. But that’s a good spot, you get a good response.
What’s the most signatures you’ve ever gotten in a single day?
My biggest, it wasn’t a single day, it was Comic Con. I got 1,500 signatures in three days. … Festivals are the best.
What’s the most money you’ve made in a single day?
I made like $1,500 in three weeks. That’s when Bonita (Burks) was around and there was competition. That was the best part, when there was competition and we worked as independent contractors, like freelancers, we could go wherever we wanted and make more money.
It’s not every day that someone gets impersonated. How was it to learn someone was using your name professionally?
Oh man, you feel terrible. It’s messed up. I was worried. I’m still wondering why, why would someone do that? I lost a lot of sleep over that.
Do you think the incident will affect how you decide who to gather signatures for in the future?
It will just make me more cautious in who I associate with and what petitions I do. I guess I won’t so easily pick people off the street and say here I’ll do your petitioning because that’s what I did and look what happened.
Do you think the bad apples in the business tarnish the reputation of seasoned and reliable signature gatherers?
It definitely messes with the reputation of good petition gatherers. One example, the smear campaign they’re trying to do with the Clean Energy petitioners. Now people don’t want to sign my petition. It’s going to be harder to get signatures and it’s already hard to get signatures.
Do you see yourself working as a circulator for years to come?
Oh yeah. I have kids and they’re young. But when they’re older and they go to college I plan on traveling throughout the country doing petitions. I can’t afford to travel, I don’t have retirement, so I’m going to work my butt off until the day I die.