MARANA – It was the second time that day someone had answered the door for Manuel Galdamez, and it was shaping up to be his second signature as well.
Galdamez, who wore the canvassers’ uniform of a gray T-shirt with “Rural Arizonans for Accountability” emblazoned across the front and the dictionary definition of “accountability” in red letters on the back, told the man who answered that he was collecting signatures for a petition to recall Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley.
“We’re just trying to hold him accountable for his actions over the past few months and let the voters decide if they want to keep him around or not,” Galdamez said.
The man asked one question:
“Is he a Republican or Democrat?”
Galdamez told him Finchem is a Republican, and added that Finchem supported efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and was in Washington D.C. when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol on January 6.
“All right,” the man said as he reached for the clipboard and let out an expletive aimed at Finchem.
Rural Arizona Action, a progressive group based in rural Pinal County that has successfully supported candidates for local office in the area, is supporting the Finchem recall, which is being spearheaded by the similarly named Rural Arizonans for Accountability.
They have a tough road ahead – only one legislator has been successfully recalled in Arizona history. What’s more, the Finchem recall movement needs 24,775 valid signatures of registered voters by July 8 to get the recall on the ballot and they have to find a competitive candidate to run against Finchem, who has held office since 2015.
However, organizers are pleased with the response they’ve gotten so far. Ashley Brennen, one of the organizers, said on March 19 that they had already gathered a little more than 1,000 signatures.
“Especially in Oro Valley, there’s a lot of excitement,” she said.
Finchem was first elected in 2014 and represents Legislative District 11, a largely rural and Republican district covering parts of Pima and Pinal counties north of Tucson. He has been outspoken since the 2020 election about his stated belief that President Trump really won and in support of attempts to overturn President Biden’s narrow win in Arizona. Finchem was in Washington D.C. on January 6, the day Trump supporters broke into the Capitol in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s Electoral College victory.
Finchem said he was in D.C. to deliver an evidence book and letter to then-Vice President Mike Pence showing evidence of fraud and to ask him to postpone the award of electors. He said he was invited to speak at a rally but missed it, and didn’t learn protesters had entered the Capitol until a little before 5 p.m. local time, an assault he blamed on Antifa.
“Media reports that I was ‘leading the march’ or somehow ‘leading an assault on the Capitol’ are wildly fictitious and a slanderous fabrication,” he said in a written statement in January.
He said he wasn’t any closer than 500 yards from the Capitol building and was more than an hour late, stripping away the assertion he was a leader of the event.
However, Democrats have sought to keep the spotlight on the events of January 6, and on what they frequently describe as “the big lie,” promoted by Finchem and others, that Trump really won the election. Democratic lawmakers asked federal authorities to investigate the actions of Finchem and other Arizona Republicans who attended the January 6 “Stop the Steal” events, and filed an ethics complaint with the Arizona House as well as a resolution seeking his expulsion.
House Ethics Chairwoman Becky Nutt, R-Clifton, rejected the complaint, and the resolution has never been assigned to a committee.
While talking to a signature-gatherer at a canvassing event in Marana a week ago, Pablo Correa, the co-executive director of Rural Arizona Action, compared Finchem to a bartender who overserves someone who proceeds to do something illegal. Finchem might not have broken into the Capitol or assaulted a police officer himself, Correa said, but “he got people drunk on his rhetoric.” Finchem’s words matter, Correa added, since he is in a position of power.
Finchem, who didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story, has cast efforts to connect him to the violence of January 6 as an attempt to punish him for talking about his concerns about the election.
“Ironically, nothing could do greater harm to the rule of law and the fundamental principles of our republic than this attempt by the House and Senate members to transform speech that they find disagreeable into a crime,” Finchem wrote in an ethics complaint he filed against House and Senate Democrats in February. “By using inflammatory rhetoric and the threat of criminal prosecution, the House and Senate members and their media allies have sought to sow fear in order to place any questioning of the legitimacy of the recent election, and of the broader topic of election integrity in the United States, beyond the pale of political discourse.”
Nutt dismissed his complaint as well.
Part of why Galdamez got involved was he needed a job. A college student, he was laid off from his restaurant job early in the Covid pandemic. But he also said he believes in what he’s doing.
“If Mark Finchem was a Democrat, I would still want him to be held accountable for his actions,” he said. “January 6 especially, that was a terrifying thing to watch.”
Galdamez said he remembers watching on TV as the pro-Trump mob broke into the Capitol and calling his mother, who emigrated to the United States from El Salvador.
“Isn’t this kind of the reason you left El Salvador to come here?” he remembers asking.
“I guess it’s my own small way of trying to do something about it,” he added.
Galdamez said most of the interactions he has had while canvassing have been pleasant, even with people who don’t want to sign. And that was mostly on display as Galdamez went door-to-door in a suburban neighborhood north of Tucson on March 19. Even the president of the homeowner’s association, who told Galdamez he wasn’t allowed to gather signatures in the neighborhood, said he agreed with the cause and didn’t tell Galdamez to leave.
“Where you go from here is your business,” he said as he closed the door.
“I guess it just goes to show how much (Finchem) has just made some people angry,” Galdamez said as he walked to the next house.
After a string of polite rejections, Galdamez got lucky again when a young man with tattooed arms opened the door, wearing a black T-shirt with “Mask it or casket” in big white letters superimposed over a raven wearing a mask.
The man let out an expletive to describe Finchem as Galdamez gave his spiel. Galdamez laughed and said he couldn’t use those words but that he wanted to hold Finchem accountable.
“Anything we can do to loosen their grip on this country,” the man said as he signed the petition.
Although the recall has a long history in Arizona — President William Howard Taft vetoed the state’s original Constitution in 1911 due to his opposition to a provision recalling judges – the only successful legislative recall in Arizona history was in 2011, against state Sen. Russell Pearce, who crafted the controversial anti-illegal immigration bill SB1070.
Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Staten Island’s Wagner College and an expert on recalls who tracks them nationwide, said Arizona’s laws make it more difficult to get a recall on the ballot than, for example, California, but are pretty average compared to most other states.
“The one thing Arizona appears to have to me is you crack down more on signatures,” Spivak said. “So there seems to be a higher rejection rate. … You may need more of a cushion in Arizona than you do in other states.”
Correa said the group doesn’t have a candidate in mind to run against Finchem.
“We’re just focused on the signatures right now,” he said.
Tyler Montague, who was instrumental in the Pearce recall campaign, said that when Democrats set out to recall Pearce, he warned them that if they ran “some lefty candidate against him, you’re just wasting your time and I’m not getting involved.” Montague eventually convinced Jerry Lewis, a former bishop and stake president in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to run.
“The strategy was a slightly more moderate Republican,” Montague said, adding that the same could work in the Finchem recall, so long as Democrats keep the field clear of any Democrats attempting to take on Finchem.
“You need an isolated field, and a quality candidate who isn’t crazy,” he said. “They can be plenty conservative, just not so Finchemy.”
Spivak said he hasn’t seen any overarching issue that determines whether a recall effort succeeds or fails, but he said “a feeling of betrayal” among a candidate’s supporters can help an effort succeed. He referred to two successful recalls in California in the 1990s of Republican lawmakers who voted for a Democratic Assembly speaker. Another factor for success is whether the group pushing the recall is well organized and funded.
“That is a big part of it, because the more money you have, the better chance you have of getting on the ballot,” Spivak said. “Signature gathering organizations very frequently play a big role in this. This makes all that difference in the world. My single favorite quote on politics ever is by Mark Hanna (a prominent late 19th century Ohio senator) … ‘There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.’”
Yellow Sheet Editor Hank Stephenson contributed reporting.