Wadsack recall effort fails

Sen. Justine Wadsack at a bill-signing ceremony last month (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)

Wadsack recall effort fails

A group aiming to recall Sen. Justine Wadsack, R-Tucson, failed to collect enough signatures by today’s filing deadline, and ultimately did not turn in their signatures to the secretary of state.

Organizer Rolande Baker said her group didn’t fall short because of a lack of appetite for the recall in Legislative District 17 but because they didn’t have enough time to collect signatures.

The Wadsack recall effort began on May 8 and had until Sep.5 to collect 30,981 signatures.

Baker declined to say how many signatures the group did collect. “Thank you for the question, but the number is irrelevant because we didn’t make the mark,” she said in a text. “What would have been relevant would have been to make the mark. We made the decision early on not to speak of the number unless we DID make the mark. I applaud every one of our volunteers for the extraordinary work done during the hottest summer on record.”

Wadsack is confident that she has plenty of support in her district.

“The voters of LD17 don’t want me recalled they want me RE-ELECTED and that’s why not a single signature was turned in. I look forward to serving this beautiful district for years to come,” she said in a text.

“I guarantee you I have more petition signatures to get back on the ballot for Re-election, than they collected to recall me!”

Wadsack is a freshman senator who raised eyebrows in her first legislative session by filing controversial bills to ban certain drag shows, ban books that use “pronouns,” and instruct cities to destroy homeless encampments.

Those bills (and a few others) are listed by the recall effort as the main reason Wadsack – who they call “too extreme” – should be recalled. None of those bills became law.

The group also accuses Wadsack of blocking her constituents on social media and being unresponsive to their attempts to communicate.

Baker maintains that the community has enough people who would want to recall Wadsack, but said timing was 100% the reason they couldn’t get the recall across the finish line.

“Yesterday we were at the Labor Day Picnic at Kennedy Park, not even in LD#17. We had people come to our tent all day, ALL that were in LD#17 DID sign, others WANTED TO AND WERE VERY BUMMED that they COULD NOT when they found out that they were NOT in her district. That happened to us EVERY time we were somewhere getting signatures throughout the 120 days. The word is out about Justine Wadsack and why she must be defeated in November of 2024 and NOT JUST in LD#17,” Baker said in a text.

So far, three people have filed to run for senator in Legislative District 17: Wadsack, former Sen. Vince Leach and Democrat Amy Fitch. The district is heavily Republican and not considered competitive.

Wadsack beat Leach by 2,168 votes in 2022 and survived a residency challenge from his supporters shortly thereafter. Leach was a longtime lawmaker who served in both the House and Senate and now aims to regain his seat.

Democratic consultant and former Executive Director at Pima County Democratic Party Adam Kinsey said he doesn’t think Wadsack is secure in her seat. “Collecting over 30,000 signatures for a recall is difficult for a well-funded organization, and nearly impossible for an all-volunteer effort like this one. But the fact that the recall fell short doesn’t mean Wadsack is safe,” he said in a text.

Kinsey compared Wadsack to former lawmaker Mark Finchem, who lived in her district and ran unsuccessfully for secretary of state in 2022 despite high voter turnout.

“I sincerely hope and frankly I expect Sen. Wadsack to take a victory lap and to double down on the extremism that makes her so vulnerable. LD 17 voted against MAGA candidates in ‘22, and I suspect they’ll do so again next year,” Kinsey said.

The district which stretches across northern Pima County and southern Pinal County leans Republican, with 67,267 registered GOP voters at last count compared with 51,041 Democrats.

There are, however, nearly 54,000 who have registered as politically independent.

Recalls are often not successful, at least in part because of the number of signatures required to even call an election. It translates to 25% of the people who turned out in the prior election.

The last legislator successfully removed from office was Senate President Russell Pearce in 2011. That, however, followed his sponsorship of SB 1070 and other far-reaching and controversial legislation to have the state get involved with finding and deporting those not in the country legally.

Even if a recall election against Wadsack had been called, the earliest it could have been held is March 2024 — or possibly as late as May.

And there’s also the fact that a successful recall petition drive would only have scheduled an election, with Wadsack’s name automatically on the ballot against whoever else sought to run against her. And if none of those foes could outpoll her, she would get to keep her job.

Next November, voters will decide for themselves whether they think Wadsack is “too extreme” for the district as Baker’s group says, or whether they stand by their decision to elect her last year.

Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.