Rocking the Boat

GOP bigwigs and their pandering pals in the mainstream press are apoplectic about a state senator and New Times' fight to discover the truth. What're these pols trying to hide?

Thomas went on to spew in interviews with mainstream state newspapers, whose reporters were only too happy to get down on their knees and suck it all down, that there are questions about the "legality and ethics" of Harper's relationship with the "tabloid" newspaper New Times.

Thomas' lackey, Barnett Lotstein, kept busy doing what he's done best through two administrations at the County Attorney's Office: spin the facts to obfuscate the truth, thereby making the dunderheaded statements of whatever boss is in power seem remotely plausible to half-wits.

"There is no precedent whatsoever for a media outlet to bankroll an official government investigation," Special Assistant County Attorney Lotstein was quoted in the Arizona Capitol Times as declaring. "This raises serious legal and ethical questions, especially for a newspaper with a preconceived agenda."

Senator Jack Harper's the real guy on a white horse in the election controversy.
Mark Poutenis
Senator Jack Harper's the real guy on a white horse in the election controversy.

I always know that a critic of New Times is pathetically desperate when he trots out the old tabloid line. It's the equivalent of being called "four eyes" on the playground. As for our preconceived agenda, we have only asked that Thomas and other public officials stop covering up for political allies and determine what happened in District 20. Thomas had a chance to do that, but he dropped an investigation that uncovered serious, and potentially illegal, problems ("All Bark and No Bite," July 14, 2005).

At the bottom of what these two legal ninnies are foaming at the mouth about is New Times' hiring of a nationally renowned voting-machines expert to come in, at Senator Harper's behest, and objectively examine the contraptions in question in the District 20 race.

For that expert to get access to the machines, Harper had to use his subpoena power. Because it isn't like the aforementioned stonewalling public officials would just let Douglas Jones, a University of Iowa computer science professor who has consulted on such thorny election issues as the 2000 presidential election, simply examine the voting machines.

It wasn't like they'd just do it because the senator who's chairman of the Government Accountability and Reform Committee ordered it done.

Not without a fight!

Like I said earlier, this would all be hilarious, except that the integrity of the elections process in the state's largest county lies in the balance. It would be funny because all the protestations are about New Times' hiring a consultant who's helping a righteous public official get at the truth.

A really funny thing is, Senate President Ken Bennett could've authorized state funds so the committee chairman he saw fit to appoint could bring in the consultant on his own. But Bennett told Harper to go out and find private funding for the endeavor.

Well, he did. And New Times even wrote Bennett a letter informing him that it was footing the bill. New Times has committed to pay up to $3,000 to this expert. Everything has been out in the open.

Lately, Bennett -- who's either a skinflint or something worse -- is demanding that the report be released to him instead of us (the guys who committed to pay for it). He's crowing about how this is suddenly his investigation. Did I mention that Bennett, like House Speaker Weiers before him, did everything he could in a vain attempt to force Harper to drop the whole thing?

Inquiring minds want to know: Why haven't Bennett and the rest of the political pricks involved in this insanity just allowed Senator Harper to conduct his investigation as he sees fit? What are they afraid of?

Why didn't Bennett just fund Harper's fact-gathering so New Times didn't have to? Aren't Bennett and Weiers and Brewer and Thomas and, lately, Democratic Senator Bill Brotherton in any way curious about what went terribly wrong? Isn't it the job of everybody involved to be curious?

Miraculously, Jones was finally allowed to examine those voting machines. (John Dougherty reports on what the acclaimed expert found in "Ballot Box Breakdowns.") But Thomas stepped in and blocked Jones from looking at the individual ballots in the primary election. An examination of the ballots must happen before any final conclusions can be drawn. A court hearing on releasing the ballots was pending.

I, for one, didn't think District 20 was a major story until some of the most powerful political muscle in the state joined arms to try to block Harper from simply finding out what happened. These days I'm thinking . . . maybe this scandal does signal that the Maricopa County elections process and maybe even the Arizona elections system need a major overhaul. Maybe the public officials involved do need to be run out on a rail.

As for Senator Brotherton, he's calling for an ethics investigation of Harper for letting New Times bring in an objective expert so that the public can find out whether every citizen's vote was counted in a Maricopa County election.

Boy, that's riding in on a white horse! His fellow Democrats must be so proud!

Brotherton's interference is fueling Thomas' call for Harper's removal from his committee chairmanship for actually doing what few standing committee chairmen have had the balls to do -- the right thing, even if it means the scalps of members of their own political party.

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