Unpresidented! Arizona's Trump Electors Are Under Pressure to Switch Sides
Imagine for a moment if, instead of a certain billionaire we all know, Hillary Clinton had 306 Electoral College votes pledged to her nationwide, and, locally, 11 Democratic electors were set to meet at the Arizona Capitol on Monday, December 19, to cast their votes, just as electors in all other states would be doing that day. Imagine that these imaginary electors, pledged to vote for Hillary Clinton, have been receiving tens of thousands of e-mails, tons of regular mail, and phone calls at every hour of the day and night from Republicans and Tea Party types, asking that they change their vote.
Oh, and imagine that several right-wing Facebook pages have sprung up promising protests during the usually perfunctory electoral vote.
Democratic electors in this state and others likely would see this as intimidation, and lefty opinion pieces would be written far and wide condemning this mob mentality.
Of course, the actual state of affairs is precisely the opposite. Republican electors in Arizona and elsewhere have been deluged with snail mail, e-mail, and phone calls (sometimes harassing) from people who want them to not vote for Donald Trump for president, despite the fact that Trump won the state by a margin of 4.1 percent. Additionally, since progressives are always down for a demonstration (even during the workweek), Facebook groups have sprouted, organizing actions for Monday at the state capitol, just as progressives nationwide are set to protest in all 50 states.
The idea is to convince at least 37 Republican electors nationwide to turn "faithless" and vote for someone other than Trump, thereby denying the real estate mogul the 270 electoral votes necessary to become president. If 37 were to vote for Hillary Clinton — you know, the candidate who won the nationwide popular vote by about 2.8 million (a margin of 2.1 percent) — she would become president instead of Trump. If they voted for third parties, denying any of the candidates a majority, the contest would go to the U.S. House of Representatives, which would decide among the three top vote getters.
All of which seems as probable as the moon falling into the sea. Or, if you prefer, as probable as Donald Trump becoming president seemed about a year ago.
Still, a group of Democratic electors (and one Republican elector from Texas) calling themselves the "Hamilton Electors" argue that the Electoral College should be a stopgap against making some cad the nation's chief executive. They base their effort, and their name, on a Federalist Paper penned by founding father Alexander Hamilton, who perceived the electoral process as affording "a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications."
Alberto Gutier, director of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety and a Republican elector, says he will vote for Trump on Monday, despite efforts to flip him.
Courtney Pedroza for New Times
Other groups looking to upset the electoral apple cart include the uber-left Progressive Change Campaign Committee and a group that calls itself Unite for America, which has produced an excruciatingly annoying YouTube video addressed to Republican electors and littered with cameos from liberal celebrities such as Martin Sheen, Debra Messing, Moby, Mike Farrell, and a downright scary-lookin' Loretta Swit. They ask "brave Republican electors" to jump the Trump ship and give "the House of Representatives the option to select a qualified candidate for the presidency."
Thing is, even if this unlikely scenario were to play out, the GOP holds a 60-vote majority in the House and could only choose from the top three electoral-vote getters.
As objectionable as Trump is to many people, these tactics seem scattershot — and at worst a lame form of intimidation on the part of sore losers. As a result, Arizona's electors are more resolved than ever to vote for their party's nominee.
Take for example longtime Republican Jane Lynch, who was in front of her computer screen when I called her on Friday afternoon and said she currently had more than 18,700 e-mails in her inbox from people attempting to sway her.
"It's not as though I don't delete, delete, delete," she told me. "I do all the time. It's such a harassment. I'm spending two and three hours a day getting rid of these things. and then our mailbox is full every day. I think I had 67 in my mailbox yesterday."
Some folks have even been willing to pay a premium by FedEx-ing Lynch their appeals to change her vote. This, she can't help but chuckle at.
Lynch says she supported Ohio Governor John Kasich in the Republican primaries, and she has been quoted as having her doubts about Trump. But she says she has opened very little of the mail, and that all of the physical material is destined for a trash bag in her carport. Asked whether she'd received any threats, she said no.
"People have been basically expressing their concern," she told me. "And they don't want a vote for Mr. Trump."
Elector Alberto Gutier has had a harder time of it, perhaps because of his position. The longtime Arizona GOP sergeant-at-arms is the director of Governor Doug Ducey's Office of Highway Safety, and therefore is easier to find. He told me he has received thousands of pieces of snail mail, some of it disguised as Christmas cards to fool him into opening the envelope. And don't even ask him about his government e-mail account.
"As of an hour ago, I'm not kidding you, 89,460 emails," he said late last week. "Thank God, my staff, two and a half weeks ago, created a different folder, so automatically, when they start coming in, they move to that folder, based on certain words in the letters."
Most of the electronic missives are form letters sent by individuals. Most of the snail mail he hasn't opened. But he says his adult son, Alberto Gutier III, has received "two or three feet" of mail, thanks to the similarity of their names. And there have been phone calls aplenty.
"Somehow, they have my cellphone number," he told me. "I've gotten about 30 to 50 phone calls. I don't mind. That's a First Amendment right, but I don't like it when they call me at 4 o'clock in the morning when I'm asleep, or on the weekend."
Nor does he appreciate the "nasty tone" some callers adopt. He said he has received some threats but declined to supply specifics on the record.
An exile from Cuba who came to this country in 1960, Gutier has been a Republican for nearly as long, having worked for U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater's failed bid for president in 1964. And he fully intends to cast his electoral college vote for Donald Trump.
"I was a Marco Rubio guy and so was my wife," he said, referring to the U.S. senator from Florida. "Once Marco Rubio fell out of the race, we endorsed and voted for Donald Trump."
Though no Arizona or federal law binds an elector to vote for Trump, the electors, chosen by the state party, have pledged to support their party's nominee. Reports of electors being hammered by mail are not new, but there seems an increased urgency as the vote approaches.
During an interview Friday morning on KTAR (92.3 FM), Arizona Republican Party Chairman Robert Graham — who was in the running to replace Reince Priebus as RNC chair before Trump gave the nod to Michigan GOP chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel — characterized the effort to turn Trump electors as "pathetic." Graham is himself an elector and says he and his wife have kept all of the snail mail, which he says would "cover our three-car driveway, if laid out."
Several event pages on Facebook are devoted to protests at the Arizona capitol regarding the electoral college vote — including "Occupy the electoral College Arizona," "Rally for Electoral College Revolt," and one for the "Hamilton Electors." The first two are scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. on Monday, December 19, while the "Hamilton" demonstration is scheduled for 9 a.m. The capitol is located at 1700 West Washington Street.
Quixotic? Futile? Laughable? Whatever the case, Monday's forecast is for lovely weather. And at the very least, it should offer a respite from Christmas shopping — for those who don't have to work, anyway.