Campaigns for justice of the peace are about as "down ballot" as you get in politics, but the GOP primary race for Moon Valley JP will be one to keep an eye on, mainly because of the stark choice voters face in that district.
On the one hand, there is Andrew Hettinger,
a Republican attorney who works as a mediator for Pinal County, and whose CV boasts of being an Eagle Scout and of interning for a federal judge.
And on the other, there is Carl Seel
Seel, a Tea Party loyalist who served in the state house from 2009 to 2015, is an ex-Minuteman, a birther, and was a supporter of recently convicted child molester Chris Simcox when Simcox ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010.
As a JP, Seel would adjudicate misdemeanor crimes such as DUIs, assault-and-battery cases, and violations of orders of protection. He'd also hear civil cases involving evictions, as well as lawsuits with $10,000 or less at stake.
In Arizona, the gig pays $101,500 per year on average. That would be more than a 300 percent increase over the $24,000 Seel was paid as a legislator. The only job requirements are the ability to speak English, residency in the district, being an Arizona voter, and, presumably, a pulse. You don't have to be an attorney or even have a college degree. (Seel's not a lawyer, though he does say he has an associate's degree in humanities from the College of the Canyons in Valencia, California.)
I caught Seel by phone as he was out and about in Moon Valley, checking on his signs, which have been repurposed from his previous campaigns. He joked that New Times
' lefty readers should know that there's at least one "token conservative who reduces, reuses, and recycles."
When I asked about the wide disparity in experience between him and Hettinger, Seel wore his lack of legal training as a badge of honor, maintaining that this was the way the framers of Arizona's constitution envisioned the office.
"They wanted average citizens to be adjudicating average small-claims cases and traffic and things of that nature," Seel said. "The people of Arizona made it clear that they didn't want attorneys being justice of the peace. Or at least they said you don't have to be an attorney. It's almost that they prefer you not to be.
"My legislative experience is pretty clear," he added. "I've got an excellent track record of holding up constitutional law."
Truth be told, during his time in the legislature, Seel was known for sponsoring some wingnutty stuff, perhaps the wingnuttiest of which was a bill to make presidential candidates show proof of their eligibility to run for that office by presenting to the Arizona Secretary of State a certified copy of their long-form birth certificate or any number of other documents, including "an early baptismal or circumcision certificate."
That bill passed through both the house and senate in 2011 before being vetoed in an unprecedented bout of common sense by then-Governor Jan Brewer,
a Republican with no love for President Obama, at whom Seel's legislation was aimed. Brewer called the legislation "a bridge too far," but that didn't stop Seel and other Republicans from attempting to run the same bill, minus the circumcision clause, in the next session. The retry failed.
At the time, Seel said he doubted the validity of President Obama's long-form birth certificate
, a copy of which was released by the White House in 2011 in response to the incessant demands of birthers like Seel. Not surprisingly, Seel still sees "a multitude of things" that are hinky about the document, referencing a 2012 investigation by Sheriff Joe Arpaio as his go-to source on its inauthenticity.
"There's fundamental errors with the document; the fonts being used in it weren't even in existence when that document allegedly was made," Seel said. "It's amazing that you can use fonts in a document that didn't exist when the document was supposedly created."
Seel suggested I ask Arpaio to "elaborate," calling the sheriff's widely panned birth-certificate investigation "fantastic."
Because this is America, for every group of concerned wingnuts, there's a cadre of wingnut-debunkers. One such birther debunker is Frank Arduini, an engineer and West Point grad who's active on the popular debunking website The Fogbow.
When I asked Arduini what he thought of Seel's assertions, he explained that what the White House released is a photocopy of the original, and that when compared against other long-form birth certificates issued at the time, the fonts match up just fine. He also pointed out that Arpaio's "investigation" was a rehash of previous birther theories that have been debunked numerous times.
"There essentially was nothing original that [Arpaio's investigator] ever went public with that came out of his investigation," Arduini declared.
Seel's birther legislation scored him a one-on-one meeting with Donald Trump in 2011, back when Trump was mulling a 2012 White House run. Seel said that as a candidate for judicial office, he cannot endorse other candidates, but that if he could, he'd back Trump this year.
But his birther bills weren't Seel's sole stab at legislative lunacy.
Other bizarre bills he sponsored include a proposal to require loyalty oaths of high school seniors, and an attempt to have Arizona avoid implementing Agenda 21, a voluntary plan for environmental sustainability developed by the United Nations that some on the far right consider a harbinger of the dreaded "New World Order."
Seel has long opposed illegal immigration. He participated in the Minuteman Project of the early 2000s, which involved armed volunteers who stationed themselves on Arizona's border with Mexico, looking to spot illegal entrants and turn them in to the U.S. Border Patrol. The project was co-founded by Chris Simcox, who briefly ran in the 2010 GOP primary against U.S. Senator John McCain before dropping out and backing another challenger. Last month, Simcox was sentenced to 19.5 years in prison
after being convicted on two counts of child molestation and one count of providing porn to a minor.
Seel defended his days as a Minuteman, a duty he characterized as "aiding local law enforcement" in stopping the flow of "a lot of cannabis into the country and illegal aliens." He said he simply "observed and reported" illegal activity and didn't attempt to detain anyone.
But what about the downfall of Simcox, his former ally? When Simcox announced in 2009 that he intended to challenge McCain in the primary, Seel was right behind him on the lawn of the Arizona Legislature.
"I'm not prepared to comment on that," Seel said.
Want more? Seel once referred to state Senate President Russell Pearce, author of SB 1070, as his "hero."
And in 2014, he did Pearce one better by sponsoring HB 2192, which would have made it unlawful for an undocumented resident to use "any public resource" in Arizona — driving on roads, say, or using the services "of any public entity in this state," like public restrooms
or, for that matter, courtrooms like the one Seel seeks to occupy.
The bill went nowhere.
Adding to Seel's baggage are his financial problems. His house was in foreclosure four times, according to a report in the Arizona Republic
. In April 2010, he filed for bankruptcy, though court records show that the case was dismissed a few days later. Maricopa County superior court records indicate that in 2012, Seel and his wife defaulted on a $10,000 loan. (The case was settled last year, according to the court file.)
Seel explained to me that he'd briefly filed for bankruptcy on the advice of his lawyer, "in endeavoring to maintain my home." As for the foreclosures, he noted that other Arizona homeowners had similar struggles during the collapse of Arizona's housing market.
"As a public servant, I've been incredibly diligent," Seel said. "In my own personal life, unfortunately, [I've done] not quite as well."
When I contacted Andrew Hettinger, Seel's opponent in the primary, Hettinger declined to criticize Seel or comment on Seel's career. He did offer that although the job doesn't require any legal training, it doesn't hurt to have some.
"I think it's definitely an advantage to have that three years of law school, having passed the bar, having experience in practice, working with the law," Hettinger said.
Interestingly, Hettinger once interned for federal Judge G. Murray Snow, who ruled against Sheriff Joe Arpaio in the civil-rights case Melendres v. Arpaio
. He told me his experience interning for Snow was "incredible," adding, "I love Judge Snow — he's a great guy."
Hettinger graduated cum laude from Brigham Young University with a degree in psychology. He earned his law degree from the University of Texas and was admitted to the Arizona bar in 2013.
According to the most recent campaign-finance reports on file with the county, Hettinger has more cash on hand than Seel — about $3,700 versus to Seel's $30.51 — and his signs seem more numerous in the district than Seel's, based on my quick drive-by. Hettinger works during the week doing family law mediation for Pinal County. He spends his free time campaigning.
"I filed back in July [of 2015] to do this, and I've spent the majority of the Saturdays over the last year knocking on doors," he told me. "I have done that for so long that I've kind of done the whole round once and started back over again. It's been a ton of work, but it's been super rewarding. People have been very positive and encouraging."
Despite Hettinger's superior education and experience, Seel enjoys one advantage: name recognition. His former legislative district overlaps the JP district. Of course, given Seel's political history, that could cut both ways.
Seel lost his attempt at a fourth term in the state legislature in 2014 after his former political consultant, Constantin Querard, dropped him as a client. So he has been out of circulation for a couple of years. On his financial disclosure statement on file with the county, Seel says he is currently employed as a sales rep for the internet marketing company Yodle in Scottsdale.
The former legislator knows he's not everyone's cup of tea, and that what notoriety he has could work against him.
"Needless to say, when I served in the state legislature, I had no compunction about doing what I believe to be right," Seel told me. "Some people don't agree with me. And that's the beauty of our country. If everyone agreed with me, there'd be a different person in the White House."