In his June 22 editorial on the effort to recall state Senate President Russell Pearce, Don Sorchych, publisher and editor of the right-wing Cave Creek pub Sonoran News, erroneously referred to Mesa resident and petition-signer Benita Lantigua as "a Mexican woman," who is "likely an illegal."
Today, Lantigua showed up to a press conference sponsored by the recall group Citizens for a Better Arizona. In her hand was her U.S. passport.
Her lawyer Sean Larkin told reporters that Lantigua, who was on her lunch break from her job at Wells Fargo, has been a U.S. citizen since 1996.
Lantigua did not answer questions about Sorchych's editorial, or the shabbily reported June 15 article by Sorchych's top hack Linda Bentley, on which the opinion piece was based. The Bentley item offered Lantigua's registration as an example of the "massive voter registration fraud" that she alleged was present in the recall petitions.
But on Lantigua's behalf, Larkin and CBA organizer Randy Parraz blasted Pearce, the Sonoran News, and other outlets that have disseminated the same inaccurate information, such as the nativist non-profit Ban Amnesty Now, as well Websites for both the Arizona Republican Party and the Maricopa County GOP.
"It seems [Sonoran News] willfully published false information and accusations that would ultimately be accusing [Lantigua] of committing both federal and state crimes," Larkin said.
Parraz called Bentley's allegations of fraud "false, misleading and baseless." He noted the irony that out of more than 18,000 names CBA turned in to the Arizona Secretary of State's Office, Pearce's supporters ended up spotlighting someone who was, unbeknownst to them, an American citizen.
"Out of 18,000 names to pick from and you can't even get it right?" Parraz asked incredulously of Bentley and the Sonoran News. "You end up picking someone who is registered to vote, who lives in the district, and you [label this ]`massive voter fraud' and use her as the poster child of this?
"That goes beyond the line. We believe it is illegal activity. That's why we are here today...Russell Pearce should be ashamed that he has people supporting him that [use] these kinds of tactics."
Bentley originally reported that Lantigua was registered under three different names with Maricopa County elections, citing this as evidence of "rampant voter registration fraud."
She also suggested that Lantigua might have committed bigamy.
County elections director Karen Osborne later told me that Lantigua had done nothing wrong. Osborne said Lantigua has never voted dually, and signed the recall petition only once.
Indeed, Lantigua, who has lived in the U.S. for more than two decades, simply changed her name over the years when she divorced and remarried. The county failed to consolidate the registrations as one.
Additionally, Osborne stated that the claim of "massive voter registration fraud" was "inaccurate" based on what she's seen of the petitions.
So far the county has validated 10,374 signatures from Pearce's Legislative District 18, or 2,618 more than the 7,756 required to force a recall election, assuming Pearce doesn't choose to resign instead.
Parraz noted that all Bentley had to do was ask Osborne about Lantigua's registration, and she would have been told that Lantigua had voted appropriately. He believes Lantigua was targeted because she is Latina.
"If her name was Smith or Jones, we would not be having this press conference," said Parraz.
Parraz also laid blame directly at Pearce's feet, pointing out that Pearce is an honorary national co-chair of Ban Amnesty Now, which repeated Bentley's allegations in a fundraising e-mail.
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Later in the day, CBA chairman Chad Snow fired off a demand to Sorchych for "a full retraction of your libelous statements recently made against U.S. Citizen Benita Lantigua."
I called both Bentley and Sorchych for comment, but neither have had the courage to call me back.
Thus proving that it's far easier to slime an innocent woman, than defend your own indefensible actions.
(For more on this outrage by the pro-Pearce forces, check out my column in this week's paper.)