Russell Pearce's "Arizona Teacher's [sic] Association": Olivia Cortes Part 2? (w/Updates)

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See also: Russell Pearce's New Signs Tout His "Eduction" (w/Update) See also: Russell Pearce on Blast for Racist E-mails in New Dennis Gilman Video See also: Russell Pearce Blames Victims for Dark Knight Massacre (w/Update)

(And please see updates below.)

As the saying goes, you can't make this stuff up.

On Wednesday, I published a blog post discussing recalled, ex-state Senator Russell Pearce's misspelled "Eduction" campaign sign, as well as another Russ placard that boasts an endorsement from the "Arizona Teacher's [sic] Association."

A teachers association that has trouble spelling its own name? Sounds like a red flag, dontcha think?

Yesterday, my afternoon was taken up with watching the ACLU's Melendres trial down at the federal courthouse (a post to follow). Still, I was able to do a little research via iPhone during breaks and afterward.

This is what I discovered.

A man by the name of John Hedgpeth associates himself with the ATA in a letter he wrote opposing the Top Two/Open Elections ballot initiative. The letter is on file with the Arizona Secretary of State's Office, and is one of many statements pro and con that will appear in a voters guide.

Hedgpeth signs beneath the name "ARIZONA TEACHERS ASSOCIATION" (kudos to Mr. Hedgpeth for winning the spelling bee). His signature is notarized by none other than Maricopa County GOP Chairman Rob Haney, a longtime member of the Pearce Kool-Aid club.

A separate page listed what I thought was Hedgpeth's phone number. I called and ended up conversing for quite a while with local Tea Party stalwart Ron Ludders, who some may remember as being the chair of the pro-Pearce PAC Safeguard Arizona's Future.

That organization was responsible for last-minute robocalls during the Pearce recall election. The recordings featured a cheesy, low-rent Ricardo Montelban-esque voice encouraging Latino Democrats to cast a "protest" vote by writing-in their own candidate.

As with sham candidate Olivia Cortes, the tactic was meant to divert votes that might otherwise have gone to the ultimate winner, now state Senator Jerry Lewis.

But the margin of victory for Lewis was wide -- 12 points. And the robocall barrage ended up being little more than an unsuccessful Hail Mary pass from Pearce loyalists.

Ludders told me that he wasn't a teacher and wasn't a member of the ATA. He said his number was listed with Hedgpeth's letter because he was the guy who dropped the letter off at the SOS.

He took my info and promised to pass it on to Hedgpeth. Ludders claimed to have no phone for the organization. However, he said he was familiar with it, and informed me of its website, azta.us.

The site is pretty bare-bones, and sports only a couple of pages preaching conservative mantras about school choice and how there needs to be "accountability" for teachers.

"Empowering Parents to make choices regarding their child's education is a valuable tool," it reads, "because it encourages schools to compete and offer the best product to the market."

The website is registered to Cary Ley of Scottsdale. Ley told me he had designed the site, such as it is, but that he was not at liberty to tell me who employed him to do so.

As with Ludders, he took my info and said he would forward it on to the proper party

A dude with the first name "Constantin," perhaps? Alas, Mr. Ley would not say.

The registration info notes that the site was created July 13, but the ATA may be slightly older, in concept at least, as it has been on file with the SOS as a PAC since March 13. Its only finance report, for June 30, shows no activity.

I phoned and emailed ATA's treasurer, Caroline Condit. So far, no reply.

(Note: There is a woman by the same name locally who is a former Republican candidate for the state Legislature and a Tea Party member. But I have not yet been able to talk with her. So I don't want to draw any conclusions, until I have more info.)

I left messages and sent several e-mails to the Arizona Education Association seeking comment. No call-backs, which is surprising, considering the subject matter.

Certainly, AEA's members want no truck with a public education-basher like Pearce. His claim to have the support of Arizona's teachers should inspire outrage. Too bad the AEA seems so hard pressed not to insult him.

UPDATE 10:45 AM: As commenter WhoKnows notes below, the ATA website is currently down. Maybe they're correcting the spelling. Um, or not.

UPDATE 3:35 PM:Caroline Condit called me, and explained that yes she is the same Caroline Condit that ran for office. Claims ATA has about 100 members. Says the website crashed after my post. Also, she is not married to Gary Condit, but is his cousin. Am on the road but will file another post when I'm back in the office.

UPDATE 8:15 PM: Have just put up "Russell Pearce in the Bunker, Part 2," which has some real comedy gems in it. So check it out.

As a commenter has noted below, the phone number on the "Arizona Teacher's [sic] Association" sign traces back to John Hedgpeth, ATA's chairman. At least that's the name I get when I run a report on the number.

I called and left a message, though Condit told me that Hedgpeth was out of town for the weekend. She also promised that a spokesperson for ATA would be contacting me on Monday to answer any questions.

There is an address on the West Side associated with that phone number, an apartment. So I drove by and knocked on the door. The fellow who came to the door looked like he might be Latino, and he was clueless about Hedgpeth and the ATA.

Condit actually called when I was scouting the apartment, and I have to admit that she was very convivial. And at least she bothered to call me back. Points earned.

Condit, who ran unsuccessfully in 2010 for a state House seat from LD 15, contended that ATA was a real organization.

"It's a PAC, and we have educators at all levels," she explained. "We have top notch educators, all the way down to home-school moms and dads."

She made a point of telling me that her PAC was supporting Pearce, not endorsing Pearce. Not sure why she was making that distinction, though.

I asked her if the ATA was created just to give Pearce an endorsement.

"Here's the deal," she replied. "I don't do anything to endorse or support anybody unless I believe in them. I think he's gotten a raw deal, but that's my personal opinion.

Which didn't exactly answer the question, but she told me that I would get a call Monday where all inquiries will be answered. More then, I guess, if not before.

UPDATE 10:21 PM: The ATA website is back up, uncorrected.

UPDATE July 28, 2012 12:26 PM: Down again. Weird.

UPDATE July 28, 2012 3:05 PM: Stopped by John Hedgpeth's home as listed on the Secretary of State's website. Modest home with Schweikert sign in the front yard. Man who answers door says Hedgpeth is not home and won't be back till Monday. Reminiscent of the Olivia Cortes scandal when only her sister would come to the door. The man who answered did not resemble the photo on the profile for a "John Hedgpeth" at the Arizona Freedom Alliance website, where "Hedgpeth" is friends with Ludders.

UPDATE July 28, 2012 8:36 PM Unless there's another John Hedgpeth on Facebook who lives in Phoenix, is a Tea Party guy AND a friend of Ron Ludders, Hedgpeth has a page on FB. The profile photo is the same as the one for the Arizona Freedom Alliance, and he has a link to the Arizona Freedom Alliance on his FB wall. Neither his FB page nor his AFA page lists what he does for a living. I will not link at this time, but it's easy enough to find on your own.

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