Feathered Bastard

Russell Pearce's Supporters in LD 19 Outed as Olivia Cortes Petition Gatherers, while LD 18 Stays Neutral (w/Update)

On Thursday, while state Senate President Russell Pearce was in one part of Mesa, denying that he knows or has ever met Olivia Cortes, the candidate meant to "dilute" the vote in the upcoming Legislative District 18 recall election, I was in another area of Mesa, at a Republican meeting for LD 19, watching a bizarre cross between Harper Valley PTA and the floor action at the 1968 Democratic Convention.

With me was Phoenix videographer Dennis Gilman, who is working on a video of the proceedings, which involved an effort by pro-Pearce partisans to get a resolution passed supporting Pearce and blasting such bugbears as the Democratic National Committee and MoveOn.org as being behind an alleged conspiracy to remove Pearce from office.

Of course, neither of these entities had anything to do with the successful recall drive led by Citizens for a Better Arizona. Heck, even the local Democratic Party has stayed away from any official endorsement of the recall. Nor is there a Dem on the November 8 ballot. Rather there are three Republicans: Pearce, Cortes, and Mesa educator and ex-CPA Jerry Lewis.

Though the meeting lacked a quorum to actually vote on the resolution, there was nonetheless a contentious debate on it, and the resolution may come up again at an LD 19 meeting in October.

My purpose in being there was to confront two movers behind the pro-Pearce resolution: Mesa Republican Dan Grimm, and former LD 19 chair Pat Oldroyd, both of whom circulated petitions to qualify Cortes for the election.

Oldroyd was the first person who greeted me when I entered the room at a local events center, and after I told her who I was, I asked if she was the same Oldroyd who had circulated for Cortes. She admitted as much, though she was also clearly campaigning for the Pearce resolution by handing out Pearce literature at the meeting.

I wondered why she had circulated for Cortes. 

"Because I wanted to help her get on the ballot," was her reply.

Oldroyd, an odd, spry little lady, then ran off and began informing others of the presence of New Times. There were soon cries for us to leave, to which I shouted back something to the effect that, "I didn't know Republicans held secret meetings."

LD18 chair Wayne Gardner interrupted featured speaker Shane Krauser, a local Tea Party guy, and also asked us to leave. However, to his credit, Gardner refused to have us removed, and soon Krauser was continuing his lecture, ironically on freedoms protected by the U.S. Constitution, such as freedom of speech.

After this, the fireworks soon began, as Gardner read an e-mail from LD 18 chair Dan Lovell, asking other districts to butt-out of LD 18 politics.

"I will not get in between three Republican candidates," Lovell was quoted as stating. "I am neutral."

Gardner continued reading from the Lovell e-mail:

"If you want to help the Republican party in LD18 stay out of our elections in any official capacity. It divides and confuses things. The Dems are already laughing at us. Having other districts come out in opposition to the stance that LD18 is taking (neutrality) only adds to the fire. If you want to help Russell go help Russell. Use the appropriate tools though, not the weight of the district. Don't come here with a jack hammer to hang a picture on my wall."

Gardner expressed his personal frustration with the recall, and said he wanted to see a change to the Arizona Constitution to amend or get rid of recall provisions. He had Oldroyd read the pro-Pearce resolution, which you can peruse at the LD 19 Web site. Then he opened up the mic to debate, five minutes for the resolution, five against.

Grimm, Oldroyd and others rose to speak in favor of the resolution. One unidentified lady made the delusional statement that Arizona under Pearce is "stronger than it's ever been and we have a wonderful reputation."

I doubt those out of work, in foreclosure, or denied AHCCCS feel the same way.

Then Anson Clarkson, Lewis' campaign manager, rose in opposition. Several of the LD 19ers objected to Clarkson speaking, as he is not a member of LD 19.  But Gardner told the crowd it was an open forum, and allowed Clarkson to address them.

Clarkson quickly got to the point.

"I believe it was last Friday, because it was the last day they could turn in petitions," Clarkson said. "Pat Oldroyd knocked on my door and tried to get me to sign a petition for Olivia Cortes."

"You did that, Pat?" Gardner interrupted in horror, looking at Oldroyd, who was nearby.

Oldroyd shot back, "I did that, Wayne!"

"It's not illegal," Clarkson continued after this exchange. "But I would question the ethics of someone that stands here and is for Russell Pearce -- I'm OK with people being for Russell Pearce -- but then attempting to game the political system...by trying to recruit a shill candidate."

David Johnson, chief-of-staff for Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley (who was also in attendance and announced his intention to run for re-election in 2012) was next. 

He agreed with Clarkson, calling the actions of Oldroyd and others "despicable" and a "sham." Pro-Pearce folks tried to shout him down, and at one point Oldroyd tried to take the mic away from him. But he stood his ground, disagreeing with a previous statement that everything was hunky-dory in Sand Land.

"The numbers don't agree with that," he said. "We have higher unemployment than when Russell Pearce took office. [Pearce] served as chairman of the [state House] appropriations committee from 2003 to 2008. During that period of time we had a 68 percent increase in general fund spending...$4 billion in the general fund, from $6.4 [billion] to $10.4 [billion]."

He added, "You either have to question [Pearce's] leadership or his political ability....10,000 people-plus in LD 18 have spoken. We need to allow democracy to do its job."

Following Johnson, Gardner admitted that the issue "has divided our district." He announced the next LD 19 meeting for October 20, and adjourned.

Dennis and I hung out for a while afterward. First we tried to corner Oldroyd on camera, but we were blocked by none other than Justice of the Peace Lester Pearce, Russell's brother. At the time, I didn't know Lester Pearce on sight. Otherwise I would have peppered him with questions.

We did, however, confront Dan Grimm with the fact that he had circulated petitions for Cortes, and I even pulled out one of the petitions he circulated to make the point. He was unapologetic, as Dennis will reveal in the video he's working on.

We also spoke with Clarkson a bit, who described in detail how Oldroyd had tried to solicit his signature before she knew who he was. He said Oldroyd described Cortes as a "lawyer," at one point.

It's significant that LD 18 is remaining neutral in the race, and it's also significant that so many people who know and support Pearce -- even some members of his own family -- have been involved in this Cortes fiasco. You've got to wonder, how could Pearce not know what's going on?

UPDATE 9/18/11: Part one of Gilman's video report is up and can be viewed, here. Part two is on the way and will have some even juicier clips.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons