Foes of state Senate President Russell Pearce will get a second chance this week to try to bounce Olivia Cortes from the recall ballot.
Attorney Tom Ryan said he has found new witnesses who he said will prove that Cortes knew from the start that she was a “sham” candidate, being put in the race solely to draw votes away from Jerry Lewis, the other challenger to Pearce. That would contradict Cortes’ own testimony last week that she decided to run after hearing an inspiring talk about the Constitution given by Greg Western in the Mormon church they both attend.
Ryan also said he will present evidence that those involved in Pearce’s own campaign were involved in helping Cortes. There were no such links presented last week.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Edward Burke agreed to hear Ryan’s arguments on Friday. But it remains unclear whether the judge can be persuaded to change his mind, even if Ryan can get his witnesses to say what he believes they will say.
Ryan refused to name the witnesses, at least at this point, or exactly what he believes they will say.
“Some of them are very reluctant,” he said, and might try to avoid being served with a subpoena.
“Others are going to be hostile witnesses,” Ryan continued. “I don’t want them thinking, ‘I’ve been warned and I’m going to get the heck out of Dodge.’ ”
In his ruling earlier this week, Burke said there was clear evidence that the only reason Cortes got on the ballot is because she got help from Western, who is chairman of the East Valley Tea Party. The judge also said that he did not believe Western’s contention that he has no idea who hired and paid people to circulate nominating petitions for Cortes and has been erecting signs urging her election, calling that testimony “too improbable to be believed.”
But Burke said that, at least from what he heard last week, “no one impugned Cortes’ honesty or integrity.”
He said while she has waged a non-traditional campaign — turning away volunteers and refusing most media interviews — that did not mean she was not a serious candidate, at least in her mind. And Burke believed her testimony that she is “genuinely opposed to what she believes is Pearce’s harsh legislative treatment of and comments about illegal Hispanic immigrants.”
Ryan said Tuesday that one byproduct of last week’s hearing was that others have come forward with information. And one of those pieces, he said, is about Cortes.
“I’m alleging that she knew what her role was, that was to be a shill and not to be a serious candidate, contrary to what she said,” Ryan said. And Ryan said he will undermine Cortes’ own description of how she got into the race.
“If you think that this whole process started with Olivia Cortes and going to Greg (Western) and saying, ‘I listened to you speak and I want to run against the most powerful man in Arizona,’ I’ve got a London Bridge I want to sell you up in Lake Havasu City,’ ” he said.
Ryan said witnesses also will show direct links between the Pearce campaign and the push for Cortes.
Evidence was presented last week that paid petition circulators told people that by signing papers to help get Cortes on the Nov. 8 ballot they would, in fact, be helping Pearce.
That is based on the premise that a certain number of people in the east Mesa legislative district will vote against anyone running against Pearce. Having two foes would split the vote, increasing Pearce’s chances of retaining his seat.
And at least one Pearce supporter said he and others wanted Cortes on the ballot for exactly that reason.
But there was never any direct link to Pearce or anyone on his campaign.
Pearce has repeatedly said he never pushed Cortes to run, saying he has never even met the woman. Ryan said, though, he does not have to prove that Pearce himself was involved in any plan to dilute the vote against him.
The ballots for the election already have been printed. But Ryan said he believes Burke has the power to declare her candidacy void, with notices placed in polling places and inserted into absentee ballots informing voters that she is no longer a candidate and that any votes for her will not be counted.
That, however, will not affect the 102 ballots already mailed to military and overseas voters. County officials testified last week that two of those already have been voted and mailed back.