Cortes tells judge she's in recall race to win - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Cortes tells judge she's in recall race to win

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Posted: Thursday, September 29, 2011 1:22 pm | Updated: 4:08 pm, Tue Oct 4, 2011.

Olivia Cortes insisted in court Thursday she is in the recall race against Senate President Russell Pearce to win but admitted ignorance about key elements of her campaign.

Cortes said she decided to run in July when it became clear there would be enough signatures to force Pearce to defend his seat. Cortes said she agrees with some of his position, including securing the border

"We don't want the criminality that's going on in the south,'' she said.

"But I don't agree on the way he is about illegal immigration,'' testified Cortes, who was born in Veracruz, Mexico, but said she came to this country legally. "He's too harsh about immigration.''

Cortes conceded, though, she has no idea who paid to hire circulators to get signatures to put her name on the Nov. 8 ballot. And both she and Greg Western, the self-professed brains behind her campaign, said they have no knowledge who paid to erect signs around the east Mesa legislative district urging her election.

Tom Ryan, who is representing those who want Cortes off the ballot, also got several members of the East Valley Tea Party -- people who said they support Pearce -- to admit they had circulated nominating petitions for Cortes to run against him.

And Suzanne Dreher, one of the paid circulators hired to get Cortes on the ballot, testified she told Pearce supporters they should sign the petitions because having her on the ballot would dilute the anti-Pearce vote.

All that, Ryan told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Edward Burke, proves that Cortes is a "sham'' candidate, part of a fraud on the election process. He wants the judge to strike her name from the ballot, turning the election into a head-to-head race between Pearce and Lewis.

Ryan said it does not matter if the candidate herself knew that she was being used to help Pearce, or if Cortes, who has avoided virtually all media interviews and turned away volunteers, now plans to wage a real race.

"The fraud has already occurred,'' he said. "She would not have been able to get the (nominating) signatures except for the chicanery and skullduggery of the East Valley Tea Party.''

Burke showed some interest in the legitimacy of Cortes' candidacy, questioning her himself at one point. He wanted to know, for example, her views on specific issues.

Beyond immigration, Cortes said she is concerned about social promotion of Hispanic children, being passed from grade to grade without having learned enough to advance.

"They pass them and they say, 'They'll catch up later,' '' she said. "I don't think that's the right process.''

But Burke also wanted to know about those campaign signs.

"I've seen them,'' she told the judge. "But I haven't personally paid for them'' even though she lists herself as her own campaign committee chairwoman and treasurer.

Burke also wanted to know why someone seeking office would refuse volunteers.

"They were trying to infiltrate my campaign,'' Cortes responded, saying that even included "people from my own church.''

And Cortes justified not talking with reporters until the night before Thursday's hearing. She told the judge that when she does agree to speak, it will be "on my own terms.''

Burke seemed astonished by all that professed ignorance by both Cortes and Western, especially over campaign funding, asking Anthony Tsontakis how that could be.

"Honestly, I don't know how to answer that question,'' the lawyer responded.

All of that, however, may not legally matter.

Burke told Ryan that people run for office for all sorts of reasons, even those who know they have no chance of winning.

"And there's nothing wrong with that,'' the judge said. And Burke said it might even be argued that people are free to run even if their goal is to help someone else getting elected.

"What's wrong with that in the final analysis?'' he asked.

"You don't get to mislead voters,'' Ryan responded.

Tsontakis told Burke there's another problem with what Ryan wants. He said there is no law allowing him to remove Cortes from the ballot.

He said state law does allow pre-election challenges when a candidate is unqualified to run for office, whether by virtue of being too young, not a citizen or not living in the district, none of which is alleged here.

And Tsontakis argued that Arizona law prohibits election fraud claims to be filed before an election.

Ryan conceded that, strictly speaking, there are no laws to specifically address his claim that she is a sham candidate and have her removed from the ballot.

But he told Burke that waiting until after the election really is not an answer, especially if what he contends is a vote-siphoning scheme works and Pearce wins. He said the judge has broad powers of "equity'' to right a wrong.

Burke, however, indicated he is not convinced.

"The statutes don't seem to cover this situation,''

A more practical concern is that more than 70,000 ballots already have been printed, 102 of them have been mailed to military and overseas voters and two of those already have been marked and sent back.

Ryan suggested mailing out new ballots with an explanation. And if nothing else, he said Burke can order the vote to go on, but with a court order that ballots marked for Cortes not be counted and that signs informing voters of that be erected in all polling places.

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