Pearce faces two challengers; Cortes' motives questioned - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Pearce faces two challengers; Cortes' motives questioned

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Posted: Friday, September 9, 2011 5:32 pm | Updated: 4:08 pm, Tue Oct 4, 2011.

State Senate President Russell Pearce will face two challengers in the Nov. 8 recall amid accusations one of them is a fake candidate out to split the anti-Pearce vote.

Olivia Cortes filed her signatures with the Secretary of State Friday afternoon, the deadline to enter the race. She joins charter school executive Jerry Lewis.

Unlike Lewis, Cortes does not have a website, hasn't staged events or tried to get any publicity for her campaign.

Recall organizer Randy Parraz said a woman collecting signatures at the Mesa library on Cortes's behalf told passers-by that Pearce supporters would want Cortes on the ballot to dilute anti-Pearce votes. Parraz called Cortes a stealth candidate propped by Pearce supporters. Parraz had an audio recording of the discussion.

"This is really behavior that is not becoming of a senate president," Parraz said.

Cortes did not respond to a phone call or email.

Her petitions were submitted by Greg Western, who insisted that Cortes was "in the race to win" and not simply trying to siphon off anti-Pearce votes that would otherwise go to Lewis.

Western acknowledged he had read published reports that people gathering signatures on petitions for Cortes had said the real purpose was to help Pearce.

"Maybe that's why they were helping her," Western said, adding there might be Pearce supporters among the volunteers and paid circulators who gathered the signatures. "But they don't speak for Olivia."

Western, chairman of the East Valley Tea Party, acknowledged he had recruited Cortes to run in the special election, saying they both belong to the same Mormon church.

Pearce campaign chairman Ed Phillips said the stealth candidate allegations sounded made-up.

"That's absolutely not true," Phillips said. "We don't have anything to do with her. I don't even know who she is. That's her campaign and we're running our campaign. I know nothing about her or her campaign."

Cortes filed 1,177 signatures Friday. It takes 621 to qualify for the ballot. Lewis has filed 1,448 signatures. Pearce is automatically qualified as the target of the recall.

Like Pearce, Lewis and Cortes are Republicans in a west Mesa legislative district dominated by the GOP.

Parraz said he knows voters in legislative District 18 would examine the Cortes signatures and will consider challenging them. A challenge must be filed within 10 days, said Matthew Roberts, a spokesman for the Secretary of State.

Attorney Michael Kielsky had planned to run as a Libertarian but dropped out Friday to endorse Lewis. He said Cortes is trying to dilute anti-Pearce votes.

"I think everybody's pretty clear that Olivia is some kind of a sock puppet for Pearce," Kielsky said.

He backed Lewis after talking about issues including SB 1070, which makes it a crime to for undocumented immigrants to be in Arizona. He said Lewis agreed with him that it needs reform and helps create a police state.

"While I wouldn't call Jerry exactly a Libertarian, he's about as close as you can be to Libertarian and still remain in the Republican Party," Kielsky said.

Pearce has easily been elected to eight two-year terms in the Legislature but became a polarizing figure after SB 1070 was passed last year. But he failed to push through another broad immigration bill this year despite having a super majority of Republican lawmakers. His effort triggered a letter signed by some of Arizona's most powerful business executives, saying Arizona's approach to immigration was hurting the state's image and business climate.

Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.

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