Now that the Legislature has finally wrapped up its work for this year, Sen. John Huppenthal (R-Chandler) can prepare for his July 29 misdemeanor trial on charges of theft and tampering with campaign signs, stemming from an election tussle last year with a 78-year-old who attempted to stop him from yanking down a Democratic sign he didn't like.
The trial was originally set for June 25 in the San Marcos Justice Court in Chandler, but was continued for a month to allow him to focus on state business.
Huppenthal, who represents Legislative District 20, which includes all of Ahwatukee Foothills, has denied any wrong doing and blamed the prosecution on Democrats attempting to besmirch his 15-year legislative record.
According to Chandler police records, officers were called to a polling place in 2008 after 78-year-old Ruth Levin complained that Huppenthal cut down a Democratic sign in front of an apartment complex, which was also a polling place, and took the sign.
"I said, ‘You can't do that,' and he said, ‘I have permission,'" Levin told Ahwatukee Foothills News reporters shortly after the incident.
Huppenthal said he received permission from the assistant manager of the apartment complex before he cut down the sign.
"I went in and asked if I had permission to remove the sign and the answer was ‘Yes,'" Huppenthal said. "I wasn't going to remove the sign without her permission."
But the Chandler police report is less clear, stating that the complex's policy is that they do not deny any political party from placing signs up for Election Day.
Because Huppenthal was on the Chandler City Council from 1984 to 1992, the case was passed to Scottsdale, where Caron Close, the Scottsdale city prosecutor, decided there was enough information to bring the case to trial.
The sign incident was the culmination of a bitter campaign where Democrats sank more than $100,000 to defeat Huppenthal, who was first elected to the Senate in 1992.
In the end he sailed to an easy victory, defeating his Democratic opponent, Ted Maish, with 56 percent of the vote.
And it was not Huppenthal's only sign problem last year.
In the last days of the election Huppenthal erected several extra-large campaign signs that violated Phoenix city ordinances and were taken down by city inspectors in October, only to be put back up by Huppenthal a few days later after he cut them in half. So while the message remained the same, he argued that the signs were no longer in violation of city ordinances.
Because of term limits, Huppenthal can't run for re-election next year, so he has formed an exploratory committee to look at a run for Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction and is currently circulating nominating petitions to get on the primary ballot in 2010.