June 4, 2004
Thursday’s rally at an east Phoenix hotel should have been an exciting moment for supporters of a statewide ballot initiative that would target illegal immigrants.
About 100 volunteers had renewed hope that the proposed initiative could qualify for the Nov. 2 general election. A national immigration reform group boosted its original $100,000 donation by $50,000 for a final push to collect signatures by the July 1 deadline.
But the evening was marred by a power struggle among the top leaders of the initiative committee called Protect Arizona Now. The split between committee chairwoman Kathy McKee and others including treasurer George "Rusty" Childress over involvement of the national group threatens to derail the entire effort.
"I am just trying to save my state and these people with these egos and these political games . . . I guess I’ll have to spend the next 10 months or 12 months of my life in court," McKee said.
Leaders at the rally downplayed the dispute, saying everyone has the same goal.
"We intend to work with PAN and do everything we can to make this successful," said state Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa.
The initiative would require state and local governments to verify legal residency before providing benefits that are not federally mandated. The initiative also would require officials to see identification before allowing voters to cast their ballots. The initiative needs 122,612 valid signatures to qualify for the Nov. 2 ballot.
What apparently had been a private feud for months became public Tuesday when McKee filed paperwork with the Secretary of State’s office to remove Childress as treasurer for Protect Arizona Now.
Childress filed a protest. Childress said he can’t be removed because he signed the application that created the initiative committee.
The disagreement casts a cloud over petition-gathering and fund-raising. State elections director Joe Kanefield said state law appears to require the filing of a single set of petitions. So McKee and Childress probably can’t deliver petitions separately, even if they are worded the same, Kanefield said.
And if McKee succeeds in removing Childress as treasurer, any additional money he collects or spends for the initiative could violate campaign finance laws.
McKee blames the dispute on the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform, claiming the national group is trying to take over the effort. McKee said she hasn’t seen the $150,000 or the petitions being collected with those funds.
But Pearce said McKee agreed in March to FAIR’s involvement. Pearce said all petitions will be turned over to McKee to meet the deadline.