Faster than a speeding bullet ...
File this under "You really can't make this shit up." If you've followed the recall election of Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, which is set for November 8, you've probably heard about the controversy surrounding one of Pearce's opponents -- a woman named Olivia Cortes, who nobody knows anything about. One thing we just learned is that she's a fan of DC Comics, particularly that guy who hides behind a Clark Kent disguise. That's pretty telling, actually, because her campaign wears a lot of masks.
Senator Pearce is the arrogant dickhead who authored SB 1070, and whose thick-headed policies have plunged Arizona into an extremely deep cesspool. Although Pearce has never lost an election in Mesa's very conservative District 18 since his first race in 2000, even those voters grew weary of and embarrassed by the bully's racist, mean-spirited antics. The group Citizens for a Better Arizona formed in January and immediately began collecting signatures for a recall, ultimately submitting far more than were needed to force an election. Although Pearce's legal flunkies tried every trick in the book to nullify the recall process, both an appellate court and the Arizona Supreme Court said it's valid, there really are thousands of people who despise you Senator, the election is on.
Anyone could add their name to the November ballot if they submitted at least 621 valid signatures by September 9. Early on, several prominent Mesa residents said they were going to enter the race. The Dems stayed out of the contest, knowing they wouldn't have a snowball's chance in District 18, so all of the announced candidates were Republicans who had had enough of Pearce. However, after Jerry Lewis announced, almost all of the other candidates bowed out and threw their support behind Lewis. He's a well-known school administrator, Mormon leader, Republican, and 30-year resident of the district -- in other words, the worst opponent imaginable for Russell Pearce. During previous elections Pearce would usually smear the Democratic challenger as an amnesty-loving socialist. He'll have a hard time doing that against the conservative Lewis, although, of course, he's said for months that the people behind the recall are just that -- amnesty-loving socialists.
More powerful than a locomotive ...
The other potential candidates withdrew because the respected Lewis is clearly the frontrunner, and if there are too many Pearce opponents to choose from, they could split the anti-Pearce vote and the pompous clamhead could walk away with the highest tally, which is all that's necessary. There's no 50+1 requirement or run-off of the top two vote-getters.
So, it's in Pearce's interest to have several names on the ballot. Even better, if there's a Latina name, it might attract voters who hate the Senator's extreme anti-Mexican policies -- or his anti-women bills. Lord knows, nationwide he and his buddy Sheriff Joe Arpaio (who Pearce worked with for more than 20 years) are the poster children for Mexican bashing, so it's likely some voters who aren't following the campaign closely will check a Hispanic name to protest Pearce's hatred of all things Mexican.
So, who is Olivia Cortes and why is she playing the race card?
Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound ...
When Olivia Cortes announced her intention to run, nobody knew who she was. We still don't. A retired single mother who worked for 30 years at Motorola, she's never been involved in politics, has no (visible) campaign staff, no war chest, and doesn't seem to have a platform other than some homilies about God, the rule of law, and "Truth, Justice, and the American Way." You read that right: visit her website and that's the final line she leaves you with. Olivia may not read a lot of political material, but it appears she knows her comic books and 50s TV shows.
Cortes's entrance into the race caused a fair amount of head-scratching among the media and policy wonks, because they'd never heard of her. What made things even more bizarre is that she refused to talk to reporters, nor would she schedule any public events. That's still the case. It didn't take long for skeptics to float the notion that Cortes might be a plant, a smarmy ploy by the Senator's camp to siphon away anti-Pearce votes from Jerry Lewis. Pearce's team, of course, says they have nothing to do with her candidacy. Oh, really?
Recently, several media stories have exposed the sham. Both the Arizona Republic and New Times interviewed people who were collecting signatures to put Cortes's name on the ballot. They weren't even coy about it, admitting to reporters that they were Pearce supporters who wanted Cortes in the race in order to "dilute" the vote.
On Thursday, a woman who said she was being paid to circulate Cortes' petitions, stopped a Republic reporter leaving the library. The reporter mentioned rumors that Cortes had entered the race to split the vote.
"Right," the woman said. "Not away from Pearce. To Pearce."
Reporter: "So she's actually hoping that Pearce will win the recall?"
Look, up in the sky ...
On September 15, intrepid videographer Dennis Gilman attended a GOP meeting that was called to discuss the recall. After Pearce supporter Daniel Grimm spoke on behalf of a resolution to back the Senator, he's confronted on camera by Gilman, who asks why a supposed Pearce ally also collected signatures for Olivia Cortes. Grimm's only reply: "No comment."
It gets better: two of Pearce's nieces collected signatures for Cortes, their uncle's potential opponent! And when her signature sheets were all packaged up, Cortes did not drop them off at the Secretary of State's Office; instead, the chair of a local Tea Party committee, a Pearce supporter, delivered the paperwork. If you can't keep all the players straight, take a gander at the flowchart (pdf) New Times put together that connects the people in Cortes's circle to Pearce -- and vice versa. Still, I don't think anyone in the media knows who is writing her press releases, managing her website, or paying for and posting her campaign signs, which read "Si, se Puede." Gawd.
It's clear someone is behind this kryptonite candidacy other than Olivia and the older bother she lives with. Finally, this week a lawsuit was filed against her, claiming that she's a plant intended to siphon votes away from Jerry Lewis. As of today, however, it appears the suit will be dropped because the ballots are already printed and early voting is underway.
It's a bird, it's a plane ...
It's unlikely Cortes will tell us who wrote her press release yesterday, the title of which reads, "Racism is alive and well in Mesa's District 18." In the statement, Cortes maintains that the skeptics who doubt her candidacy are racist. Got that? The people who want to defeat Russell Pearce, the biggest bigot in the Southwest, are the racists! Cortes's press release was featured in Sonoran Alliance, a far-right website that loves Russell Pearce:
"I gathered and submitted more than 1000 signatures of people who believe in me. I earned the right to be on the ballot, and I intend to win," Cortes declared. "Latinos everywhere should be outraged; we deserve to be represented, and I intend to bring the Latino voice to the Arizona Senate." Sonoran Alliance
First, as Stephen Lemons points out in New Times, Cortes did not "gather and submit" the signatures. Her name was attached to two sheets of about 20 signatures; the remaining 1,000+ names were gathered by paid collectors, but of course we don't know who paid them. I agree with her, Latinos certainly "deserve to be represented," but she's not going to win, not by a long shot, and her fake candidacy can only serve to deliver the election to the most famous Mexican basher in the legislature.
So, a Tea Bagging website that's been known to throw around a few racist slurs trumpets a press release by a Hispanic candidate who claims that those questioning her candidacy are the racists. A rightwing website that's carried water for the most bigoted blowhard in the legislature during the entire recall process says that the opponents of Pearce are the racists! Surreal. Lemons hits the nail on the head with his observation about race in this election:
Racism alive and well in Mesa? I would wholeheartedly agree. But that label would best be applied to those who convinced Cortes to run and who are keeping her under wraps. New Times
Yes, it's Superman, strange visitor from another planet ...