Ready, set, go! Early voting starts this week The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Ready, set, go! Early voting starts this week

Ready, set, go! Early voting starts this week
Mesa
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By Jim Walsh
Tribune Staff Writer

Starting this week, Mesa voters can either endorse the aggressive pro-growth, pro-downtown redevelopment policies of Mesa Mayor John Giles or choose an anti-Giles ticket recommended by his constitutionalist opponent.

Early voting by mail starts July 8 in a city election that has exposed a deep divide on City Council that has been apparent since a split decision in 2018 to approve Giles’ hallmark project, Arizona State University@mesacitycenter.

The ASU project has been billed as a stimulus for reawakening long slumbering downtown Mesa and creating an innovation district that will spawn high paying, high-technology jobs.

Councilman Jeremy Whittaker and mayoral candidate Verl Farnsworth have continued to attack the project even as construction progresses, while Giles, Vice Mayor Mark Freeman and council members Jen Duff, Dave Luna and Francisco Heredia have continued to defend it as a vital part of Mesa’s recovery from the pandemic-fueled recession.

The rift also is showing up in the election, with Farnsworth distributing a flier endorsing an anti-Giles ticket that includes himself, Whittaker and Danny Ray, who is challenging Freeman in District 1 in north Mesa.

Heredia essentially was re-elected without a vote being cast because Christopher Bown, another opponent of Giles, withdrew from the race, conceding he erred in the collection of his signatures after they were challenged in court.

Giles, Luna, Duff, Freeman and Heredia have retaliated against Whittaker by endorsing his opponent Julie Spilsbury in District Two, east central Mesa.

Spilsbury, a political novice, was recruited by Giles to run against Whittaker. She said she did not know Giles previously.

“I’m definitely not a puppet. I am opinionated, but I do it with respect,’’ Spilsbury said. “I think I was asked to run because I am easy to work with.’’

A long list of community leaders in Mesa has endorsed Giles, along with the Mesa Chamber of Commerce and the United Mesa Firefighters Association.

Former council member Dennis Kavanaugh also endorsed Giles and disavowed any connection with Farnsworth despite being pictured and quoted in Farnsworth’s election flier.

The flier used quotes from a March 2019 East Valley Tribune story about the controversial auction of city land near Red Mountain Ranch.

Farnsworth’s campaign flier also quotes two former presidents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, along with Irish statesman Edmund Burke, George Washington, Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy.

Kavanaugh said Farnsworth never called him for permission to use his photo or quote. He said he disagreed with Giles on the auction but greatly respects him as a man and a leader.

“I want to make sure people who know me, know I am not supporting Verl Farnsworth. I would not support Verl Farnsworth in a million years,’’ Kavanaugh said.

Farnsworth is a retired contractor from New Mexico and a constitutionalist who lost to Luna in 2018 in District 5, northeast Mesa.

He also ran for President of the United States in 2012 as part of Americans Elect, a novel but ill-fated effort to nominate a presidential candidate through a non-partisan online poll.

Farnsworth said he is proud he got thousands of votes but could not remember an exact number. He said in his flier that he would be guided by the Constitution and by God, not by special interests, if he wins election.

If he had been mayor, Farnsworth said, he also would have never issued a proclamation requiring Mesa residents to wear face coverings, as Giles did as COVID-19 cases soared in Arizona.

“We’ve always been risk-takers. That’s how we found our freedom,’’ Farnsworth said. “For me, I think it’s optional. I think we’re smart enough.’’

Farnsworth said he never would have voted for the ASU building and disagrees with giving developers incentives by selling city land at a price lower than the appraised value.

“I think our message is a very timely one,’’ Farnsworth said. “I’m feeling like we have a great shot at getting the people’s confidence and votes.’’

Giles said being mayor of his hometown is a dream job for him.

He has amassed a $272,000 war chest in a year – which includes many contributions from developers – but he said part of his job is to sell Mesa and that he is proud of support from the business community.

Pro-growth policies are necessary in Mesa because of its lack of a property tax and heavy reliance on the sales tax and utility revenues, he said.

“The City of Mesa is a shining star on the national stage in job growth and affordability,’’ Giles said. “I’m proud of what the city council has accomplished. The economic development accomplishments of Mesa are very impressive. I hope to be back on track very quickly,’’ despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Giles said he takes his job seriously and will spend whatever is necessary on his campaign, donating the rest to non-profits. He said he has no aspirations for higher office.

“I’m proud of the job I’ve done,’’ Giles said. “I think I can make a strong case for re-election.’’

He said Mesa not only is weathering COVID-19 thanks to $90 million in federal aid, but because its conservative fiscal management allowed the accumulation of $90 million in operating reserves.

But Whittaker said Mesa and other governments are based on a corrupt system he described as “crony capitalism’’ on his web site, in which special interests contribute to the campaigns of politicians with the expectation of access and favorable votes in return on zoning cases and other city business.

“My job is to represent the people of Mesa, not special interest groups,’’ Whittaker said.

“I take it with great pride,’’ he said, when asked about five out of seven council members endorsing Spilsbury, his opponent. “In 2016, the entire council endorsed my opponent.’’

Whittaker has responded with another in a series of attacks on his fellow council members, accusing them in the past of embezzlement and being more corrupt than Washington, D.C., based upon campaign donations from developers that he no longer accepts. He also has criticized some members’ use of a council expense account to buy gift cards.

“Who’s Buying Your Mayor and City Council? Ever Wonder Why?’’ Whittaker writes in a blog on his website, which includes a spread sheet he compiled charting campaign contributions during the last two election cycles.

“Politicians are bought by special interest groups,’’ he said.

But Giles said Whittaker conveniently left out the contributions he received in the 2016 election.

“He accepted donations from the very same people he is attacking,’’ Giles said.

Whittaker said he was a political novice during his first election and he did not fully understand how the system worked. He said he personally financed both of his campaigns, in 2016 and 2020, but money from developers was donated after he won election.

“I think it’s fraud,’’ Whittaker said.

But Luna said he is not bought and paid for by anyone and he resents Whittaker’s accusations that he is corrupt.

“What he is trying to illustrate is that we are corrupt, we are bound by special interests. That is not the case,’’ Luna said. “It doesn’t mean they are going to get what they want.’’

Spilsbury said that Craig Cardon, a developer and an old friend of hers, contributed to her campaign, as did several members of his firm. She said she hasn’t promised him any favorable votes in return.

“I could not tell you what they do in Mesa,’’ Spilsbury said. “There are zero strings attached.’’

Maricopa County will begin mailing early ballots on July 8 for the Aug. 4.

All registered voters will have the opportunity to cast ballots. Voters registered with a specific political party will also be able to vote in their party’s state legislative and Congressional primaries.

Mesa voters who are not affiliated with a political party and are on the early voting list will not automatically receive a ballot by mail.

In order to receive a ballot, those voters must contact the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office to request a political party’s ballot or a Mesa-only ballot. They can call 602-506-1511 or go to  recorder.maricopa.gov/earlyvotingballot/earlyvotingballotrequest.aspx.

The deadline to register for the  primary is July 6 and the deadline to request a mail-in ballot is July 24. The last day to mail back a mail-in ballot is July 29.

Vote Centers for people to vote in person or drop off ballots will open in phases with five locations beginning Wednesday and 90-100 locations on Election Day. For a list of Vote Centers and hours of operations, go to Locations.Maricopa.Vote.

Voters will not have assigned polling locations on Election Day. Because of COVID-19, the county is moving to a “vote-anywhere” model instead.

The county expects up to 600,000 ballots to be cast in the primary, a potentially historic voter turnout.

While the council and mayoral races are nonpartisan, there is one hot partisan race in Mesa and plenty of fireworks – mainly among Republicans – in county and legislative races.

Two Republicans are battling each other in the races for North Mesa justice of the peace and for constable. Incumbent Kyre Jones is facing a challenge from current constable Ed Malles while Jon Curtis and Robin Carlos Beach are duking it out for the constable position.

County races

For the Maricopa County races, the only primary contest involving a member of the Board of Supervisors is in Mesa, where incumbent Republic Steve Chuchri is facing a challenge from Kyle Cloud.

In the county assessor primary, former Gilbert Councilman Cook is squaring off against fellow Republican Rodney Glassman for their party’s nomination. The victor will battle unopposed Democrat Aaron Connor.

In the County Attorney’s race, incumbent Republican Allister Adel has no opponent while Democrats Julie Gunnigle, Will Knight and Bob McWhirter are vying for their party’s nomination.

The county recorder race has Republicans Stephen Richer and perennial candidate Clair Van Steenwyk seeing the nomination and the Democrat and incumbent Adrian Fontes is unopposed until November.

County Treasurer Royce Flora is facing a challenge from fellow Republican John Allen in the primary while Democrat Daniel Toporek skates free until November.

The county sheriff’s race is highly contested with former lawman Joe Arpaio battling against Lehland Burton, Mike Crawford and Jerry Sheridan for the Republican nomination. The winner faces Democratic Sheriff Paul Penzone, who is unopposed in his primary.

Legislative races

In the three main legislative districts covering most of Mesa, most of the action is among Republicans.

In LD 16, where incumbent Rep. Kelly Townsend has no opposition in her bid to take over the Senate seat from retiring Dave Farnsworth, there’s a four-way struggle for two House nominations. Incumbent John Fillmore is running again.Opponents are Forrest John Moriarty, owner of an advertising firm; attorney Jacqueline Parker, legal policy advisor to the state Corporation Commission; and respiratory therapist Lisa Godzich, former president of Mesa Republican Women.

A three-way scramble for the two House seats in LD 25 is pitting incumbents House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Michelle Udall against Kathy Pearce, who is aiming for Udall’s seat. 

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