Lawmakers lose election but refuse to leave
Citizens outraged by 'violation of Constitution'
What would happen if an election took place, and the incumbent losers refused to leave office?
That’s exactly the situation in Quartzsite, Ariz., where two winning candidates for the positions of mayor and town councilman are not being allowed to be seated.
Quartzsite is the town that gained national attention last June when police grabbed a woman who was speaking at a town-council meeting and frogmarched her from the event. (Scroll down for video).
The 2012 municipal election took place May 15, but the old town council in Quartzsite has since refused to seat Ed Foster as mayor and Mark Orgeron as councilman.
Foster collected 56 percent of the vote to easily defeat opponent Jerry Lukkasson, but officials claim he cannot be seated because of an unpaid debt to the town, and so Jose Lizarraga remains at the helm for now.
Orgeron defeated Vice Mayor Barbara Cowell, but is not being seated, as officials dispute his residency in the town.
“This is outrageous,” says Chris Rossiter of the Greater Phoenix Tea Party Patriots. “The tea party will not tolerate corruption in public office.”
A rally is being held today at the Arizona Capitol Senate building to express support for Foster and Orgeron, as well as disdain for the councilmembers who lost and refuse to go.
Meanwhile, Orgeron has filed federal legal action, looking for a judge to force the incumbents from office.
Among the points mentioned in his complaint, Orgeron says both he and Ed Foster are legally qualified to be lawmakers in the town, and are, in fact, the legitimate officeholders now since they won the election, with their terms starting immediately.
“The mayor is no longer the mayor of the town, and cannot legitimately exercise the powers of office, and the vice mayor is no longer the vice mayor of the town or a member of the town council and cannot legitimately exercise the powers of office,” the complaint states.
The Arizona Republic reported Foster has filed papers asking La Paz County Attorney Sam Vederman to file a writ under a state law allowing a court to remove usurpers from public office and seat a legitimate candidate.
Vederman told the paper the situation in Quartzsite is volatile, and that he worries about violence breaking out.
“We’re exploring the entire situation,” Vederman said. “A lot of people are concerned there could be violations (of Arizona law). I just want everyone to remain calm.”
Orgeron, 50, maintains he is indeed a resident of Quartzsite, having moved there in July 2009, and says he has “been a resident of the town continuously since then.”
He is currently the head teacher at Quartzsite Elementary School.
“I believe the current town council and city government have stifled the voters,” Orgeron told the Republic. “We need to turn that town back over to the people.”
Vice Mayor Cowell says Foster was disqualified because he did not pay court-ordered attorney fees from a lawsuit he lost against the town.
In recent years, Quartzsite adopted an rule banning municipal debtors from holding office, but many dispute the legality of such a law, claiming it violates the rights of both voters and candidates.
Tim Casey, a Phoenix attorney who practices election law, told the Republic that under Quartzsite’s ordinance, a resident could not hold office if he or she had an unpaid traffic ticket or was contesting a municipal fee.
“I would think there would be a number of constitutional problems with that,” Casey said. “It would seem to be an impermissible limitation on public service and a violation of the will of voters.”
Quartzsite’s population is estimated by the Census Bureau to be less than 4,000, and there were only 706 ballots cast in last month’s mayoral race.
Town Manager Alex Taft said this week that 168 votes are under investigation for possible fraud.
Cowell told the Republic she and other incumbents believe “something is not right” because about 300 new voters registered before the election, including some staying on federal lands.
“We have proof that there were (three) people who were dead who voted,” Cowell added.
As WND reported last summer, Quartzsite gained national attention when a YouTube video surfaced showing local resident Jennifer Jones being forcibly removed from a council meeting while she had the floor during the public-speaking portion of the event.
When WND asked Jones about the councilmembers, she said, “I liken them to monkeys in the zoo. They make a lot of noise and throw a lot of feces around, but at the end of the day they’re just primates and don’t deserve to be writing checks for [a town of] about 3,800 people. They don’t deserve to be managing money. They don’t act like they’re at the top of the food chain. It’s embarrassing.”