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Bowers Recall Campaign Gets Unlikely Boost From Mesa Referendum

An effort to recall House Speaker Rusty Bowers is getting an unlikely boost from a separate effort to repeal Mesa’s recently passed non-discrimination ordinance.

The two campaigns aren’t coordinating directly, but some signature gatherers in Mesa have carried petitions for both the referendum and the Bowers recall, as well as a longshot bid to recall Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey. Supporters of the effort to recall Bowers are angered the speaker didn't call lawmakers back to the Capitol during the coronavirus pandemic or call a special session to overturn the presidential election results.

The leaders of the referendum campaign say they don’t support either recall effort. Political consultant George Khalaf said he’s instructed anyone gathering for the referendum — volunteers or paid circulators — not to gather signatures for either recall campaign.

However, Khalaf also said there are hundreds of petition sheets in the field, and there may still be circulators collecting for the referendum and recalls simultaneously.

“I can’t control what every gatherer does,” Khalaf said.

Before the anti-discrimination referendum entered the fold, Andrew Chavez said the effort to recall Bowers was sure to fail.

“Now I think it’s 50/50,” said Chavez, the owner of Petition Partners, a signature-gathering firm that’s not working for any of the campaigns.

Chavez said the recall campaign for Bowers, a Republican who represents large portions of Mesa, is essentially able to ride the coattails of the well-financed referendum campaign. The referendum is backed not only by Khalaf, a prominent GOP consultant, but Cathi Herrod and the Center for Arizona Policy, a powerful conservative lobbying group.

Chavez said the challenge for a circulator is getting voters to stop and listen to their pitch, regardless of the issue on the petition. But if they can capture someone’s attention using the non-discrimination referendum, Chavez said it’s easier to then persuade them to sign a recall petition as well.

Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at the Hugh. L Carey Institute at Wagner College and author of the Recall Elections blog, said he hasn’t seen research to support that theory, but it makes sense.

“It seems very logical that it would work that way, that if somebody is willing to sign a petition, they’re willing to sign two petitions,” Spivak said. “The big problem is getting somebody to sign any petition.”

Paid circulators have even more incentive to get voters to sign multiple petitions. While Arizona law prohibits circulators from being paid per signature while collecting for statewide ballot initiatives and referenda, no such prohibition exists for local measures.

The referendum campaign needs nearly 9,100 signatures by April 1 to put Mesa’s non-discrimination ordinace up for a citywide vote.

Those wishing to recall Bowers must collect roughly 22,300 signatures by June 17.

Ben Giles is a senior editor at KJZZ.