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GOP accuses Fontes of scheming against them over new prospective political party

The Arizona Republican Party accused Democratic Secretary of State Adrian Fontes of scheming against them while he reviews a new prospective political party that could siphon votes away from GOP candidates. 

A conservative group called the “Patriot Party” filed petitions with the Secretary of State’s Office in October to qualify as become a political party. If there are enough valid signatures on the petitions, the group will qualify for the ballot in 2024. 

The Patriot Party’s mission, as defined on their website, is to “give true constitutional conservatives a voice.” The group’s leader, former Republican lawmaker John Fillmore, said he’s confident they’ll qualify for the ballot.

“We filed enough signatures. We’re going through the process now. The Arizona Republican Party is just miffed because as usual they had their head in the sand,” he said. 

A new political party needs at least 34,127 valid signatures to be recognized in federal, statewide and legislative races. After completing its own review, the Secretary of State’s Office estimated the group does in fact have enough valid signatures. 

Arizona counties are expected to complete their own review of those petitions by Friday.

But Republican Party officials said in a statementthat they’ve done their own analysis and determined the Patriot Party doesn’t have enough valid signatures to qualify, and threatened to sue Fontes if he validates them as a new political party.

They also claimed Fontes didn’t keep them informed when the Patriot Party filed their signatures, didn’t allow them to observe the petition scanning process or get copies of the signatures immediately when they asked for them. 

State GOP officials said they did get incomplete copies of the petitions some time later. 

“When petitions are filed it is important to file challenges in a timely fashion. The Secretary of State’s purposeful placement of roadblocks when the Republican Party is involved costs Republicans considerably more time and money than the Democrats to pursue a similar action,” Arizona Republican Party Chair Jeff DeWit said. 

In contrast, the GOP noted that when the newly verified No Labels party filed with Fontes’ office earlier this year; Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarians were notified before the verification process and all parties were able to send observers. 

“The Office of Secretary of State serves a vital purpose for protecting the integrity of our elections, and Fontes needs to stop playing favorites with Democrats,” DeWit said.

A spokesperson for Fontes did not respond to a request for comment.

Political consultant Chuck Coughlin said it makes sense that Republicans feel threatened by a competing conservative movement. 

“They want to prevent the Patriot Party from being a recognized political party because it would diminish the unifying strength of the GOP,” he said.

Coughlin said the Patriot Party represents a threat to Republican candidates, much like No Labels is considered a threat to Democratic candidates. In fact, the Arizona Democratic Party sued Fontes when he verified No Labels as a new political party, arguing that it shouldn’t qualify because it doesn’t operate like other political parties do.

Camryn Sanchez is a field correspondent at KJZZ covering everything to do with state politics.