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Arizona Green Party accuses candidates of hijacking party's U.S. Senate primary

The only two Green Party candidates that could appear on primary ballots in the race for Arizona’s open U.S. Senate seat have no connections to the Arizona Green Party, a party official said.

Scottsdale resident Mike Norton and Yuma resident Arturo Hernandez both gathered more than the 1,288 signatures required to qualify for the Green Party’s U.S. Senate primary in July. Both candidates entered the race in March, just weeks before the deadline to turn in those signatures.

But Cody Hannah, co-chair of the Arizona Green Party, said no one involved in Green Party politics had heard of either candidate before they entered the race.

“Most of us who are engaged enough to run for office have at least at some point volunteered and done some of the lower tier things that a lot of people do when they get into a political party,” Hannah said. “So the first big red flag is that we didn't know either of these people.”

Hannah alleged Norton and Hernandez are spoiler candidates, propped up by the Republicans and Democrats in order to siphon support away from the Arizona Green Party’s chosen candidate, Pima County Green Party Chair Eduardo Quintana. 

There are less than 3,000 registered Green Party voters in the state. But a Green candidate could pull in enough votes in the general election to swing the U.S. Senate race one way or the other. In 2022, one statewide race in Arizona was decided by 280 votes.

Hannah said that’s an incentive for the major parties to meddle in the Green primary.

The Arizona Green Party is currently challenging Hernandez’s candidacy in court. The lawsuit alleges hundreds of signatures gathered by his campaign should be thrown out for a variety of deficiencies, including allegations that some signers were not Green Party members or were not registered to vote at all. 

And, in one case, a petition sheet with 10 signatures submitted by Hernandez’s campaign did not list Hernandez at all. It lists Libertarian Alan Aversa, who is running in Congressional District 3.

“A nomination petition that lists an entirely different candidate seeking the nomination of a different political party for a different office would undoubtedly confuse and mislead voters,” according to the lawsuit.

Hernandez did not respond to a request to explain his platforms or connections to the Green Party.

Norton refused to answer similar questions, but did accuse Hernandez of being a Republican plant.

Norton pointed out that Hernandez’s campaign treasurer is Chrissie Hastie, a campaign finance consultant from Nevada who has ties to Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo. According to the Nevada Independent, Hastie is on the board of directors of a non-profit organization that started out as Lombardo’s inaugural fund and later was sued to run ads targeting Democratic lawmakers. The Hernandez campaign also hired Republican attorney Kory Langhofer to defend it against the candidacy challenge.

Both Norton and the Arizona Green Party also questioned the accuracy of Hernandez’s financial reports. The campaign’s only report, which covers Jan. 1 to March 31, reports no income and no expenses but critics claim the campaign utilized paid petition circulators to collect signatures in March.  

“Signature gatherers and lawyers to defend the signatures cost real [money],” Norton said. “Why is Hernandez keeping the source a secret?”

Norton, for his part, included more information on his campaign finance reports — which the Green Party cited as evidence that he is a plant supported by Arizona Democrats.

Norton’s finance report shows he received a total of $37,500, most of which came from donors aligned with the Democratic Party. That includes Democratic megadonors Paul Bernon, Michael D. Smith and David Steinglass along with Devin Rhinerson, who was a policy advisor to the late U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).    

Norton also received contributions from three political action committees that have already endorsed Congressman Ruben Gallego, the presumptive Democratic nominee in Arizona’s U.S. Senate race.

“Candidates lie, FEC reports don’t,” Hannah said.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and those PACs did not respond to requests for comment.

It’s a dubious haul for Norton, who is not a well-known political entity in Arizona. Prior to entering the Senate race, he was active in local politics in Scottsdale, having traded barbs with city council members in the ongoing debate over tall buildings and  volunteered on campaigns to pass school district and city ballot measures

Unlike Hernandez, Norton is not facing a legal challenge to boot him from the ballot. 

Hannah, the Arizona Green Party co-chair, said the party wanted to challenge Norton’s petitions but lacked the money and manpower.

“So we had a lot on our plate and a very small group of volunteers to do all that work. so unfortunately, the signature challenge didn't work out,” he said.

On his campaign website, Norton describes himself as a former Republican and Independent, who has long opposed “the rise of extreme politics in America and is now taking his activism to the next level with a run for the United States Senate as the Green Party’s nominee.”

Norton’s Green conversion was very recent.

Voter registration records show he registered as a member of the Green Party on March 17, the same day he filed a statement of interest to run for U.S. Senate under the Green banner.

Quintana, the Green Party write-in candidate, also pointed out that Norton’s professional background appears at odds with many pieces of the Green Party platform, including demilitarization. 

According to Norton’s LinkedIn profile, he has two decades of experience working with companies that transport “arms, ammunition, explosives and radioactive materials.”

Though Norton and Hernandez do not have strong ties to the party, they have one significant advantage over Quintana: they will actually appear on the primary ballot.

Quintana, on the other hand, is running a write-in campaign, meaning Green voters will have to physically write in his name on their ballots. He said the party made the decision to run him as a write-in candidate to avoid the cost of collecting signatures to qualify for the primary ballot.

That decision was made before Norton or Hernandez entered the race, with the expectation Quintana would, as the only candidate running, receive the write-in votes needed to qualify for the general election ballot.

“We're a very small organization with very few resources,” he said. “We know each other, we see each other at meetings. We've been discussing it for quite a while…And so it was just known and accepted that I would be the candidate.”

If he were running unopposed, Quintana would have needed to pick up 1,288 write-in votes to have his name placed on the general election ballot alongside the Democratic and Republican candidates for U.S. Senate.

But now Quintana is stuck in a potential three way race with Norton and Hernandez, candidates he said do not represent the Green Party platform, which focuses on demilitarization, addressing climate change and combating income inequality.

“They not only do not share our platform, but they're an antithesis to our platform,” Quintana said.

This isn’t the first time outside forces have been accused of meddling in Green Party Politics. 

Hannah said the same thing happened in 2018 when Green Party candidate Angela Green dropped out of a three-way race days before the election and endorsed then-Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, who went on to defeat Republican Martha McSally. 

“So I think that this is sort of their Plan B, their Hail Mary,” Hannah said. “And as we know in 2018 with Angela Green waiting until the very last minute to drop out and endorse Kyrsten Sinema, which was not a decision that we endorsed, I think that those kinds of situations make the inner parts of the Democratic Party sweat.” 

Over 57,000 voters still picked Green in that election, which Sinema won by 56,000 votes.

Wayne Schutsky is a broadcast field correspondent covering Arizona politics on KJZZ. He has over a decade of experience as a journalist reporting on local communities in Arizona and the state Capitol.