Incompetent or Ingenious?

Some volunteers in the failed recall of Gov. Brewer question the organizer's efforts

In January, a Chandler Republican named Mimi Pryor fired up a grassroots effort to recall Gov. Jan Brewer. In May, that recall campaign ground to an unsuccessful halt.

Those two end-points are solid. It's what happened in between that's become a matter of furious debate, as some volunteers question Pryor's intentions—and accuse her of gross incompetence.

Despite formidable odds, the recall campaign started off with high hopes and touching rhetoric. A marketing specialist with her own consulting firm, Pryor described to reporters how a sister-in-law in another state relied on Medicaid, as she declined and ultimately died from muscular dystrophy. Pryor told Arizona State University's student paper, The State Press, that she grew appalled by Gov. Brewer's Medicaid budget cuts. "She could not have had the quality of life and hospice care that she needed toward the end of her life without that assistance," she said.

Thus began an effort that culminated four months later with only 37,500 signatures—far short of the 432,000 needed to force Brewer into a recall. Those results, and complaints about Pryor's management, prompted one liberal blogger to label the campaign a "false recall effort."

Pryor fiercely denies that charge.

Among the disenchanted is Frances Alexander, a Tucson volunteer who spent days hustling up petition signatures to have Gov. Brewer booted from office.

Alexander says the campaign left her with a nagging sense that something was seriously awry. "I was very uncomfortable with the events that took place. To me, they defy logic, if you say you feel passionately about this movement and say you're going to head it up. (Pryor's) decisions seem to contradict what the efforts of the movement were for."

Then Alexander pauses. "Or maybe she wasn't genuine about her efforts here," she says of Pryor. "I just wonder where she was coming from."

Similar criticism is leveled by Adrienne Sainz, a young social worker who coordinated the Tucson signature drive. "It was really frustrating that Pryor's lack of knowledge, and maybe her lack of expertise, really hindered us in getting further," Sainz says.

These volunteers claim that many people who visited the group's webpage were misled into believing they could sign a petition online. They argue that Pryor never fully addressed the problem, and instead changed the website button to say people could request petitions to sign, further confusing things.

In addition, they say that Pryor had circulators passing petitions that were not county-specific, as required by Arizona law, which meant that many signatures were ultimately thrown out.

Critics suggest that these were baffling mistakes for someone such as Pryor, who had done plenty of campaign work through her company, American Information Marketing.

"We worked our butts off," says Sainz, "and it was her complacency about certain things—about being in touch with us, about me being able to give appropriate answers to people—that was just odd. I don't know if she had a different agenda or what. But if this is what she wanted to do, I felt like (she) should put her whole heart into it, because you're standing up for the million people in Arizona who don't want Gov. Brewer in office. You're being that voice for them. And actually, she wasn't."

But Pryor says she couldn't have been more committed. "I put everything I have on the line to do this. I have a business that caters to the political market. I've spent 30 years making a mark in Republican circles. I have hurt myself, hurt my business, hurt my standing as a Republican in going up against this governor, which I feel is the right thing to do."

She refutes the smattering of complaints. For instance, she blames confusion over the county-specific signatures on misinformation from the Arizona Secretary of State's Office, a charge disputed by secretary of state spokesman Matt Roberts. Pryor also says she addressed the online signature problem immediately after being notified by Alexander, and suggests that the volunteer's concerns were overblown.

"As soon as I became aware that there were people misinterpreting the very clear form online that said it was a petition request—very clearly labeled—we nonetheless immediately went back and changed it," Pryor says.

The form apparently wasn't quite that clear. Another Tucson volunteer, Terry Higuera, noted that in a May 1 e-mail to Alexander. "Sure looks like if someone clicks 'sign the petition,' they may believe their signature will count as a valid legal voter," Higuera wrote. "... I too have had several people say they have signed online, so this online question may be misleading."

In response, Pryor sent me no fewer than 21 e-mails documenting her various contacts with Tucson volunteers, and she put me in touch with Linda Galli, a Phoenix activist who says she worked hard on the recall—and found Pryor to be an excellent leader. "I'm a woman in my mid-40s, and I've had a lot of experience in the business world," she says. "I thought Mimi ran a very good campaign. She knew what her goals were and what she was trying to achieve. Our biggest problem was the lack of finances."

But to Higuera, the biggest problem remained a lack of effort at the top. For instance, after setting up a radio interview for Pryor on a popular local show, Higuera says Pryor simply backed out.

"Bottom line," Higuera says, "is that I got no help."

Pryor says she was given short notice of the interview and had another commitment.

On May 27, the Committee to Recall Arizona Governor Jan Brewer smacked into the recall deadline with barely a dent in the number of needed signatures. That left folks like Adrienne Sainz very unhappy. "When I found out the numbers, I was appalled," Sainz says.

Others already knew the score. Among them was Pryor, who claims that any signatures lost in the petition confusion were inconsequential. Nor did she want to demoralize volunteers—or tip off Brewer—by revealing the truth, she says. "The numbers were kept secret, so as to not dilute our ability to influence the governor up to the last day."

In the end, Pryor says, the campaign was fundamental in getting Gov. Brewer to reverse her decision on transplant funding; that money was restored in the state budget Brewer signed in April.

Still, others suggest that the biggest winner was Brewer herself, since those petition numbers cast doubt on potential future recall attempts.

(Corrected version: Mimi Pryor's hometown corrected; five-month recall period corrected to four months.)

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