State Rep. Mark Finchem sent a "cease and desist" order to the group petitioning for his recall, threatening to sue the group for defamation.
The Republican, who represents District 11, faces a recall by Rural Arizonans for Accountability, a group of his district's constituents, for spreading voter fraud conspiracy theories and his ties to the "Stop the Steal" rioters at the Jan. 6 Insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Natali Fierros, co-executive Director of Rural Arizona Action, said they were approached by Finchem's constituents to help organize the recall. "We exist to empower people, regular folks who are involved in the democratic system and really recalling an elected official is a power reserved for the people of Arizona by our state's constitution," said Fierros. "If enough registered voters sign that petition and they agree that Finchem does lack integrity, that he is dangerous and an ineffective legislator, then it goes to the voters in that district to get a chance to vote on whether or not they should fire him."
On May 5, the group received a letter from Finchem's lawyers, which according to the Recall Finchem website, "demands Rural Arizonans for Accountability destroy all campaign materials Finchem incorrectly deems 'defamatory' and publish retractions in local newspapers. If not, Finchem's lawyers promise to sue."
Rural Arizonans' lawyers rejected Finchem's demand and stated they would seek sanctions against him should he sue.
"Threats by big money lawyers will not scare us away from recalling a dishonest politician that believes he is too important to do the job voters just hired him to do," said Rural Arizonans for Accountability in a statement on May 13, "We hope that instead of pursuing this frivolous lawsuit, Mr. Finchem comes home to District 11 and does something he seems reluctant to do, work to improve the lives of his constituents."
Finchem did not responded to requests for comment from Tucson Weekly.
While the recall was spurred by his tweets during the Jan. 6 Insurrection and an election integrity hearing he held featuring Rudy Guiliani on Nov. 30, 2020, Fierros said they have seen growing support for his recall with Finchem's continued interviews regarding the election audit in Maricopa County, his announcement to campaign for Arizona Secretary of State and the fight between one of Finchem's supporters and a recall canvasser.
"His growing absurdity and the outlandishness of what he's doing and then for him to announce that he's running for Secretary of State, who in Arizona is the second line for the governorship and who would be controlling our election system, that heightens the awareness of the everyday person," said Fierros.
Finchem filed to run for Secretary of State 25 days after Rural Arizonans launched the recall effort against him. He has based his platform on promises to stop voter fraud and has had several interviews with various internet news sites about the Maricopa County's election audit, including a known QAnon channel, RedPill78.
"It's all compiled, it's the cease and desist. Secretary state filing, the audit, spending all his time in Maricopa County. He's making a case for us, that clearly he's more interested in being on internet shows that allow them to raise money for his new pursuit of Secretary of State," said Fierros.
She also noted there has been greater interest in the recall after a man later identified as Melvyn Hockett fought with a canvasser from Rural Arizonans for Accountability, Aimee Carrillo, and ripped about 17 signed petitions.
According to the May 14 police report, while sitting outside of the Oro Valley Library, Carrillo said Hockett began yelling at her. Hockett grabbed her clipboard and they pulled it back and forth until Carrillo was able to regain it, although Hockett proceeded to rip the petitions.
When police spoke with Hockett at his home, he still appeared upset. He said he'd been harassed by a female. In the report, the officer wrote that Hockett said "she kept wanting him to sign a petition and he kept saying no." Hockett admitted to being frustrated and ripping up her paperwork. He was cited for disorderly conduct and then released at his residence.
"I am a mother of two young kids. Creating a better place for them to grow up was my motivation to get involved in the first place, but this incident makes me feel like I have to work even harder, motivating me to do more for my community and all of Arizona," said Carrillo, who has declined interviews, in a statement through Rural Arizonans. "Violence is not the way to get things done or settle political disagreements. Having voter's signatures taken from my hand and torn up isn't going to stop me from petitioning to remove Mark Finchem. As Arizonans, we have a right to petition and voters have a right to sign petitions and I won't let this incident prevent me from doing my part."
Toni Cani, a spokesperson for the Recall Finchem campaign, said the canvassers are trained to de-escalate and there have been other instances where canvassers have faced someone who was upset or angry. They have since made changes to how they send out their canvassers to maintain their safety.
Fierros said the incident has emboldened their canvassers and everyday folks.
"I think people can identify a bully and when they see something happening like that I think the response that we've seen has been that people are doubling down," said Fierros. "It's united us and that we won't be deterred and we won't be intimidated."
While Fierros said Finchem's actions directly affect District 11 constituents, not holding him accountable would deter democracy.
"Without accountability. It breeds cynicism and cynicism diminishes democracy'" said Fierros. "And ultimately, that hurts us as a state and us as a nation. What Mark Finchem is doing is not new. It's not isolated to just him.... When this kind of behavior goes unchecked, you see what he does next is, 'Let me go for a higher office where I will have more power.' Left unchecked, not held accountable, it becomes a bigger issue so now not only is it LD-11 constituents who are being marginalized. Now you're talking about millions of voters in the state of Arizona who will be dealing with Mark Finchem."
The recall effort would need a minimum of 24,775 valid signatures from registered voters in District 11 by July 8 to succeed. Fierros believes they will meet that deadline and said they are over halfway there.