Court battle shaping up over San Luis candidate's eligibility
- San Luis asking candidate to prove English proficiency - Dec. 31, 2011
- Candidate’s English fluency to be further tested - Jan. 13, 2012
- San Luis candidate removed from ballot (with video from hearing) - Jan. 25, 2012
- Candidate confirms she will appeal decision removing her from ballot - Jan. 28, 2012
SAN LUIS, Ariz. — A city council candidate here faces a possible court fight to stay on the ballot as her supporters weigh the option of running a write-in candidate in her place if she loses her battle.
The city council recently approved filing a special statutory action in Yuma County Superior Court asking that Alejandrina Cabrera be required to prove she has the English fluency and literacy skills required under state law to serve on the council.
A hearing on the filing is set for next Friday before Judge John Nelson in Yuma County Superior Court.
Cabrera declined to comment prior to the hearing, but her campaign coordinator said the filing is political payback for two unsuccessful efforts she recently led to recall San Luis Mayor Juan Carlos Escamilla.
Cabrera was among 10 candidates to file nomination petitions in December to run for four council seats in the city's March primary election.
She is running with former Mayor Nieves Riedel, ex-councilman Archibaldo Gurrola and candidate Ricardo Salazar in a joint campaign coordinated by Jorge “Toto” Reyes, a former San Luis Parks and Recreation Department employee who organized the city's youth athletic programs.
Riedel, a San Luis businesswoman, had run against Escamilla in 2010 when he won re-election.
Beside asking that Cabrera prove English proficiency, the filing asks the court to instruct San Luis City Clerk Sonia Cuello's office whether to remove her name from the ballot.
In case Cabrera loses her bid to stay on the ballot, the campaign has taken out petitions from the clerk's office to nominate another candidate to run in her place as a write-in candidate, Reyes said. The deadline for candidates to petition to include their names on the March ballot has passed.
“We are not discouraged by the fact that they are trying to disqualify her; on the contrary, it's a sign that they are worried,” Reyes said. “I would say that it is Escamilla's personal revenge against her because it was her who promoted the recall against him.”
Cabrera began circulating petitions to recall Escamilla in April after the council hiked utility rates and approved the layoffs of 12 city employees as part of spending cuts to balance the budget. Reyes was one of the laid-off employees.
The first recall attempt was annulled when the city clerk's office determined Escamilla's opponents had not complied with state law when collecting petition signatures. That prompted a second attempt that failed when a review of the petitions by the Yuma County Recorder's Office found that organizers had not collected enough signatures from qualified voters to force Escamilla into a recall election.
Reyes said Cabrera is proficient in English, given that she completed high school in Yuma — at the same time and school as Escamilla.
Escamilla conceded he attended Kofa High with him. “But that doesn't mean she's proficient in English. I know several people who graduated and don't know English. What we are asking is that she prove she meets the requirement to hold office.”
Reyes alleged the city filed the court action “at the whim” of Guillermina Fuentes, an opponent of Riedel who had worked in Escamilla's successful campaign for re-election. The city filing stems from a Dec. 14 complaint made to the council by Fuentes, who alleged that Cabrera is not fluent in English.
“It's a shame that the city would spend $30,000 just on the whim of that lady,” said Reyes.
He was referring to the amount the council had set as a cap for contesting Cabrera's candidacy in court.
Fuentes, herself a former San Luis, said neither she nor the city is acting on a whim.
“The council is doing the right thing. I did something that is within the law, that the council did, too. They are bothered by that, and that is understandable. The only thing we want is for that woman to show us, the citizens, that she is qualified for the public post that she is seeking.”