District 13 GOP winner's address questioned
Political newcomer Darin Mitchell defeated Yuma incumbent legislator Russ Jones in the Aug. 28 primary election, but he'll likely find himself in court before he takes his seat in the Arizona House of Representatives.
Jones says Mitchell should not have been on the ballot because he lives in a home outside Legislative District 13, where he ran for office.
Mitchell claimed in a sworn affidavit that he lives in a 3,600-square-foot home on a golf course on Acacia Circle in Litchfield Park. In reality, according to a report in the Arizona Capitol Times, the home is vacant, with mattresses covering the front windows, a construction Dumpster in the driveway and construction permits taped to the window.
A neighbor was the first to report that Mitchell wasn't telling the truth. Mary Wilkening was flipping through her Clean Elections guide when she noticed Mitchell had listed his address as the house across the street from hers, Arizona Capitol Times reported. Wilkening knew the home had been empty for more than a year and contacted Jones, figuring Mitchell's opponent would want to know.
In a telephone interview with Arizona Capitol Times, Mitchell acknowledged he lives with his girlfriend in a home outside the district but said he has also spent some time at the house on Acacia. He said he plans to move into that home after renovation is finished and the election is over.
District 13 is predominantly Republican, while the district where Mitchell actually resides consists mostly of Democrats.
Mitchell did not respond to phone calls and email from the Yuma Sun seeking comment.
Jones, a two-term lawmaker from Yuma, lost his re-election bid in the Republican primary in Legislative District 13 to Mitchell, a home inspector from Avondale. There were 7,294 votes for Jones and 8,572 votes for Mitchell, a difference of 1,278 votes.
A third Republican candidate, Steve Montenegro, led the race with 10,189 votes, or 39.03 percent.
The two candidates with the most votes will represent the newly formed district that stretches from Yuma to the western edges of Phoenix. There were no Democratic candidates.
Jones said he has retained elections law attorney Thomas Ryan of Chandler. “I definitely plan to challenge it and take it to court.”
It's not just about the results of the election, Jones said. “It's the right thing to do. Someone runs for office under false pretenses ... voters deserve better.”
Ryan said he believes the law is clear under Title 16 that a candidate for office must live in the district he will represent. “Mitchell created a false statement of his residency. This is problematic. He doesn't live in the district in which he ran. This means one district will be overrepresented and the other underrepresented.”
The issue just came to light, Ryan said, and he will be filing a lawsuit “posthaste” as Jones' right to challenge will end Sept. 14 when the ballots for the Nov. 6 general election are scheduled to be printed.
Ryan said he will file the lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court as by law the Arizona Office of Secretary of State will be listed as one of the defendants.
That's so the state office can provide copies of paperwork needed by the court for the case.
The residency challenge raises a question about what happens to Mitchell's seat if the court finds against him and declares his position vacant, said Matthew Roberts, spokesman for the Office of the Secretary of State.
Roberts said residency challenges of political candidates isn't unprecedented. But it is unusual that the challenge comes after an election.
“Usually, a challenge is filed as soon as the nomination paperwork is filed,” he said.
Ryan agreed that this case is unusual, coming after the primary election.
However, he said, he believes that if Mitchell is disqualified, the candidate with the next most votes, in this case Jones, would advance to the general election.