Journalists’ Roundtable: Gary Pierce bribery trial, election ballot, Ken Bennett tweet
June 1, 2018
Local journalists discuss the complexity of the bribery case involving former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce, the questionable names that will be on the next ballot and a controversial tweet from Ken Bennett.
The trial of Gary Pierce
Pierce and three others attended trial this week on bribery charges to give their opening statements. It boils down to the allegation that Pierce took a $31,000 financial offering and approximately $350,000 land offering from Johnson Utilities Owner George Johnson.
The defense, on the other hand, is pointing out that it’s not a bribe if work was performed, and it also requires three commissioners to vote for something to pass. Pierce’s wife, Sherry, was had a job at Johnson Utilities where she was earning about $3,500 a month for nine months. The money was given to her by Kelly Norton, the ex-wife of lobbyist Jim Norton.
“Supposedly it (the money being given to Sherry) was a pay off for Gary’s vote,” Howard Fischer with Capitol Media Times says. “They’re (the defense) saying if she performed any work, federal bribery statutes don’t cover it. You’ve got the last piece of it which is these votes required three commissioners so Gary couldn’t have done it himself. That’s the essence of the defense argument.”
The prosecution’s case, Capitol Media Times’ Luigi Del Puerto says, is to make this as simple as possible. They’re best bet is to make this just an issue of bribery. There’s also a key prosecution witness, Kelly Norton. The divorce was not an easy one, and the prosecution is trying for the angle of vengeful ex-wife.
“The defense is going to get into the nitty gritty details of what the corporation commission is, what the corporation commission does, how many votes it takes to do something, the history of the commission, Johnson Utilities, what constitutes a quid pro quo,” Dianna Nañez with The Arizona Republic says. “That’s the job of the defense. They will use everything at their ability to make that case.”
Plea bargains were offered early on, suggesting that this trial may just be the tip of the iceberg. Fischer guesses that prosecutors have bigger fish to fry.
“This case originally started several years ago with the FBI looking into Justin Pierce, who was running for Secretary of State, and whether Gary Pierce was using his influence maybe to get APS or somebody to help on Justin’s SOS race,” Fischer says. “That still may be out there.”
Election ballots finalized
There are a few names on the finalized election ballots that have people scratching their heads. One of those names is Don Shooter, former representative who was expelled for sexual harassment allegations. It seems that Shooter will be running for the state legislature while simultaneously suing the state.
“We are not surprised by this if you’ve had conversations internally within these organizations because he does not feel like he was treated fairly,” Nañez says. “He did not feel like the process by which he was ousted respected a certain ruling for the ethics committee. He did not feel like voters were respected who elected him.”
Related: House Speaker Mesnard explains decision to remove Rep. Shooter based on sexual harassment allegations
Shooter has filed a claim, and he will be suing sometime this month. He stated he would settle for $1.3 million.
“First of all, lawsuits lead to a whole bunch of discoveries of interesting documents that we have not seen yet …,” Fischer says. “His claim is that there were allegations against people like Michelle Ugenti-Rita and others and it was sort of a white wash with what was going on with her and the others.”
Tim Jeffries will be running for Senate after being fired as director of the Department of Economic Security. Those on the Journalists’ Roundtable don’t believe his odds are in his favor. He was fired for misuse of the state plane and keeping weapons in the basement of DES, Fischer says.
Another name on the ballot will be former Speaker of the House David Gowan. After an investigation done by Del Puerto and those at Capitol Media Services, Gowan had to repay the state about $12,000 after claiming he was working more days than he really was.
Ken Bennett tweet
Senator John McCain is experiencing serious health issues, and there has been concern that he won’t be able to complete his term. Governor Doug Ducey visited McCain recently, and there was speculation that they were coming up with a deal for the senator’s wife, Cindy, to take over if he isn’t well enough to continue. Nothing has been confirmed, but people were not quiet on how they felt about the possibility.
Ken Bennett, who is currently running for governor, sent a tweet on Thursday saying he promises to not appoint Cindy McCain to the Senate.
I promise I will not appoint Cindy McCain to US Senate as Gov of AZ. #bennettforgov
— Ken Bennett (@BennettArizona) May 31, 2018
“Ken Bennett is running for a race where he is at a deficit in time and money and headlines,” Nañez says. “He’s using strategies we’ve seen used before. What remains to be seen is how the public will view those strategies.”
Fischer says Bennett was taking advantage of the anti-McCain sentiment among some conservatives at the moment. The Arizona senator upset many within his party for voting against the repeal of Obamacare.
Within an hour, there was a statement from Ducey’s office on Bennett’s comment. Daniel Scarpinato, spokesman for Ducey, released the following statement.
The statement speaks for itself. We are honestly in shock that he would stoop so low and say something that’s so clearly in poor taste. Ken Bennett has disqualified himself from consideration by anyone with any sense of decency. He should be ashamed of himself.
— Daniel Scarpinato (@Scarpinato) May 31, 2018
Whether you agree with Bennett or not, Bennett got his name in some headlines which was the goal, Nañez says. He went down “Trump highway,” she says, by being controversial on Twitter.