State Rep. Brenda Barton (R-Payson) Tuesday called a press conference to publicize her demand that the State Senate Ethics Committee launch an investigation into the conduct of state Sen. Rich Crandall (R-Mesa) for allegedly threatening to block her legislation.
But Crandall, who heads the senate education committee, said Barton had cursed his teenaged daughter in the course of a plan Barton hatched with his Republican primary opponent to create a controversy about campaign signs. He said Barton’s abuse and her release of photos of his daughter that provoked “vile” e-mails about his daughter incited his angry phone call.
In a prepared statement, Barton wrote “making up prevaricated stories to change the focus of the real issue to making me the subject of misdeeds. Then attempting to bully me into submission will not be tolerated. Senator Crandall and I are equal; yet he feels he can speak to me in a demeaning and humiliating manner.”
Barton has categorically denied she used swear words in confronting Crandall’s daughter. “She said, ‘I’m not a cursing kind of person.’”
She also released an audio recording of a message Crandall left on her answering machine saying, “I’m furious at you right now. You better not try to run any education legislation next year ... you cursed and said the ‘damn’ word to her. This is so juvenile and so immature. You didn’t even know all the facts. This is the dishonestest behavior I think I’ve ever seen. You need to grow up.”
In a telephone interview, Crandall said Barton took pictures of his daughter and a friend who were replacing a sign his opponent, Rep. John Fillmore, put up on Crandall’s signposts. Barton then confronted his daughter, swore at her and then promptly e-mailed the photos to Fillmore, who put them out on the Internet, said Crandall. Fillmore then filed a criminal complaint against Crandall’s daughter.
“I had no idea this was part of a bigger, sinister campaign purpose here,” said Crandall of Barton’s actions. “She and Fillmore are cut from the same cloth politically. Since Brenda did this — e-mailed this picture — I have received some of the vilest, disgusting comments from Fillmore supporters about my daughter. I would love to have an ethics hearing and read these — and say as a direct result of your actions, this is what people are saying. This is over the line. Mess with candidates all you want, but Fillmore is the only candidate in Arizona who is attacking someone’s kids.”
Rep. Barton moved from Safford to Payson this year in order to run for re-election in the redrawn Legislative District 6, which includes northern Gila County, the Verde Valley, Sedona, Flagstaff and Heber. She’s unopposed in the Republican primary, but faces a strong slate of Democratic candidates in a brand new district that leans Republican, but could prove a swing district.
The allegations have landed like a hand grenade in an already bitter Republican primary battle, provoked by redistricting. The new district lines shifted about half of Crandall’s voters into a new district, so he moved to run in the new district. As it happens, the new district also included about half of Representative Fillmore’s old district, so he decided to run for senate.
The blow-up dates back to last week when Burton and her husband confronted Crandall’s daughter and a friend as they were exchanging a Fillmore sign for a Crandall sign on a busy street corner in Mesa.
Crandall says that he mounted a campaign sign at the location, which blew off in a thunderstorm. He insists Fillmore then replaced the missing sign with one of his own. When his daughter reported the switch, Crandall told her to replace the sign.
However, Fillmore insists that he’d had his own sign on that corner for at least a month and that Crandall’s daughter and her friend illegally tore down his sign to replace it with one of her father’s.
Barton said she was staying at her in-laws’ house in Mesa and was on her way back from a doctor’s appointment when she noticed the two teen girls replacing the sign.
Crandall has raised questions about whether it was just a coincidence. “She said she just happened to be driving through that part of Mesa — you know, she lives in Payson and Safford, but happened to be driving through.”
However, Barton insists it was just happenstance.
Barton says she asked the girls what they were doing, but expressed doubt about their story. She said she identified herself as a member of the Legislature, but didn’t give the girls her name. When Barton asked them for identification, they put Fillmore’s sign back up and “fled.”
Barton said that within minutes Sen. Crandall called her on her cell phone and said “are you driving around East Mesa today?” She said the call was friendly and when he asked about the sign, she suggested he take the matter up with Fillmore.
“I found this unusual since I had not identified myself by name to the two young women. I thought nothing of this incident.”
She said she later got a phone call from a reporter, who told her that Sen. Crandall claimed she had cursed his daughter and had been following her as a “set up” to help Fillmore.
“I phoned Senator Crandall and stated that his allegations were patently false and that I wished for a public retraction and apology.”
Instead, Sen. Crandall called and left a message that seemed to threaten he would use his power as chairman of the education committee to block any laws she might introduce on education. Crandall plays the leading role in the senate when it comes to education bills. He helped move through both the legislation that would have allowed Arizona State University to partner with Payson and several bills to benefit Gila Community College. Legislative committee chairmen have a broad power to kill bills they don’t like.
Barton said Crandall’s threat clearly crossed the line and suggests the ethics committee should strip him of his chairmanship and that he ought to resign.
“Instructing his daughter to commit an infraction of the law and then using his position to make threats, bully and thwart good legislation is clearly behavior not to be tolerated in the Arizona Legislature. This is no longer an issue over sign placement. This is not about a dad defending his daughter. Senator Crandall in his own words told his daughter and friend to do the wrong thing.”
Crandall said, “Should I have counted to 10 before making that call? Maybe. But it’s tough to be objective” when someone has attacked his daughter. He said he wouldn’t block Barton’s bills.
“If it moves the needle in education, I’m not going to get in the way. This is more showboating than anything.”