Thu, Jan. 23

Huppenthall allowed to stay on AZ ballot

PHOENIX -- A Republican candidate for state school superintendent won't be thrown off the ballot even though he broke state campaign laws.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Robert Oberbillig rejected arguments by John Huppenthal that he was legally entitled to start gathering signatures on nominating petitions last year, when he had formed only an exploratory committee. Oberbillig said that is contrary to state law which requires establishment of a full-blown campaign committee to circulate petitions.

But the judge rejected a request by Rhonda Barnes, an attorney for Democratic interests, to disallow any of the signatures that Huppenthal had gathered before he formed that exploratory committee on Jan. 11. That would have ended his campaign, as all of his more than 11,000 signatures were collected before that date.

Oberbillig said the only penalty under state law for illegally collecting signatures on nominating petitions is a fine, which can be up to $1,000. The judge said if legislators had wanted to void the petitions, they should have written the law that way.

Huppenthal, a state senator who represents Chandler, was legally precluded from forming a campaign committee before this past January.

That is because the Arizona Constitution bars elected officials from running for any other office before the last year of their terms. And Huppenthal's latest two-year term does not end until the second week of next January.

Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, who chairs the Senate Government Committee, said the law needs clarification.

He said the same thing happened in his 2004 campaign when a foe in the Republican primary had gathered signatures while having only an exploratory committee. But a judge at that time refused to bar her from running for office.

Harper said he subsequently crafted legislation to spell out that signatures cannot be collected under an exploratory committee. The proposal, however, never became law.

The ruling means Huppenthal remains in the primary against Margaret Dugan and Beth Price. Whoever remains will run against the survivor of the Democratic race between Penny Kotterman and Jason Williams.

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