Senator tied to 'New Times' inquiry is facing criticism


Casey Newton

The Arizona Republic

Jan. 5, 2006


A state senator investigating a disputed legislative recount could face an investigation himself over his methods, which have drawn bipartisan criticism.


Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, is the subject of a formal complaint filed this week by a member of the Senate's Ethics Committee.


The complaint argues Harper might have acted improperly in issuing a legislative subpoena to assist in an inquiry funded by New Times.


The newspaper paid $3,000 for a University of Iowa computer-science expert to examine voting machines used in the 2004 District 20 primary race. The expert, Douglas W. Jones, was allowed to inspect the machines last month as a result of Harper's subpoenas.


"Such conduct raises grave ethical concerns," wrote Sen. Bill Brotherton, D-Phoenix, in his complaint to the committee's chairman.


Harper moved to fund the investigation privately after Senate President Ken Bennett would not allow the Senate to pay for it.


Harper told reporters Wednesday that he welcomed an investigation into his tactics and said he was comfortable he had acted ethically.


"I have had the purest of motives in trying to get to the bottom of the voting irregularities from the September 2004 primary election," he said.


Harper said the U.S. Justice Department should investigate the disputed election, in which John McComish defeated Anton Orlich after a recount found more than 400 new votes and reversed the initial outcome


Brotherton said he filed a complaint because of the appearance that Harper had used his power as a legislator to obtain a scoop for a newspaper.


"New Times shouldn't have control over this report," Brotherton said, referring to Jones' study of the voting machines. "If there is an agreement to that effect, I think that that would be a problem, an ethical problem."


Jones said Wednesday that his final report would be made public. But it was unclear whether the New Times would get it first, as editors there have said they would.


"The agreement is very vague, so I don't think it's possible to clarify 'vague,' " Jones said. "It's sort of a strange affair."


New Times Executive Editor Michael Lacey did not respond to a request for comment.


Harper, chairman of the Senate Government Accountability and Reform Committee, also is seeking access to the ballots from the primary.


But Harper said he had asked a Superior Court judge to postpone a Jan. 13 hearing on his motion to inspect the ballots. The senator said he first wants to read Jones' report on the voting machines, which is expected in about a week.


Asked whether he would allow New Times to fund the ballot inspection, should one be allowed, Harper said only, "I don't think so."


Copyright 2006, All rights reserved.



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