Election deniers, conspiracy theorists and extremists
The race to fill a vacant North Phoenix seat in the state Senate is between three election skeptics, two of whom have ties to extremist ideologies and one who sought after 2020 to change Arizona law to let legislators overturn presidential election results.
Two weeks ago, Republican Sen. Steve Kaiser, who represents a district in north Phoenix that spans from Deer Valley to Paradise Valley, announced his resignation from the legislature. First elected to the state House of Representatives in 2020, Kaiser made the housing affordability crisis his focus over his nearly three-year tenure.
Just days before he announced his resignation, a package of housing bills he shepherded through the legislature and reworked to assuage opposition from city officials was defeated, with Republicans joining Democrats to vote the bills down.
Kaiser said that his decision to leave office didn’t have anything to do with the high-profile failure to shepherd through housing reforms, and instead said it reflected an interest in spending more time with his family and taking a more involved role in his nonprofit, the Arizona Prosperity Project. He said he hopes to grow the Republican presence in the legislature beyond its current one-member majority and inspire more center-right policies for Arizona through the nonprofit’s work.
Kaiser won a tough election in 2022 in one of only five truly competitive legislative districts in the state, setting the stage for his replacement to have a difficult election in 2024. Rep. Democrat Judy Schwiebert, a Democrat who represents the district in the state House of Representatives, announced her intent to run for the Senate seat just days after the news of Kaiser’s resignation.
With roughly 18 months remaining in the two-year term, Kaiser’s resignation triggers a temporary appointment. The Maricopa Board of Supervisors is charged with choosing one of three candidates put forward by local GOP precinct committeemen. Supervisor Bill Gates, a longtime critic of election denialism, represents an area that encompasses Kaiser’s district, so tradition dictates that he will choose which candidate the board should appoint.
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
Shawna Bolick: a history of undermining Arizona voters
Widely considered the frontrunner, Bolick was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 2018, and served in that position until her unsuccessful bid for secretary of state last year. She finished in third place out of four candidates in the GOP primary.
The Phoenix Republican made national news when she authored legislation in 2021 that would have allowed disgruntled state lawmakers to override the presidential choice of Arizona voters with a simple majority — something Republicans have held in the state for decades. Bolick’s proposal came just two months after receiving emails from the wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Ginni Thomas, urging her to overturn Biden’s victory in Arizona.
Bolick and her husband, Arizona Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick, are close friends with the Thomas family.
Bolick also served as the chair of a committee formed by the American Legislative Exchange Council intended to draft legislation that was later mobilized to convince secretaries of state to question Biden’s win.
Josh Barnett: conspiracy theories from COVID-19 to QAnon
Barnett, a local businessman, has launched two unsuccessful attempts to capture a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, first in Congressional District 7 in 2020 and then in Congressional District 1 last year. The Indiana native has been an outspoken critic of Arizona elections and an avid supporter of failed gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake.
Among his political stances is a staunch opposition to COVID-19 mitigation measures. Barnett has advocated for the use of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, neither of which has been approved for the treatment of COVID-19 and both of which have been the subject of FDA warnings for potentially fatal health effects.
Barnett also openly embraced QAnon, sharing multiple references to the conspiracy theory across his social media accounts, though he later attempted to disavow it. The far-right conspiracy theory maintains that Satan-worshiping pedophiles are running a global sex-trafficking ring and also control and infiltrate governments, and former President Donald Trump is the only one capable of defeating them.
The FBI has classified it as a domestic terror threat because of its anti government rhetoric that often culminates in violence.
Paul Carver: a former leader of a violent extremist group
Carver, a veteran and current governing board member of Deer Valley Unified School District, earned a nomination from Kaiser at the GOP precinct committeemen meeting.
Before venturing into public education, however, Carter was a lead agent for the state chapter of the extremist group the Union of Three Percenter American Patriots from April 2021 until June 2022. The paramilitary organization believes the U.S. government is tyrannical and prepares members to overthrow it.
Carver later distanced himself from the group that he led for 14 months, claiming that his association was an attempt to find like-minded people who wanted to defend the Constitution and respond to a supposed rise in riots and “people being attacked in the streets for no reason other than they just had a different belief system.” He denounced reports of his involvement with the group as nothing more than efforts to paint him as a racist or white supremacist.
Multiple members of Three Percenter groups across the country have been linked to violent attacks, including the bombing of a mosque in Minnesota and the white supremacist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
Three Percenter members have also faced indictment charges for their involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Before violent Trump supporters stormed the building in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election, Carver met with Ray Epps and discussed plans to attend the rally that preceded the deadly event, according to transcripts of interviews with Epps, an Arizona man and president of the state’s Oath Keeper militia who claimed to have led the attack.
Carter himself later confirmed meeting with Epps on Jan. 5, and, in a since deleted social media post, appeared to imply he was present at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy contributed to this report.