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Bennett: Gov. Doug Ducey’s campaign threatened to sue petition firm

FILE--In this Nov. 4, 2014, file photo, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett speaks at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix. Former Arizona Secretary of State Bennett said Friday, May 11, 2018, that lawyers representing Gov. Doug Ducey's re-election campaign threatened to sue a firm collecting signatures to qualify Bennett for the Republican primary ballot. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, file)

PHOENIX — Former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett said Friday that lawyers representing Gov. Doug Ducey’s re-election campaign threatened to sue a firm collecting signatures to qualify Bennett for the Republican primary ballot.

Bennett said the firm he had hired had previously worked for Ducey and was still under contract even though the governor’s campaign had told them to stop collecting for him. The firm complied and stopped working for Bennett.

The Republican governor’s campaign also called a second signature firm and tried to dissuade it from collecting for Bennett, even offering twice the going rate, Bennett said. The firm declined and is still working with him to collect the 6,223 signatures he needs to get on the August primary ballot.

“He’s working hard to prevent that,” Bennett said of the governor. “It’s hardball, but I don’t think people are going to take that well – the general public I guess.”

A spokesman for Ducey’s campaign, Patrick Ptak, declined to comment on what he called “rumors” but did not deny the incidents happened.

“We are focused on getting our signatures,” Ptak said in an emailed statement. “We will let other people focus on getting theirs.”

The governor’s campaign planned to file more than 16,000 signatures from all 15 counties on Friday to qualify for the ballot, Ptak said.

Ducey defeated Bennett and four other Republicans in the 2014 Republican primary for governor.

Bennett said he decided to challenge Ducey this year because of concerns about the financial impact of his teacher pay raise plan. He said the plan relies on rosy revenue projections, one-time money and other gimmicks and an increase in taxes – specifically the licensing fee motorists pay to register their cars and a boost in a hospital assessment.

“This idea that he’s not raising taxes is incorrect,” Bennett said. “They’re raising taxes, they’re using one-time money.”

Bennett said teachers deserve raises, but he would finance it in a sustainable way by looking at tax reforms, lowering and broadening the sales tax base and targeting the tourist industry for a big chunk of the needed money.

Ducey had proposed a 1 percent teacher raise in January but in mid-April boosted that to a 20 percent raise by 2020 after tens of thousands of Arizona teachers began protesting for more money. The teachers then went out on a six-day strike that ended last week when the Legislature passed a $10.4 billion budget that included the first part of the pay increase.

The teacher pay boost will cost more than $300 million for the coming school year and $650 million by 2020.

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