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Realtors assail Rep. Mitchell despite membership in group.

Byline: Ben Giles

The Arizona Association of Realtors is campaigning against one of its own members with negative ads attacking Republican Rep. Darin Mitchell.

The ads, launched by the Responsible Leadership for AZ PAC, blast Mitchell, a Realtor from Goodyear, as one of several "very concerning candidates" in Legislative District 13, where Mitchell is running for re-election to the House of Representatives.

That claim in the ads lumps Mitchell together with Republican Trey Terry, who's running on a slate with Mitchell for the district's two House seats, and with ousted lawmaker Don Shooter, who's running for the state Senate. The ads, and the website, go on to accuse Mitchell of unpaid debts and a state income tax lien, and drum up an ethics complaint filed against him by House Democrats in 2016.

Beyond the low-hanging fruit of election attacks, the website created by Responsible Leadership for AZ darinmitchelltooliberal.com also hits Mitchell for supporting and sponsoring legislation that the Realtors opposed.

The Arizona Association of Realtors is the sole funder of Responsible Leadership for AZ, to the tune of $500,000 since December 2017.

The attacks have drawn the ire of another Realtor-slash-lawmaker, Rep. Mark Finchem. He, too, was snubbed by the Realtors' endorsements.

And Mitchell's campaign consultant claims the Realtors are trying to drum up reasons to attack Mitchell to influence an intra-party race for speaker of the House.

Nicole LaSlavic, vice president of government affairs at the Association of Realtors, said such claims are "purely speculation," and don't reflect the association's decision to back a GOP challenger over Mitchell in LD13.

The Realtors instead endorsed Rep. Tim Dunn, R-Yuma, and GOP challenger Joanne Osborne.

"I know that neither (Mitchell nor Finchem) necessarily agree with it because they're taking the position that they're incumbents. But the reality is, there's an impact on their votes," LaSlavic said. "Just because they're a member of our association doesn't mean that we fall in line, necessarily, with backing them every time."

Of chief concern for the Realtors is a bill Mitchell sponsored earlier this year. HB2507 would have barred homeowners from obtaining attorney fees if construction defects arise in a new home. The Realtors opposed the bill, which was never given a vote on the House floor.

LaSlavic said it's only the latest example in a series of legislative efforts that Mitchell, though a Realtor, has supported despite the Association of Realtors opposition.

"I would say that for any member of the Legislature, if they're going to sponsor legislation or vote for legislation that we do not agree with, the likelihood is that we're not going to respond favorably to that," she said. "Their membership doesn't buy an automatic endorsement."

Chris Baker, a campaign consultant for Mitchell, said the Association of Realtors is trying to find reasons to hide its true intentions. The Realtors were neither for nor against a similar bill Mitchell introduced back in 2015, Baker said.

"This is about the Realtors Association putting their thumb on the scale in the speaker's race," Baker said.

Mitchell is one of two Republicans vying to be the next speaker of the House. The other, Rep. Rusty Bowers of Mesa, was endorsed by the Realtors.

The Association of Realtors may have been neutral on Mitchell's bill in 2015, but they were registered as opposed to it in 2018, when LaSlavic described it as the "most recent and probably the most concerning (bill) that we've had in the last few years."

And while the Realtors may have backed Mitchell in the past, "people can change," LaSlavic said.

As for Finchem, the Oro Valley Republican said he was livid that the Realtors Association would go negative on one of its own members, particularly when the money funding the attack ads comes from the Association of Realtors' political action committee, known as RAPAC, which Realtors make contributions to.

FInchem demanded a refund from RAPAC and an apology for going after Mitchell with made up "innuendo and unproven accusations," though the website attacking Mitchell provides documentation supporting those accusations.

The ad against Mitchell, Finchem wrote in a letter to the association, "would destroy the working relationship that Realtors have enjoyed with members of the House and Senate and would forever change the reputation of the Realtor community."

Baker said the Association of Realtors had singled out Mitchell, and isn't going after other candidates who have sponsored legislation the organization opposes. For example, Finchem may not have drawn Realtors' endorsement in LD14, but unlike in Mitchell's race, they endorsed no one, not even his GOP primary opponent.

Both Mitchell and Finchem have even cosponsored bills that the Association of Realtors supported, though Finchem voted in committee for HB2507.

"They're going to try to make this about specific pieces of legislation," Baker said. "The bottom line is if they were in the business of going after people off random pieces of legislation, they would be going after a lot of other Republican members. They are not."

LaSlavic reiterated that being a Realtor does not ensure the association's support.

"Darin Mitchell and Mark Finchem supported and voted for legislation that our trustees adamantly opposed, and because of that, based off their voting record, that's why the position is not in their favor," LaSlavic said.

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Publication:Arizona Capitol Times
Date:Aug 10, 2018
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