Gardner sues to remove opponent from ballot

By Deborah Baker, The Associated Press

SANTA FE — Two Roswell lawmakers have gone to court to try to knock their primary election opponents off the ballot.
Republican Reps. Keith Gardner, who represents Roosevelt County, and Dan Foley allege in separate lawsuits that their GOP challengers failed to get enough valid voters’ signatures on nominating petitions, in part because some petitions were altered.

Gardner claims his opponent, Lucille B. Tucker of Roswell, circulated some petitions that read House District 59, then altered them to read District 66, the correct number of Gardner’s district.

He also contends other signers were not registered as Republicans, were of the wrong party, or were not registered to vote in District 66. Disqualifying them would put Tucker’s signatures below the required 54, the lawsuit contends.
Tucker could not be reached for comment.

Foley claims his opponent, Steven Gavi, collected some of his signatures when he was running for U.S. Senate, and later changed the petitions to read “state representative” instead.

The signatures on those pages should not be counted, Foley contends.

The lawmaker also alleges that some of Gavi’s signers were either not registered as Republicans, belonged to another party, or were not registered to vote in House District 57.

If all the challenged signatures were ruled invalid, Gavi would not have enough to meet the requirement of 123 signatures of registered Republican voters, the lawsuit says.

Gavi announced in November 2005 he would run for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman. He filed instead for the Legislature on March 21.

“I don’t know what they’re afraid of,” was Gavi’s only comment when asked about the lawsuit.

Removal of the challengers would give the two lawmakers a “free ride” to re-election, unless they picked up opposition when independents and write-in candidates filed this summer.

Foley’s Democratic opponent, Wanda Valentine of Tularosa, was tossed off the ballot for failure to sign the declaration of candidacy that was submitted March 21. Gardner has no challenger other than Tucker.

The lawsuits were filed Thursday in state district court in Roswell.