by Jim Nintzel
Earlier this week, attorney Jeff Rogers filed a legal action saying that Orr had fallen short of the required 361 signatures for a variety of technical reasons.
But the Pima County Recorder’s Office has reviewed the challenged signatures and determined that the freshman Republican lawmaker turned in 393 valid signatures, so Orr may have cleared the hurdle.
Rogers told The Range he was still reviewing the county’s report and didn’t know if he’d continue the challenge.
Orr himself was remarkably upbeat earlier this week despite the calamity that has come his way in recent days.
On top of the legal challenge to his candidacy, he’s lost his job at Linkages, a non-profit that helped developmentally challenged individuals find work.
“People have been calling me and asking if I’m OK, like I might be on suicide watch or something,” Orr said. “I don’t mean to diminish anything, but this is nothing. Try waking up without food or shelter or anywhere to go.”
To deal with the petition challenge, Orr has lawyered up with Joseph Kanefield, one of the state’s top political attorneys who has also represented Gov. Jan Brewer and the Independent Redistricting Commission.
Orr said he hoped he’d get a chance to face voters.
“I want the voters to have a choice,” he said. “I want to have a genuine policy discussion about where the city and the state are going. To be taken down by a smart lawyer and some technicalities kind of hurts.”
The legal challenge, he predicted, will take its toll on the campaign.
“I’m not campaigning this week because my candidacy is in limbo until this is taken care of,” Orr said. “I was getting a lot of good endorsements and a lot of good momentum.”
He estimated his legal bills could top $10,000.
“We have $80,000 in the bank right now, so we can afford it, but that’s a mailing to 24,000 people,” Orr said. “That could be the election difference. That’s a big deal.”
The campaign has been shaping up to the one of the most interesting local races: Democrats have a slight voter registration advantage in Legislative District 9, which includes parts of midtown Tucson, the Catalina Foothills and the Casas Adobes area. But Orr has worked to establish himself as a Republican who could deliver for Southern Arizona.
He’s up against a Democratic slate made up of his seatmate, incumbent state Rep. Victoria Steele, and political newcomer Randy Friese, a UA trauma doc who already has the endorsement of local political heavyweights such as Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly.
Orr is often caught up in a narrative about whether he’s a moderate or a conservative Republican, particularly since he voted last year in favor of an expansion of Medicaid to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. The expansion, which allows that state to tap into federal dollars related to the Affordable Care Act, was supported by Gov. Jan Brewer and the business community, but only a few Republican lawmakers voted alongside Democrats to expand the program.
Rogers—a former chairman of the Pima County Democratic Party—pointed to legislation that Orr has supported to restrict abortion rights, expand vouchers that reduce support for public education and reduce the regulation of firearms.
“Those are three key areas that are important issues and he’s as conservative as they come,” Rogers said. “He voted for Medicaid expansion and a couple of mental-health things, but by and large, he’s been in step with the Republican leadership.”
But conservative Republicans are just as eager to rip Orr.
“I see him as unprincipled,” said Christine Bauserman, a frequent political ally of former state lawmaker Frank Antenori who has made it her life’s mission to punish Republicans who voted in favor the Medicaid expansion. She put Orr in among the Republicans she calls “legis-traitors.”
“The Republican Party has planks and he is not following our party planks for fiscal responsibility and resistance to the nationalization of our health care and our education system,” Bauserman said.
Orr knows the vote to expand Medicaid will haunt him with conservative Republicans—“It’s a scarlet letter I’lll wear forever”—but he said he doesn’t care much about the debate over whether he’s a moderate or a conservative. He calls himself a “pragmatic policy guy.”
“I love policy,” Orr said. “I love good policy. I will argue policy with anyone, anytime, anywhere.”
Indeed, he can dig into the policy issues, ranging from regulation of medical marijuana to the settlement of lawsuit over community-college support between Pima and Santa Cruz counties.
On the employment front, Orr called his resignation from Linkages earlier this week “very amicable.”
“It’s very difficult to run an agency and be in Phoenix for half the year,” he said. “I put together an incredibly good staff and Linkages is in better shape than it ever has been. We’re helping more people than we have ever helped and our budget is better than it has ever been. … We’re leaving on very good terms.”
He’s excited but nervous about his new venture, Simply Clean and Green, a fledgling non-profit that aims to help people with mental illness find janitorial and landscaping work.
His new work with the homeless reminds of his own days as an 18-year-old living for a month in the Rillito riverbed after about a half a year of couch surfing.
“It was a huge blessing to me,” Orr said. “That’s when I became a Christian and turned my life over to Jesus. And I got enough of a taste of homelessness that I started working my way through school.”
He says compared to people who have nowhere to go, he has it easy.
“Pettiness like this, it’s easy to put behind me,” Orr said. “Until you look into the eyes of a hungry person, you don’t know how insignificant all of this stuff is.”