by David Safier
This is a follow-up to my Wednesday post, Strange Political Bedfellows In The TUSD Board Election, about board member Mark Stegeman's connection to Debe Campos-Fleenor's campaign for a seat on the board, as well as his probable connection to Michael Hicks' campaign. Stegeman is a Democrat. Campos-Fleenor and Hicks are Republicans.
Since I wrote that post, I visited the Pima County School Superintendent's office and looked over the nominating petitions Campos-Fleenor and Hicks turned in. I confirmed that both campaigns used the same paid petition circulator: Patrick Wear from Sarasota, Florida. Campos-Fleenor lists a $1,200 expense for the circulator on her campaign finance report and also lists a $1,200 in-kind contribution from Stegeman for “Collection and Validation of Signatures.” Hicks’ campaign finance reports list no contributions or expenditures, which appears to be a direct violation of campaign finance law.
However, until I looked through the three inch stack of petitions for each candidate, I didn’t know that Stegeman collected signatures for both of them. I found five pages of signatures for Campos-Fleenor — 49 signatures — and two pages of signatures for Hicks — 14 signatures — with the back signed by Stegeman, indicating that he circulated the petitions. Based on the date following each person’s signature, it's clear that Stegeman collected for Campos-Fleenor on a regular basis from June 20 to July 30, 2014. Stegeman got one signature for Hicks on June 20, but most of the signatures were collected between July 27 and August 3. Eleven of the fourteen signatures on Hicks’ petitions were also on Campos-Fleenor’s petitions, collected on the same date.
Also, Stegeman was one of the people who signed Campos-Fleenor’s nominating petition, on July 3.
Clearly, Stegeman has been actively supporting the campaigns of the two candidates since at least June 20. That's his right, of course. But you would never know from the newsletters he emails to his constituents that he has favorites in the race. In his two most recent newsletters, sent August 25 and September 1, Stegeman writes like a dispassionate observer who wants to give his constituents unbiased, objective information they can use to form their own opinions about the candidates.
Here's how he begins his August 25 newsletter:
Since joining the board, I have during each TUSD election cycle provided candidate information to my constituent list.
Later, before he gives information about the candidates, he writes:
I have tried hard to be fair and accurate in representing what a candidate “supports.”
A more honest way for Stegeman to be "fair and accurate" would be for him to state which candidates he's supporting. If he had done that in the newsletters, his readers would be better able to decide how much of what he wrote was fair and accurate and what was designed to influence their votes. Based on my reading of the newsletters, most of the information he presented gave a positive spin to his two favored Republican candidates or gave modest praise to a few Democrats in an attempt to dilute the Democratic vote, which would allow his favored candidates to end up as the top two vote getters.
In a number of posts I've written over the years, I've been very critical of the positions Stegeman has taken as a TUSD board member. I don't look forward to the prospect of his regaining his position as the leader of the board majority as he was before the 2012 election. I've also written about the manipulative tactics Stegeman uses to influence board policy and the way the public perceives TUSD. In July, 2013, I published a column in the Weekly discussing his tactics: Is Mark Stegeman using game theory to bend the TUSD board to his will? Stegeman is an economics professor at UA whose specialty is game theory. He's written papers about how to manipulate others by first gaining their trust, then doling out carefully selected bits of information to lead them to conclusions the decision maker agrees with, without them knowing they're being manipulated. That's a tactic Stegeman uses on a regular basis as a board member, and he's using it during this election cycle as well.