By Jeremy Duda - email@example.com
Published: October 22, 2010 at 7:23 am
Republican David Schweikert is locked in a heated battle for Arizona’s 5th Congressional District with incumbent Democrat Harry Mitchell. Recent campaign commercials have accused Schweikert of mismanagement as Maricopa County treasurer and labeled him a “vulture” investor. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)
U.S. Rep. Harry Mitchell and his allies are questioning David Schweikert’s business practices, his record in office and his positions on issues he’ll face if elected to Congress.
Attack #1: Schweikert is a ‘vulture investor’
One of Mitchell’s marquee claims against Schweikert is that he is a “vulture investor,” a reference to the 300 or so foreclosed homes that Schweikert has bought since the housing market tanked. The campaign even set up a website, www.yourlosshisgain.com, which portrays Schweikert as profiting off the misery of people who lost their homes in the housing crisis. The claim also is made in Mitchell TV ads.
But experts say investors like Schweikert can benefit neighborhoods and the housing market, depending on what they do with the homes.
Schweikert said he fixes up the homes and rents them out. Contrary to the Mitchell campaign’s repeated claims that investors like Schweikert “shake the stability of Valley neighborhoods,” Schweikert said investors like him keep the homes from lying vacant and potentially falling into disrepair.
“We buy houses from banks, fix them up and keep them as rentals. We thought we were the good guys,” Schweikert said.
Jay Butler, a professor of realty studies at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, said people who buy foreclosed homes can have a positive impact on neighborhoods, as long as they maintain them.
“Overall, about 10 percent of the million homes that are in Maricopa County are empty,” Butler said. “Anything that will get people into these homes, get them fixed up, get this sort of neighborhood revitalization going is good, if in fact that’s what’s happening.”
Also troubling are Mitchell’s allegations that Schweikert served an eviction notice to the 12-year-old son of a foreclosed homeowner. Court documents filed by the former homeowner, Maria Rodriguez, claim an employee of Schweikert’s company, Sheridan Equities Holdings, served the notice to her 12-year-old child. David Kruger, the employee who served the eviction notice, wrote that Rodriguez wasn’t home and said he spoke to someone named Jason Rodriguez, who refused to sign the notice.
Kruger said he served the notice to Rodriguez’s son, but said the son was at least 20 years old. When asked whether he served a notice to a 12-year-old, Kruger told the Arizona Capitol Times, “Hell, no.”
Rodriguez could not be reached for comment, and her former attorney, Jeffrey Kastner of Community Legal Services, said he could not talk about the case, citing attorney-client privilege.
Schweikert said he doesn’t know whether his employee actually served an eviction notice to a child and said he hopes that’s not the case.
Attack #2: Schweikert mismanaged the county Treasurer’s Office
Mitchell has accused Schweikert of mismanagement during his time as Maricopa County treasurer, and frequently cites a November 2009 internal audit.
The audit of the treasurer’s Taxpayer Information Fund identified two management issues:
• The office didn’t get multiple bids from vendors on two projects, as required by the county’s procurement code.
• Two contract employees did not have the formal employment agreements required by the county.
Of those four incidents cited in the audit, only two occurred on Schweikert’s watch, which ended in Octobert 2007.
Schweikert said that Treasurer’s Office staff signed off on his decision to hire vendor, Help Desk Technology, which was paid $35,662 for website design. His successor, Charles “Hos” Hoskins, said the audit was politically motivated and stemmed from a wider conflict among county officials.
A Treasurer’s Office response to the audit, written by Hoskins’ deputy treasurer, also stated that the two contract employees did not have formal, written contracts, but filled out county human resources forms and photo ID security forms. At the time of the audit, the Treasurer’s Office had four temporary workers whose employment was approved by county officials after filling out the same forms, the response said.
Schweikert said he remembered little about the hiring of contract employee Teri Johnson, who was paid $35,645 to work on the department’s website and tax statement graphics, according to the audit.
But Schweikert has close ties to Johnson’s company, East Valley Web & Graphic Design, which has been paid $15,000 for campaign work on Schweikert’s current congressional campaign. Johnson’s company also worked for Schweikert’s 2008 campaign.
Chris Baker, Schweikert’s general consultant, said there’s no connection between the campaign work and Johnson’s work at the Treasurer’s Office, and said she was simply hired on an ad hoc basis for website and other graphics work.
Attack #3: Schweikert wants to abolish the U.S. Education Dept.
Schweikert’s campaign said he would support abolishing the Department of Education in favor of sending money that passes through the agency to local schools.
He would also support a drastically reduced mission for the department, Schweikert told the Arizona Capitol Times.
“If it’s the accounting, if they’re doing the bookkeeping, fine. Someone has to keep track of the money,” Schweikert said.
On the campaign trail, Schweikert has repeatedly said he wants to pull funding from the department and questioned whether its existence was even constitutional.
“If you love the Department of Education, don’t vote for me. If you like having bureaucrats burning up your money in Washington, D.C., that belongs in the Kyrene School District, vote for someone else,” Schweikert said in a June forum hosted by the District 20 GOP.
At another event, Schweikert said: “We immediately have to go up and down through the federal government and eliminate those functions that the federal government is doing that are unconstitutional. The Department of Education, show me where they are in the Constitution.”
Baker said Schweikert’s views on the Department of Education are more nuanced than Mitchell’s claims that Schweikert wants to abolish the agency and the millions of education dollars it oversess.
“If the money that is currently going to the Department of Education goes to the schools, then yes,” he would support abolishing the agency, Baker said.
Attack #4 :Schweikert opposed funding for classroom teachers
An anti-Schweikert ad run by the National Education Association repeats the claim about abolishing the Department of Education, and said Schweikert opposed funding that would keep thousands of Arizona teachers in the classroom.
Schweikert did oppose funding mechanisms for teachers — the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the stimulus act, and Proposition 100, the temporary one-cent sales tax increase approved by Arizona voters in a May 18 special election. Both included substantial money for K-12 schools that offset or prevented massive cuts to Arizona schools.
Opposing the stimulus and Prop. 100 were legitimate stances, Schweikert said. Though the 5th Congressional District voted in favor of Prop. 100, Schweikert said he believes taxes should never be raised during a recession.And the $787 billion stimulus has been a frequent target of conservatives, who opposed the massive borrowing it required and the government intervention in the private sector it entailed. Schweikert said he did not believe the stimulus act was effective in creating jobs, and the debt-conscious former treasurer said the cost was too high for too few results.