Photo by Jim Small | Arizona Mirror
In response to an Instagram post showing support for Black Lives Matter demonstrators, GOP justice of the peace candidate Michael Irish wrote that it was “time to start putting these idiots in their place.”
Irish, who is running to be a justice of the peace in the Moon Valley district in north Phoenix, also said that Black Americans were actually to blame for the police violence against George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Dion Johnson and others that sparked nationwide Black Lives Matter protests calling for an end to systemic racism in policing.
“Blacks cause a lot of their own inherent problems and when s— hits the fan they want to blame slavery or others for those problems,” he wrote in a direct message to Silvia Gonzalez last month in response to a public post she made expressing support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In the June 28 messages, he said the BLM protests were “significantly overplayed” and contrasted “protesting properly” with violence that erupted in some cities during protests several weeks earlier and the “autonomous zone” that protesters created in Seattle in early June.
“Time to start putting these idiots in their place. We have rules in this country and they should be followed,” Irish wrote.
Gonzalez said she was surprised by Irish’s comments. She said she knew Irish from their time at the University of Arizona, but they hadn’t messaged each other in years.
“On my Instagram, I’m obviously vocal about my feelings,” said Gonzalez, who is Latina. “He knows what my stance is, my viewpoints, the color of my skin. Like, what made him feel safe to send that to me?”
Gonzalez replied to Irish that she was “sorry this stuff is bothering you.” Irish responded, “I hate politics yet I’m in an election.”
Gonzalez, who lives in Tucson, shared a screenshot of her messages with Irish on her Instagram Stories and tagged many Phoenix advocacy organizations, who in turn reposted it to their Stories. (Posts to Instagram Stories disappear after 24 hours.) In response, Irish deleted his Instagram page.
She said she wanted to make sure voters in the Moon Valley JP district knew what Irish said before they voted in the Aug. 4 election.
Early voting began last week. Irish is one of three Republican challengers seeking to unseat incumbent Andrew Hettinger in the GOP primary election.
When Arizona Mirror asked Irish about his Instagram messages, Irish said he wouldn’t answer any questions and hung up the phone.
Justices of the peace are judges who preside over evictions, traffic violations, domestic violence, civil suits and small claims. To run, a candidate needs to be proficient in English and be registered to vote in their corresponding precinct. A law degree is not required.
Justices of the peace are paid $101,500 annually, though that amount may be reduced if they don’t meet productivity thresholds.
Gonzalez said she is concerned that Irish could exacerbate the disproportionate discrepancies between communities of color and their white counterparts that exist in many parts of society if he wins election. She said voting in local elections are important, because they affect their communities directly.
“It’s really important to figure out who’s running for office, and what they stand for, to really protect our communities so that we, you know, expose racism,” Gonzalez said. “We don’t want any more racism in our justice system.”
The Moon Valley JP contest
Irish’s campaign focuses on his experience in real estate law, which he said has prepared him to be a justice of the peace. Two other candidates have legal backgrounds — Hettinger graduated from The University of Texas at Austin School of Law and Democratic challenger Deborah Begay earned her law degree from Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.
Hettinger made headlines in 2017 when he was reprimanded for redirecting traffic from another candidate’s website to his and for not properly marking campaign banners on his Facebook page during the 2016 election. In an email to the Mirror, Hettinger said he’s done his best to learn and grow from the experience.
“I consistently review and internalize the Arizona Code of Judicial Conduct to ensure my conduct is in line with the Code. My experience helped me to understand and empathize with litigants going through judicial proceedings,” Hettinger wrote.
Begay is the first Indigenous woman to run for justice of the peace in Maricopa County. She said she is an involved member of the Navajo Nation, where she currently practices law. The U.S. Navy veteran said she decided to run because a community member asked her to, and she saw a need for more women in public office.
“I’ve been living the democratic life long before I decided to run for office, so this just is a natural extension of a way to serve my community,” said Begay. “I don’t really consider myself a politician.”
She said she lives her public and private life the same way, because integrity is important to her.
Josh Culling and Kim Fisher are the other Republican candidates challenging Hettinger. Culling owns a digital marketing business and Fisher is also running for the board of Deer Valley Unified School District. In 2017, Fisher engaged in a political rant on Twitter supporting President Trump’s travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries. Neither replied to interview requests.
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