PHOENIX (AP) — For months, the four elected Republicans and one Democrat on the board overseeing Arizona's most populous county have been facing threats and harassment for backing election results that saw Democrat Joe Biden win in the state.
That fury from some supporters of former President Donald Trump moved on this week to a GOP state senator, who had to change his phone number, flee his house with his wife and young son and get police protection.
The focus on Sen. Paul Boyer came after he was the lone Republican who voted against a measure to subject the GOP-dominated Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to arrest for refusing to honor a Senate subpoena. It required the county to hand over ballots and vote-counting machines to the Senate so they could triple-check the results.
County supervisor Clint Hickman, a Republican who has endured protests outside his house and graphic threats of violence since after the November election, has held his tongue. But with the new attacks on Boyer, he says he's had enough.
“I’m talking now because they’re doing it to a state senator who had no idea what he was probably stepping into,” Hickman said in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday.
Hickman described hateful and vicious threatening messages he's received, a phalanx of 90 people protesting within 15 feet of his home's front door and continuous attacks that have left his family fearful. All were from Trump supporters who questioned election results that saw a Democrat win Arizona for the first time since 1996.
“I think it's wrong. It’s horrible,” Hickman said. “I have three younger children and a wife there, a stay-at-home wife. It's abhorrent.”
Republican Supervisor Bill Gates, who spent 8 years on the Phoenix city council before joining the board in 2017, said the public vitriol against him and other board members started when they imposed a mask mandate to slow the spread of the coronavirus last June, then tapered off. But after Trump’s Nov. 3 loss, it took off again with a vengeance.
“It's just awful. The lines are gone. Nothing is out of bounds," Gates said, noting “horrific” things written in response to his simple posting of a family Christmas card on his social media.
“And really no one’s speaking out about it,” Gates said. "That’s what’s really hard. Where are the people speaking out about it, the other elected officials? The silence is pretty deafening.”
Hickman called out one GOP senator, Kelly Townsend, for urging the public to “do what you gotta do” after Boyer's Monday vote. Townsend later complained about the AP's coverage of that statement, saying she never suggested anyone act unlawfully and was merely calling for people to create a coalition to try to force supervisors to hand over the ballots.
After the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Hickman’s not buying it.
“Any politician at the Senate that does not parse their words and tries to do word play doesn’t work for me in this charged environment,” Hickman said. “And I’m talking about Kelly Townsend and her words. We’re not going to walk away from that.
“She’s a senator – she should understand the words that she says, and all the permutations that people can take from them,” he said.
Boyer said he was shocked when he started receiving threatening text messages even as his Republican Senate colleagues tried to persuade him to change his vote on Monday's contempt resolution. He said he's received thousands, plus what he guesses is 20,000 emails and countless voicemails.
With only a one-seat GOP majority in the Senate and all Democrats opposed, Boyer's vote decided there would be no arrest, no forcing the supervisors to hand over ballots.
GOP senators demanded access to all the county’s election materials in mid-December, after Trump backers failed in court to overturn election results in Arizona and other battleground states. The senators contend they’re not trying to overturn the results, just trying to prove to their constituents that there was no fraud or other election issues that led to Trump’s loss.
Meanwhile, they’ve introduced a trove of new legislation Democrats say is designed to make it harder for people to vote in future elections.
Maricopa County supervisors contend ballots are legally secret and that vote-counting machines worth millions would be compromised if the Senate had unfettered access. Instead, they've turned over reams of information and authorized two new election audits to try to mollify the Senate, on top of legally required hand-count checks done after the election and tests on tabulation equipment.
“The only thing I would change is the security of my family – but 100% I would do it again given what I know now,” Boyer said. “It was the right vote to make.”
He said he could not support arresting the supervisors when he and they both believe the ballots are supposed to be kept secret.
The supervisors have gone to court, seeking to have the subpoenas quashed. With no contempt resolution, the Senate appears likely to have to fight its battle there.
That's where it belongs, Hickman said.
"What the Senate is demanding us to do is to break the laws that they created,” Hickman said. “And we’re going to let the court decide that.”
Gates said as a longtime elected official he is used to seeing security for presidents, governors and even the Phoenix mayor.
“But county board of supervisors?” he said. “Do we really expect the members of the board of supervisors to be subjected to death threats? It’s not really what you sign up for.”