Corrections & Clarifications: A previous version of this article misstated when Nicole Garcia was elected precinct committeeman and mischaracterized how Bill Gates attained his seat on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
At the beginning of December, as false claims of election fraud spread on social media, a candidate for Phoenix City Council warned of an impending revolution.
“Mess with my rights and my Republic and you get what you deserve. 1776,” Nicole Garcia wrote on Twitter on Dec. 5. “The people will overthrow this type of government and start new,” she added the next day.
A month later came the insurrection.
“We weren’t kidding when we said it’s 1776,” she posted Jan. 6 in a now-deleted tweet, as rioters broke through police barricades and into the U.S. Capitol, shattered windows and paraded through the historic halls. “Patriots don’t allow stolen elections.”
After it was over, as others attempted to distance themselves from the destruction and violence of the day, Garcia posted: “What happened today was probably the most American thing that’s happened in a long time.” She appears to have since deleted this tweet.
Words such as hers were posted, shared, and shared again on social media in the days leading up to the riot that left five people dead, including a Capitol police officer.
Garcia, who is challenging incumbent Councilmember Debra Stark in the March 9 runoff for the city’s District 3 council seat, brushes it off. She told The Arizona Republic her tweets “are being misconstrued.”
“I never said to overthrow anything,” she wrote in an email, after declining a phone interview. “It’s stupid to suggest or say I did.”
But, as she runs for a seat on the council of the nation’s fifth-largest city, the words Garcia writes on social media and her campaign webpage are of significance, especially considering they may be the only glimpse of her that some voters will get.
A newcomer to Arizona and its political scene, Garcia lacks a track record and has been unwilling to share much about her background. “The fact that you mention my political experience and care so much about my birthdate tells me that you are trying to highlight my opponents’ experience,” she wrote in an email to The Republic last fall, in response to biographical questions sent to all candidates for Phoenix elected offices. “I wasn’t born yesterday.”
At the same time, Garcia has established herself on social media as one of the most radical candidates the city has seen, according to several longtime observers of city politics, including a few prominent Republicans.
They’re taken aback by her attacks on members of her own party, such as Arizona Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, and her zeal for sharing conspiracy theories about election fraud and COVID-19.
Her candidacy is a sign, they say, that the extremism of national politics is trickling down to the most granular levels of local government — where parks and potholes have historically mattered more than partisanship. This is true even in Phoenix’s District 3, which covers parts of north-central and north Phoenix and is considered a swing district in the city with more moderate representation for more than a decade.
Several prominent Republicans have endorsed Stark, the Democrat in the nonpartisan race, and others have contributed to her campaign, with a few saying that the community needs a representative who is more interested in working for the community than playing politics.
Former Republican state Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, who represented part of District 3 and surrounding areas, is one of them.
“This whole campaign Nicole Garcia is waging is beyond the pale,” Brophy McGee said. “She is very angry, and it’s not what we need right now. We need governance. We need problem solvers.”
In a phone interview, Stark, who is running for her second full term in office, denounced the attack on the Capitol and called for unity.
“It was shocking,” she said. “I was stunned. This isn’t the way our country should be. We are a country built on working together. Even if we see things differently, we should work on compromise. That’s what makes great law.”
Stark said she’s concerned that Garcia’s tweets focus so heavily on national politics and not on city issues.
“As a former city employee, I’ve always felt that local government is nonpartisan,” Stark said. “I’m not sure Nicole understands that.”
Nonpartisan elections, but politics apparent
Phoenix has nonpartisan elections, but the party affiliation of each council member is well known. Controversial votes, especially in recent years, often fall along party lines.
District 3 leans conservative, but after being appointed to the seat in 2016, Stark was elected in 2017. The seat had come open after former councilman Bill Gates, a Republican, was elected as a Maricopa County supervisor. Both are known as moderates in their parties.
Along with Garcia and Stark, Kristen Pierce’s name was on the ballot in November, although Pierce withdrew her candidacy before voting began. With three candidates on the ballot, it was harder for any one candidate to get the more than 50% of votes needed to avoid a runoff.
Stark was close, with 47%; Garcia received 35% and Pierce received 18%.
Stark is known for her lack of partisanship and willingness to work across the aisle. She said her background in government planning — she is a former planning director for the city and county — taught her to find a middle ground.
But Stark also said, in most cases, it’s hard to make city governance political.
“When people call about a pothole, I don’t know how you make that political,” she said. “But somehow people are trying to do that.”
Stark acknowledged that some recent issues the council has considered, such as police oversight, are more political in nature. In those cases, Stark’s votes haven’t always been predictable. In 2018, she voted to delay the light rail extension to Paradise Valley Mall. Last year, she twice voted alongside Republican council members to block the new Office of Accountability and Transparency, which would have added more civilian oversight to the police department.
Stark can find common ground and get work done, said Kathy Petsas, Republican party chairperson of Legislative District 28. Garcia ran against Petsas for the district chairperson seat in December.
“This is what you want out of your leaders,” Petsas said. “You want them to find ways they are going to collaborate and figure out what’s best for the communities that they serve.”
In contrast, she said, Garcia attacks her opponents with crass comments.
Petsas said that all she knows about Garcia is what she has posted on Twitter.
“She’s combative, and she doesn’t listen to facts when presented to her,” she said.
In December, Garcia gave out the personal cell phone number for Republican House Speaker Bowers as she called on him to allow a hearing in the state Capitol regarding unfounded claims of election fraud, and to force another audit of election results.
“Rusty is a deep state monkey that needs to do his damn job,” Garcia said on Dec. 4. It appears she has deleted this tweet.
She has slammed the Board of Supervisors as she called on them to perform an additional independent audit of election results.
“Put them all in jail,” she wrote on Dec. 16 before naming the supervisors.
On Twitter, Garcia sticks mainly to national talking points, questioning COVID-19 and the elections. She criticized the state health department for “fake numbers” and a “fake emergency,” has said you’re “more likely to get COVID with a mask,” and has said contact tracing is “pure evil.”
On Facebook, she tones down the rhetoric and sticks to mostly local issues. She’s said there that she is supportive of local police and against civilian oversight. Regarding COVID-19, she’s against shutting down businesses and against the county and city mask mandates.
Former senator: Garcia would add ‘tribalism’ to council
Two of the most partisan Phoenix council members are Republican Council member Sal DiCiccio, who is known for his blunt comments on social media and in meetings, and Councilmember Carlos Garcia, who comes to the council after a background as a liberal community organizer.
But Brophy McGee sees Nicole Garcia as representing a much more extreme form of partisanship, or “tribalism,” she said.
She said DiCiccio comes at issues from a policy perspective, “but with Nicole Garcia all you get are talking points, red meat, a lot of anger, a lot of confrontations.”
DiCiccio endorsed Garcia in September, saying she is “the fresh voice of reason that our city needs right now.”
He did not return a call or texts from The Republic asking for his comments about her tweets on the Capitol riot and why he supports Garcia.
After the Capitol riot, Garcia seemed to disagree with DiCiccio’s assessment of what happened.
DiCiccio posted at 1:20 p.m. Jan. 6, “We do not do this. We are not a Banana Republic. We see the left do these things, we do not do these things. We do not riot. We do not destroy. We obey law enforcement. Stop. Now.”
Less than an hour later, Garcia posted, “Today isn’t the reason we are a banana republic. We became a Banana Republic when we lost balance of powers and rule of law. So please do not try to act like Maga patriots started this. They very well may finish it though.” It appears she deleted this tweet.
Garcia has referred to Brophy McGee and other more moderate Republicans as “RINO,” or Republican In Name Only. She said on Twitter she no longer identifies as a conservative and instead identifies with the Patriot movement.
She also seemed to imply on Twitter that she changed her party affiliation to Independent, but the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office does not have a record of that.
Garcia is a registered Republican, a spokesperson for the office said. She first registered to vote in Maricopa County in February 2020. She moved to the state sometime in 2019 or 2020, according to an online background check.
Former Mayor Phil Gordon said he believes the extreme partisanship on both sides at the national level has filtered down to local levels, and “it was only a matter of time to see an extremist running at a local level, which has historically never been the case.”
“You didn’t ask, ‘What’s your party registration?'” he said. “You asked what’s your problem and where are you located?”
Gordon is supporting Stark’s re-election bid and said there are “no excuses” for Garcia’s tweets related to the Capitol riot.
“The voters need to reject that, soundly,” he said.
Garcia says Stark is an ‘insider’
Garcia told the Republic in an email that the focus on her race should not be about her tweets but about Stark’s multiple government pensions and work as an “insider.”
“When she retires as a city of Phoenix politician, she will be a triple-dipper getting government pensions of about $200,000 a year,” she said. “She also gets a Cadillac health care plan.”
Stark said she has a pension from working at the city, but not from one from the less than four years she spent working at the county. She said she believes she will get one from her time spent on the council, but so would Garcia if elected. For health care when she retires, she said she will use a supplement medical plan with Medicare.
“I chose a life in the public sector,” Stark said. “I am glad I did as I had a fulfilling career. I paid into that pension and yes, I have a pension. I would have run for council with or without a pension.”
Garcia said that Stark “helps the insiders and the insiders take care of her.”
“I’ve worked hard my entire life, paid my own way, nobody handed me anything and I’m not part of the insider group,” Garcia said. “I am an outsider out to protect the public from the wolves leading our city. The people are my only concern. That is what this race is about.”
She brought up how Stark voted against withholding money from Valley Metro after the organization agreed to give settlement money to a former executive accused, and eventually convicted, of fraud for misusing public funds.
Garcia characterizes it as Stark “voted to give an executive with Valley Metro a golden parachute of hundreds of thousands of dollars after he was accused of fraud and stealing taxpayer monies.”
Stark said city attorneys advised the council there would be legal issues if they withheld money already committed to Valley Metro.
Garcia also claimed in her email that Stark “was endorsed by Joe Arpaio in a previous election.”
Ava Arpaio, the former sheriff’s wife, contributed to Stark’s 2016 campaign.
Stark said she doesn’t know what Garcia means when she calls her an insider.
“I work hard and am accessible to all,” she said. “Most of all I am accessible to constituents.”
Stark said she believes people should first be involved in their community before they run for office, such as in a neighborhood group or as a volunteer on aboard.
“I think if you’re going to represent your community, you need to know about your community,” she said. “Get to know people. Take time to understand parts of your district. To run just to run, I’m not sure.”
Garcia did not respond to The Republic’s request for information about her community or political involvement, or how long she has lived in the state.
Petsas said Garcia was elected as a precinct committeeman for the county GOP in August.
Stark raises thousands more than Garcia
Stark has been endorsed by three former Democratic mayors: Gordon, Paul Johnson and U.S. Congressmember Greg Stanton.
She also is supported by several well-known Republicans: Former GOP Secretary of State Betsey Bayless; Michael Bidwell, owner of the Arizona Cardinals; Republican state Sen. Paul Boyer; former state Sen. Heather Carter; former state GOP executive director Jane Lynch; and Karrin Taylor Robson, a developer and prominent Republican donor.
Garcia did not respond to a request for her endorsements.
As Garcia attempts to unseat an incumbent — a difficult task that COVID-19 makes even harder because of the difficulty in recruit volunteers and the lack of political events — she has raised much less than Stark.
Garcia’s contributions totaled $10,472 by the end of the year, $3,790 of which she contributed to herself, according to the latest campaign finance reports posted Friday, which account for all contributions made by Dec. 31. Stark raised $224,463 and did not contribute to her own campaign.
Garcia has accepted no money from political action committees, and most of her contributions are smaller contributions from individuals.
Stark has received contributions from multiple PACs, including those representing homebuilders; Penny Sarver, wife of Suns owner Robert Sarver; and prominent land use attorneys that often represent developers with projects in the city.
Stark was endorsed by the Arizona Police Association and received a contribution from a local police association.
Stark said she doesn’t consider herself “bought.”
When making decisions, she said she relies “on what my constituents have to say. And I work pretty damn hard on constituent work. That’s what I’ve done my entire career.”
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: ‘The people will overthrow this type of government’: Phoenix council candidate posts about revolution before Capitol riot