By DILLON ROSENBLATT, Arizona Capitol Times
PHOENIX (AP) — There’s a lot of unintentional irony surrounding Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer.
He first became known in political circles for auditing the office he now controls when it was occupied by his predecessor and political opponent Adrian Fontes in 2019. Now he’s becoming a national figure as he speaks out about the Senate audit of the 2020 election, which Maricopa County Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers calls “a grift disguised as an audit.”
Richer, who was a corporate transactional lawyer before seeking his first political office in 2020, made sure to point out that what he did and what the Arizona Senate is doing could not be more different.
“I think you would find that the ‘F’ word is not mentioned once in the (audit) report,” he said referring to accusations of “fraud” from the election where he won by 4,599 votes. “Mine was entirely based on news reports, statutes and interviews. I did not jump to a single conclusion, and where conclusions could not be drawn, I acknowledge as such.”
After nearly five months in public office, Richer, a conservative Republican who identifies as a “hardcore libertarian,” is still relatively unknown outside of a handful of tweets and recent media appearances.
He’s a nerd at heart who has found a great obsession with his face buried in a book, usually in the fantasy fiction genre. He said he reads a lot and it became a big part of his life growing up.
That’s when all he wanted to do was “play StarCraft or sports,” until Harry Potter came into his life. Back then his mom essentially forced him to read the first book of the series.
“She said, ‘I’m gonna read these first two chapters to you and you have to sit and listen to this’ and she did and then I just took it upstairs that night and I just kept reading and that was the first time in my life that I enjoyed reading and I started reading just for fun,” he said.
As his Twitter presence and occasional quotes in stories have shown, he also has a keen appreciation of “Star Wars” and is ready to go toe-to-toe with anybody on pop culture references. Whether it’s related to fantasy, or a rom-com or even a Channing Tatum dance movie from the mid-2000s.
“I hosted a birthday party by renting out the theater for a new “Step Up” movie one time,” he told Arizona Capitol Times during a phone interview after a 12-hour day at his office in downtown Phoenix.
Richer’s political life has gone the way he didn’t really anticipate. During his campaign for office against the incumbent Fontes, he was hoping for more media attention, but didn’t really get it. Now, he wants nothing more than to “make the Recorder’s Office boring again” and stay out of the spotlight, but the world had other plans.
He ran for office because he said he likes “being a part of society.”
“I always found this world to be fascinating,” he said. “I was certainly a consumer of politics. The only thing I’m not really is, ironically by nature, a very confrontational person.”
He said he chose to run for the Recorder’s Office because he heard unflattering stories about the way Fontes ran it and he wanted to change that.
“That was exciting to me and it was a nice blend between the world of politics and the world of management, which are the two things I really enjoy.”
He won the race and spent several months learning how to operate the office, spending between nine and 12 hours a day there. Then, it took weeks and months of intense scrutiny of the office followed by an onslaught of defamatory statements and accusations that he broke the law for him to start fighting back and defending his office and other county officials.
What put him in the national spotlight was saying on Twitter on May 16 that President Trump’s allegation that the Maricopa County voter database had been deleted was “unhinged.”
But the next day at a press conference he said he would rather make his office boring again and normally tries his best to hide from an Arizona Republic reporter. He prefers exchanging memes with the Capitol Times than giving quotes.
He then launched into a full-throated defense of the people in his office and called for an end to the “defamatory lies.”
“This isn’t a game. These are real humans. These are people who work in the county. … they work hard, they’re good people, they’re normal people who go home and they root for the Suns or they watch Netflix,” he said. “They are not monsters and stop treating them as such.”
In 2019, after authoring the audit into the Recorder’s Office on behalf of the Arizona Republican Party under former Chairman Jonathan Lines, Richer joked to a crowd of party members that he was the only speaker to have his name on-screen behind him because he was relatively unknown compared to the other speakers, most of whom were elected officials. He still acts like that’s his current reality.
“Who would want to read that?” he asked Capitol Times before agreeing to an interview for this story.
It’s sometimes hard to tell when he’s being overly sarcastic and when he’s not. But when he wants to come off as serious, he will do so without leaving it open for interpretation.
The serious attitude came across without question in a letter he presented to the county Board of Supervisors on May 17, responding to accusations Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, and her team of hired contractors lobbed against him.
He reiterated those points and defended his frustrations, saying he gets “exasperated” when people are trying to argue that the election is fraudulent, but will still run for higher office anyway and act like there’s nothing bizarre about that.
“It is so illogical, it makes my skin crawl,” he said.
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.