CARSON CITY -- The Independent American Party of Nevada filed a lawsuit Monday to remove Las Vegas asphalt company owner Jon Scott Ashjian as a Tea Party of Nevada candidate for the U.S. Senate.
Chairman John Wagner said that Ashjian is not a true Tea Party candidate and that if he appears on the ballot, it would draw voters away from the Independent American and Republican parties and could give the election to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Debbie Landis, who has organized Tea Party protests throughout the state and operates the organization's Web site, angerisbrewing.com, said that the Tea Party "is a state of mind" and that she has never even spoken with Ashjian. She joined the Independent American Party members in filing the lawsuit against Ashjian in District Court in Carson City.
In the lawsuit, Wagner, Landis and others claim Ashjian filed a notarized declaration of candidacy that listed himself as a Tea Party member on March 1.
At 10 a.m. on March 2, the lawsuit says, he filed his Tea Party candidacy for the U.S. Senate with the secretary of state's office in Las Vegas. But he did not change his registration from Republican to the Tea Party until 2:25 p.m. March 2, according to the lawsuit.
Consequently, Wagner contends, Ashjian could not have filed as a Tea Party candidate when he still was a member of the Republican Party.
"That's not true," Ashjian said in a telephone interview, adding that it was "shameful" for the Independent American Party of Nevada to file a lawsuit.
"They are doing the bidding for the Republican Party," Ashjian said. "They should welcome the ability of minor parties to field candidates when the two major political parties have failed us so badly."
Filing a false declaration of candidacy is a violation of state law and probably would lead to Ashjian's removal as a candidate, a source said.
Despite Landis' claims to the contrary, Deputy Secretary of State for Elections Matt Griffin said there is a Tea Party of Nevada that was qualified by his office as a minor political party in January.
Dr. Sid James serves as the party's chairman, and lawyer Barry Levinson is its secretary. Neither could be reached for comment Monday.
Romy Ashjian, apparently a relative of candidate Ashjian, is listed as a member of the Tea Party's executive committee.
In its preamble, the party states that the Republicans and the Democrats have led America to a "massive national debt" and that the "great conservative majority in America" can no longer expect their ideas to be upheld by the major parties.
The Tea Party of Nevada has no known ties to the national Tea Party movement.
Judson Phillips of Tea Party Nation said last month that he had never heard of Ashjian but that he was not shocked that opportunists would try to latch on to the movement.
Landis, who is a registered Republican, said about one-third of Tea Party members are Republicans, one-third are Democrats, and the remainder are Libertarians and Independent American Party members. Members plan a protest Saturday in Reid's hometown of Searchlight.
If a true Tea Party candidate were on the ballot, he or she would receive a "great number" of votes, Landis said.
Contact reporter Ed Vogel at evogel @reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.