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January, 2012, Page 28
Illustrations by Mirelle Inglefield
The dust-up in District 18 and the historic recall of Russell Pearce belie Arizona’s image as a “red state,” and present voters with a new political weapon.
The same day Governor Jan Brewer signed documents officially recalling Russell Pearce from the Arizona Senate, the group that organized Pearce’s recall announced they were seeking volunteers for a possible 2012 recall effort against her, and also gathering volunteers to challenge Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Russell Pearce was the first elected official in Arizona history to be recalled from office by voters, and he may not be the last.
Post-recall, Arizona may look less red to some people, but others contend the image of Arizona as a right-wing rampart was never accurate. Recent polls show a divided state (a 2011 Gallup Poll concluded Arizona was one of the most politically balanced states in the nation, with only a two point Republican advantage), and a voter base increasingly more concerned with jobs and the economy, and less concerned with border security and immigration – at least less than they were a few years ago, when Pearce successfully ran for Senate on an anti-illegal immigration platform.
Many say Pearce’s policies helped propagate a “zero tolerance” image of immigration in Arizona, which spurred national boycotts that hurt business. It remains to be seen whether Pearce’s replacement in District 18, Jerry Lewis, will do a better job of keeping his constituency happy. But however politicians and pundits are divided on the issues, they all seem to agree that recall elections represent a political weapon that fires across both sides of the aisle, and that Pearce’s ouster could spark more recall efforts in Arizona and around the nation.
Nationwide, voters deposed more than 13 elected officials in six states via recall elections in 2011, including Pearce, Michigan Representative Paul Scott, and Wisconsin State Senators Randy Hopper and Dan Kapanke. But it was the ousting of Pearce, the first sitting senate president to be recalled in the nation’s history, that really got the figurative gears turning.
“If it can happen in Arizona, it can happen anywhere,” says Rudy Lopez, national field director of politics for Campaign for Community Change, a Washington, D.C.-based education and advocacy group for minorities and marginalized communities. “If Russell Pearce can be recalled, anybody can be recalled.”
After all, Pearce was reelected in District 18 in 2010, after an election in which he was unchallenged in the Republican primary and defeated Democrat challenger Andrew Sherwood by nearly 7,000 votes.
Pearce sponsored, drafted and championed SB 1070, parts of which were deemed unconstitutional by a federal court. His approach to immigration reform was seen as too hardline by many people – even by some of his fellow Republicans and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which Pearce is a longtime member. Pearce’s image was further tarnished when he was named in a special committee report on the Fiesta Bowl scandal, alleging he’d taken free game tickets.
In January 2011, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group called Citizens for a Better Arizona – helmed by former U.S. Senate candidate Randy Parraz and lawyer Chad Snow – launched a recall election effort against Pearce.
Parraz says volunteers at CBA felt Pearce was “over reaching and not focusing on the things most important to them, which are jobs, the economy, education and health care.”
Volunteers from CBA went door-to-door throughout District 18, collecting more than 18,000 signatures on recall petitions by the end of May. A recall election was scheduled for November, and Pearce’s seat was challenged by a former charter school superintendent named Jerry Lewis.
Like Pearce, Lewis is a Republican and a member of the Mormon Church. But his views on immigration are more in line with the Utah Compact adopted by the Mormon Church in 2010, which calls for a more compassionate approach to immigration reform than the law enforcement-heavy SB 1070. “To me, law enforcement is a piece of the action, but it’s not the whole piece,” Lewis says. “We have to look at the whole thing, and I think we can do that in a way that speaks to our humanity and makes it clear that we’re all brothers and sisters. We don’t want to separate families – that creates a much bigger problem on societies than anything else.”
Some say the District 18 recall election is symptomatic of a philosophical schism about immigration in the Mesa Mormon Church. On one side, there’s Russell Pearce and his law-and-order supporters. On the other, there’s a more family-and-business-oriented group that includes people like Jerry Lewis and Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley.
“These two factions are warring. The battlefield that just occurred in the recall election is a great example of how these two power factions are circling, trying to create immigration policy and what immigration policy looks like,” says Shane Wikfors, editor of the conservative blog Sonoran Alliance. “With Lewis now in that seat, the more business-oriented side believes they’ve sent a message to the legislature that ‘You need to tone down the rhetoric. You need to become less harsh. You need to be more adoptive of friendly immigration reform.’”
The night Pearce conceded defeat to Jerry Lewis, he told media, “I intend to spend a little time with my God, my wife, my family, and re-assess where we need to go.” He did not give any interviews in the aftermath of the recall, but pundits say it’s not likely he’ll fade into the sunset.
“I suspect he’s going to stay active,” says David Berman, senior research fellow at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University. “He’s probably got some opportunities for elected office in Mesa. He comes from a law enforcement background, so there may be something there for him. There are all kinds of organizations on illegal immigration that he could join up with and be a spokesman for. I think he’s probably got a lot of opportunities, and I expect we’ll hear from him quite a bit.”
Pearce could run for office again in Mesa. That could be in District 18, or possibly District 19, depending on where the Independent Redistricting Commission redraws the lines. Current draft maps put Pearce in District 19, the seat of Republican State Senator Rich Crandall.
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