Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce’s Recall Has National Implications

Published on August 10th, 2011

By Joe Guzzardi
August 4, 2011

For advocates of immigration law enforcement, one of the most crucial elections will be held in Arizona where State Senate President Russell Pearce will likely face a November recall challenge.

Maricopa County election officials have certified that Citizens for a Better Arizona, an anti-Pierce organization that considers the Senator “too extreme,” has collected over 10,300 signatures, nearly 3,000 more than necessary to hold a recall election. The group opposes Pearce, who represents Mesa and surrounding areas, mainly on the grounds that he sponsored and advocated for Arizona’s SB 1070 which would allow law enforcement officers under certain circumstances to request proof of legal residency from a detained individual. Pearce has also actively pushed for other strong immigration control measures including a bill to deny automatic citizenship to children born in Arizona to illegal alien parents.

To counter Citizens for a Better Arizona, a PAC led by former Congressman Tom Tancredo formed the Committee to Oppose the Recall of Russell Pearce.

Unfortunately for Pearce, he’s also embroiled in a non-immigration controversy that has angered many Arizonans. While the state has a budget deficit, a 9.2 unemployment rate and half the home mortgages are underwater, Pearce along with 31 other state legislators is under fire for his involvement in a Fiesta Bowl scandal.

According to official Fiesta Bowl documents released last month, from 2002 to 2009 Pearce took family members on bowl-sponsored trips to the annual Temple event and stayed at luxury hotels. In total, the bowl said it spent more on Pearce than any other individual lawmaker: $39,347.

Pearce has repaid $1,417. Given voters deep skepticism about politicians, it’s possible that many could agree with Pearce about immigration but vote for his recall because he took advantage of his position to accept perks.

Currently, Pearce has three options. He can file a legal challenge to the signatures in an effort to get the number below the required total, he can allow the recall election, the first in Arizona’s history, to proceed or he can resign which he has said repeatedly that he won’t do. But Pearce’s lawyer, Lisa Hauer, indicated that Pearce may challenge the signatures and will make a decision within the next ten days.

Arizona’s unique laws may work on behalf of Pearce. Recalling a still sitting legislator and filling the vacated seat are done in one election. Once Governor Jan Brewer sets an election date, district residents of any political party can file nomination petitions and begin collecting the 621 signatures required to run on the ballot against Pearce.

The fact that there are enough votes for a recall doesn’t necessarily mean that Pearce will be displaced. The candidate with the most votes wins; there’s no runoff.

That’s good news for Pearce who has never lost an election. In 2010, Pearce didn’t face a Republican primary challenge and defeated his Democratic rival by 57-34. Because of all of the election variables, Arizona State University constitutional law professor Paul Bender predicted that “Chances are, the incumbent will win.”

Nationally, the stakes are high. Whenever a pro-enforcement candidate like Pearce loses, proponents of higher immigration always point to his campaign as an example of why running on a restrictionist platform is a losing proposition. That discourages other like-minded candidates from speaking out against illegal immigration.

Even though the 2010 Congressional results proved that Americans want enforcement, a Pearce defeat would give the amnesty lobby new fodder.


Joe Guzzardi has written editorial columns—mostly about immigration and related social issues – since 1986. He is a Senior Writing Fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) and his columns have frequently been syndicated in various U.S. newspapers and websites. Contact him at [email protected].

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