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In November of 2010, Arizona State Senate President Russell Pearce, who sponsored Arizona’s highly controversial anti-immigrant law, SB 1070, won reelection with a convincing 56.5% of the vote. He easily defeated two challengers, Democrat Andrew Sherwood and Libertarian Andrea Garcia.
Last night, he was recalled. Thanks to the work of Citizens for a Better Arizona and its President and Co-Founder Randy Parraz, Promise Arizon in Action and Mi Familia Vota, Pearce is no longer the President of the Arizona State Senate. He’s no longer a State Senator, period.
Jerry Lewis, also a Republican, defeated Pearce after an extremely contentious campaign. Yesterday, the Arizona Republic reported that “if the vote totals hold, Pearce becomes the first sitting Senate president in the nation and the first Arizona legislator ever to lose a recall election. He would be required to step down immediately once the results become official.”
Those results have become official. Lewis, a political newbie, won approximately 54% of the vote. Now Pearce has to step down.
In a preview of the election, the Associated Press highlighted the importance of the immigration issue in the Pearce recall:
The architect of the groundbreaking Arizona immigration law that thrust the issue into the national political debate faces a recall election Tuesday likely to be viewed as a referendum on the state’s hardline immigration policies.
And that was the case. Pearce built furthered his career through divisive and ugly anti-immigrant legislation. SB 1070 caused serious economic harm to Arizona. Meanwhile, Lewis offers a different approach on the issue:
Lewis, who was not part of the recall campaign, said his approach on immigration would be to do more to forge consensus for comprehensive action. “The image that people have of us is something that we’re not,” he said.
“A year and a half after its passage, can we say that our border is more secure now than before its passage? I believe the answer is no,” according to the Arizona Republic. “Securing the border and protecting public safety requires that we provide our police and sheriff agencies with the necessary resources to combat violent criminal cartels. In this regard, SB 1070 missed the mark.”
Pearce ran a desperate and ugly campaign. He first tried to put a “sham candidate” on the ballot. The Arizona Republic reported that Olivia Cortes, “was supported by Pearce family members and allies and was widely regarded as a sham candidate whose purpose was to dilute the anti-Pearce vote.” That effort was foiled after legal action.
By September most of the attention was focused not on Pearce the incumbent, not on Lewis the anointed challenger, but on Cortes, whose petition circulators admitted that her purpose was to help Pearce win the election.
Lawyers working with Citizens for a Better Arizona filed a lawsuit to force her off the ballot. In her only public appearance, testifying in court on Sept. 29, Cortes defended her candidacy as legitimate. A judge allowed her to remain in the race.
The next week, however, those lawyers claimed to have uncovered new evidence implicating Cortes and Pearce’s supporters in election fraud. Cortes quit the race on Oct. 6 rather than face another court hearing the next day.
On the eve of the election, Pearce launched a last-ditch effort to confuse voters with a misleading robocall aimed at Latino voters:
A robocall instructing Mesa voters to “protest” the Russell Pearce/Jerry Lewis Senate election has many Latinos claiming “voter deception.”
Days before the re-election vote for Arizona Senate President Pearce, Latino families living in Mesa’s 18th legislative district tell ABC15 prerecorded audio messages are calling their phones. A man with a Spanish accent says:
“Voters beware. If you plan to vote this Tuesday, you should know that both candidates for State Senator, Russell Pearce and Jerry Lewis, are Republicans. The only other candidate, Olivia Cortez was forced to withdraw last month. You can protest this one-sided election by writing in your own candidate.”
Critics say the message is targeting Latino voters to convince them not to vote for Jerry Lewis, since most would not vote for Pearce anyway.
Pearce tried to smear Lewis over campaign contributions, too. Despite Pearce’s claims to the contrary, most of Lewis’s support came from within the Senate District, which is not true for his own campaign money. According to The Arizona Republic’s review of campaign finance reports “only 12 percent of Pearce’s financial support came from within Mesa, while Lewis drew 59 percent of his support from the city.”
The people of Mesa have spoken — and they have sent a message to Arizona and the nation: Anti-immigrant extremism doesn’t work and people want solutions. Let’s hope the state’s leaders, particularly Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl, are paying attention.
Today, many are paying “tribute” to the notorious ex-Senator via twitter. Don’t forget to tweet yours.
For more information, check out our backgrounder on now-former Senator Russell Pearce here.