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Arizona Has Nothing Better to Do With $216K, Considered Reimbursing Disgraced Former State Senator for Recall Election

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The Arizona state legislature this week declined to increase funds for the developmentally disabled, declined to grant 100,000 poor children greater access to health care, and declined to fund much-needed highway and education projects—but it did consider reimbursing recalled state senator Russell Pearce for $216,000 for costs incurred during his failed 2010 campaign, when Pearce was ousted in a historic recall election.  We know this is the legislature that passed arch-anti-immigrant law SB 1070 and thought about a bill that would force women to prove to their employers that they were using birth control for medical reasons.  And yes, we know that the amendment died a few days after being passed out of committee.  But still, the idea that Arizona apparently had nothing better to do with the money is a bit beyond the pale.

“There was no public hearing on the amendment, which was written about 90 minutes before the committee met,” wrote Laurie Roberts, a columnist for the Arizona Republic.  “There was not even a public explanation of the amendment, so that we mere members of the public would know what the darn thing says. It was perhaps the most arrogant display I’ve seen at the Legislature and that is saying something.”

Yeah, it is pretty arrogant that Arizona lawmakers tried to kick some back to one of their (former) own.  It’s also unnecessary, since not a penny of the $216,000 in question was Pearce’s own money—it came from supporters, contributors, and lobbyists around the country.  Yet Arizona actually considered cutting a check from the taxpayers directly to Pearce’s pocket.

We’re talking about taxpayer money used to reimburse a man voters disliked enough to recall—the first successful recall ever in the state’s history, initiated by constituents because Pearce was too obsessed with things like immigration to tackle important things like jobs, and won after a sleazy campaign during which Pearce supporters (among other things) recruited a sham candidate in an attempt to split the anti-Pearce vote.  The state legislature, with this amendment, was essentially apologizing to Pearce for having suffered this indignity, and asking if a $216,000 check would make him feel better.  This isn’t Wall Street.  Despised former state officials should not receive golden parachutes.

It’s Arizona, so who knows what could have happened.  But on the same day a legislative committee voted on the Pearce reimbursement, J.T. Ready, an anti-immigrant neo-Nazi who once hailed Pearce as a father figure, whom Pearce once ordained as an elder in the Mormon Church, tragically shot and killed himself and four others in Gilbert, Arizona.  Pearce has been trying to distance himself from the supremacist Minuteman, but as the Daily Kos wrote, “that doesn’t erase the evidence that Pearce and J.T. Ready used to ‘pal around’ with one another, hang on Russ’s back porch and tell racist jokes, and exchange Neo-Nazi emails, among other fine buddy things.”  His connection to Ready is well-documented, and put Pearce back in the national spotlight just when his buddies in the legislature were trying to pull a fast one on Arizona taxpayers.

Asking Arizona and its legislature to do something that makes sense, that’s good for taxpayers, that doesn’t reinforce the image of the state being an uber-xenophobic backwater that no one wants to step foot in—and do it when national media is not paying attention–might just be too much to hope for.