Russell Pearce is just like any other regular, anti-immigrant politician: racist and relentless. So it’s no wonder why, yesterday, immigration advocates and Arizonans alike celebrated as state senator Russell Pearce, architect of Arizona’s infamous SB 1070, lost to Jerry Lewis, the Republican candidate who was running against him in Arizona’s recall election.
Pearce’s recall — and its import — is a very big national story.
For years, Russell Pearce, Arizona’s most powerful legislator and the architect of its tough immigration law, has sought to make life so uncomfortable for illegal immigrants in the state that they pack up and go.
But Mr. Pearce, known for his gruff, uncompromising manner, was the one sent packing on Tuesday after disgruntled voters in this suburban neighborhood outside Phoenix banded together to recall him from the State Senate and replace him with a more moderate Republican…
“This is a game-changer for Arizona, politically speaking,” said Representative Raúl Grijalva, Democrat of Tucson. “He’s been the author of so much of what’s been going on in this state. He’s used race and division to get elected, and now he’s gone.”
According to Rachel Maddow, Pearce’s opponent, Jerry Lewis’ “biggest asset” in the election was that he is not Russell Pearce. Lewis won approximately 53% of the vote even though Pearce ran the seediest of campaigns, complete with antics as shady as trying to put a “sham candidate” on the ballot. When that didn’t work, he moved on to a last-ditch effort to confuse voters with a misleading robocall aimed at Latino voters. Unfortunately for Pearce, these efforts only helped Lewis. The LA Times reports:
The unusual voting environment, paired with growing discontent with the divisive Pearce, created an ideal situation for opponents to oust him.
An ethics investigation and underhanded tactics, including a candidate in the recall election who withdrew from the race after she was tied to Pearce, further sullied his campaign in the eyes of voters, observers say.
“I don’t see that this is a repudiation of Russell Pearce in terms of his position on illegal immigration,” Merrill said. “It was more that he became somewhat of an embarrassment.”
Others believe that his focus on immigration enforcement was the main reason he lost the election. According to Colorlines, “Pearce’s electorate was fed up with his myopic focus on immigration enforcement and anti-immigrant bills because they left little time to tackle the issues Arizona voters cared most about: jobs, education and healthcare.”
“[People] saw it in the first month of his leadership [as Senate president],” said Parraz. “He was focused on nullifying federal law, changing the U.S. Constitution, putting guns on campuses, cutting education, cutting off people waiting for organ transplants, and instead of spending $1.3 million and allowing 98 Arizonans to live, he sent $5 million to an angry sheriff for immigration enforcement.”
“That kind of politics, people started getting fed up.”
And it’s no wonder. Shortly after introducing SB 1070, Pearce introduced SB 1611, another distraction from the issues that really mattered to Arizonans. Eliza Gray at The New Republic described this bill as a “colossal immigration bill” that “is kind of a catch-all for radical proposals, designed to insert immigration enforcement into practically every facet of Arizonan life…”
And then, According to Seth Hoy at Immigration Impact, Pearce was ever-insistent on trying to repeal the 14th amendment, no matter how much damage it would do to Arizona’s poor economy:
“A cog in the wheel of local enforcement legislation, Arizona state Senator and now Senate President-elect, Russell Pearce, predictably said he will continue his immigration crusade to repeal part of the 14th Amendment despite the looming state budget crisis,” Hoy reported.
His position on immigration became such a problem that the business community pleaded with the now-former Senator to quit his anti-immigrant crusade. According to Gabriel Escobar of the Dallas Morning News:
The crusade was seen as so extreme and so potentially damaging to Arizona that many in his own party rebelled. That, in turn, doomed his legislative agenda and helped drive the recall.
The business community was instrumental in this turnaround. At one point, the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to Pearce urging him to leave immigration management to the federal government. The letter was signed by 60 CEOs from around the state.
Pearce’s loss sends a clear warning to Republican candidates who are focused on increasing immigration enforcement instead of fixing our broken immigration system with practical solutions. As Randy Parraz, one of the leaders of the recall effort, said in a press call yesterday morning:
The participation of Democrats as well as Republicans in this election shows that people are more interested in a type of politics that brings people together to solve problems than in extremism. When they are faced with politicians like Russell Pearce, they will take actions to hold those people accountable.
(State Senator Scott Beason of Albama, pay heed.)