Supporters of Arizona Senator Challenge Recall Efforts

 Supporters of Arizona Senator Challenge Recall Efforts

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PHOENIX – Republican Senator Russell Pearce, the darling of illegal immigration reform and architect of SB1070, one of the nation’s toughest immigration laws, will likely face a recall election next November.

But the bi-partisan group that secured 10,000 valid signatures surpassing the amount needed for the election say that’s only half the battle.

On Monday, supporters of Pearce filed a complaint asking a state judge to discard all the signatures in the petition, arguing among other things, that voters were misled by a statement explaining the reasons for the recall.

“It’s basically Russell Pearce trying to steal the election by canceling the election,” said Randy Parraz, co-founder of Citizens for a Better Arizona, who described the move as an “act of desperation” by the senator.

The legal challenge to the recall election came the same day that Republican Governor Jan Brewer distributed a nationwide e-mail request for donations in support of Pearce, who she called “a national leader in our fight to enforce our nation's immigration laws and to secure our border.”

“His unwavering dedication to enforcing the rule of law will help save our country from an Obama administration dedicated to undermining our nation's immigration laws,” she wrote in the e-mail.
Brewer linked supporters of the recall with organizers of an economic boycott against Arizona in response to its passage of SB1070 in 2010, a claim Parraz was quick to deny.

“I think it is not factually based,” said Parraz. “We’ve never talked about the boycott or pushed it.”

The recall committee, established last January, includes conservative Republicans and members of the Mormon Church, as well as Latinos and people from all walks of life, said Parraz.

The group contends that Pearce, a conservative Republican and Mormon, has focused so much attention on his immigration crusade that other issues have simply fallen by the wayside, including securing funding for education and improving the state’s economy.

And that, says Parraz, is why his group succeeded in collecting more than 10,365 signatures from residents in the city of Mesa, 20 miles east of Phoenix, and covering much of Pearce’s legislative district.

A Rival Challenger

Rumors that Jerry Lewis, an ex-bishop and former high-ranking official in the Mormon Church, could be running against Pearce provided an added boost to organizers of the recall.

“For someone to have the courage to do it is formidable,” said Parraz, who added that his committee has not been involved in recruiting any candidates and didn’t know Lewis personally.

Lewis, 54, serves as the assistant superintendent at Sequoia Schools, a Mesa-based charter school. He is  a 30-year resident of Mesa. He is expected to make an official announcement this week.

Still, supporters of Pearce say the election is his to loose. Having gone undefeated in eight elections, Pearce enjoys strong support in District 18, which covers most of western and central Mesa. The district is highly conservative, with a high number of fellow LDS Church members who have traditionally lined up behind the Senate’s president.

Pearce, who remained quiet even after the governor formally called a special election, turned in a letter of defense on Friday to the Secretary of State as mandated by state law.

“I was born in Mesa and I share and promote the values of our great community: freedom, excelling schools, vibrant economic growth, job creation, balanced budgets, strong law enforcement and secure borders," he said.

In the letter, which will appear on the ballot for the special election, Pearce makes no mention of SB 1070, the controversial immigration law that burnished his national image as an immigration hardliner.

A number of elements combine to make November’s election, if carried out, highly unique. It would mark the first time in Arizona's history that a sitting state legislator would face a recall vote. The election itself, meanwhile, is to be non-partisan, meaning, that rival candidates would not have a letter next to their name identifying their political affiliation.

Yet, some observers say that too many candidates could fracture the vote at the polls and help Pearce. So far, no Democrat has expressed interest in running against Pearce.

Andrew Sherwood, who ran as the Democratic candidate for District 18 in 2010, said this time he will stay away.

“This recall is not about me, it’s about Russell Pearce,” said Sherwood in an interview with NAM. “I will support the most viable candidate.”

Can another Republican and Mormon be that candidate?

Daryl Williams is a commercial trial attorney and a member of the Mormon Church. He’s been critical of Pearce in several public presentations, and says Pearce’s political views are at odds with the most recent pronouncements of the LDS church.

“He has played on the fact that he is a Mormon,” said Williams, but “the Church has taken a position that is inconsistent with the things that Pearce has done.”

In November 2010, the LDS church gave support to the Utah Compact, a five-point statement that acknowledges the contributions of immigrants to the economy, opposes the separation of families, and characterizes immigration as an issue that requires a humane solution rather than the criminalization of immigrants.

At the time, the LDS church also urged Congress to pass immigration reform.

Williams concedes that on the ground not everyone is pleased with the church pronouncements on illegal immigration.

And the possibility that Lewis could be running for office is already steering some controversy.
“I don’t personally know Mr. Lewis, but I’m sure he was recruited by Parraz,” said Matt Tolman, leader of the group Citizens who Oppose the Pearce Recall Committee. A fellow Mormon and resident of District 18, Tolman adds, “If that’s the case, I’m concerned that they have similar views.”

Parraz said even thought he applauds Lewis’ candidacy, there are no connections between the two. Lewis could not be reached for comment.

Tolman describes the recall effort as “an abuse of the law,” arguing such moves should be reserved for politicians involved in criminal activity and that the recall committee “duped” voters into signing petitions.

“You can’t have it both ways,” says Parraz. “There were people who told us they didn’t want to sign the petition, there were people that were so excited they wanted as in their homes. You can’t dupe 10,300 people.”

No new candidates have emerged to challenge Pearce. Parraz believes other Republicans are reluctant to face the sitting president of the Senate and go against their own party.

One thing is certain, however: the election will be carried out at a breakneck pace.

Unlike during a regular general election, candidates will have just over three months to campaign. Petitions can be filed with the Secretary of State's Office beginning Aug. 10, with 621 signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Parraz’s group plans to encourage those who signed the recall petition to show up at the ballot in November. Pearce’s supporters are expected to put up a similarly tough fight.

Observers note that Pearce’s defeat would mark a watershed for Arizona’s state legislature.

“It will moderate it greatly, “ said Todd Landfried, a spokesperson for Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform “When people see that we can really start addressing our problems, there would be no desire or interest to return him into office.”