Supporters of a successful effort to recall Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce (R) say the results of the election are “a cautionary tale for right-wing extremists” like Pearce who try to “demonize” illegal immigrants.On Tuesday, Pearce, the author of the state’s controversial immigration law, became the first legislator ever recalled in the state. If the results are made official, his Republican opponent Republican Jerry Lewis will take over after November 21st.
According to KTAR, Lewis leads with 53% of the vote, while Pearce has about 45%. This amounts to about 1800 votes, though elections officials say there are still thousands of early and provisional ballots that still need to be counted this week.
“I want to make something very clear: If being recalled is the price for keeping those promises, then so be it.” Pearce told reporters in his concession speech.
The recall effort was primarily led by the non-partisan group Citizens For A Better Arizona, which successfully circulated a petition to force a recall election earlier this year. The group cites a number of Pearce’s conservative positions, including his opposition to the 14th Amendment and his flirtations with birtherism and tentherism, as reasons for the recall.
But in the end it came down to immigration.
Though Lewis and Pearce agreed on many of the issues, Lewis was more moderate on immigration, while Pearce had become notorious after he fathered the state’s immigration crackdown. The law, which is currently making its way through the courts after a suit by the Justice Department, includes a provision requiring law enforcement to demand immigration papers from anyone they have a “reasonable suspicion” of being in the country illegally, which critics called an invitation to racial profiling.
“Certainly the immigration issue is important to many people including myself,” Lewis said. “We need to bring a civil tone to that discussion, a professional approach to solving it, an approach that is reasonable and won’t be … in the courts for years to come.”
In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Randy Parraz, co-founder and president of Citizens For A Better Arizona, said that Pearce chose to “blame immigrants for problems rather than focus on issues.” But the election results, he said, “demonstrates a shift in politics here in Arizona” and show that there will now “be consequences for this type of extreme, ultra-conservative agenda.”
Organizers of the Pearce recall effort emphasized the importance in getting out the Latino vote to their success. Eliseo Medina, the international Secretary-Treasurer for the SEIU said that low-income and Latino voters were instrumental to ousting Pearce. “Those who show disrespect by the way they talk about immigrants, such as building border fences that would electrocute them, will have limited careers,” Medina said.
Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, said that though Pearce’s district is conservative, it is a “cautionary tale for right-wing extremists.”He added that in national races and even the presidential race, “you’re going to have a Latino vote that’s going to be incredibly decisive.”
The race, Sharry said, should “remind Democrats that immigration is a mobilizing issue for Latino voters and instead of running away from it they should lean into it.”
Indeed, the Latino vote was so important to Pearce’s ouster that his supporters were accused of running a sham candidate in the election to split the vote. A judge agreed that Olivia Cortes — who eventually dropped out of the race — was recruited to run by Pearce backers.
If you ask Sheriff Joe Arpaio, though, this is not the end of Pearce. “Regardless of what you may hear,” he told the Phoenix New Times . “[Russell] is a kind guy when you get to know him…knowing Russell, he’s not gonna go away and hide. He may have other plans. If he does [run for office], no matter what he runs for, I’m gonna support him.”