Russell Pearce’s Arizona Comeback Faces Surprise Challenger: The Founder Of SkyMall

March 20, 2012 9:52 a.m.

Russell Pearce, the once-powerful Arizona legislator best known for sponsoring the state’s harsh immigration law, announced Monday night he plans to mount a comeback for elected office despite being thrown out of his seat by voters in a recall last fall.At a Tea Party rally with Sheriff Joe Arpaio and other conservatives in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, Ariz., Pearce declared his intent to run for the Republican nomination for state Senate.

He’ll have some competition from an unlikely source, though. Just hours before the announcement, Bob Worsley, the founder and former chief executive of the inflight retailer SkyMall, said that he, too, would run for the GOP nomination.

Worsley has a profile similar to the man who beat Pearce last fall. He is a wealthy businessman with strong ties to the Mormon church.

Pearce lost his seat in the November recall to a fellow Republican who branded him as too extreme to represent their home city of Mesa. Any chance of a rematch died, however, when redrawn political lines put Pearce in another district.

The former legislator was expected to face off in the new district with Sen. Rich Crandall, a moderate Republican who currently holds the seat. But in another surprise late Monday, Crandall dropped out and threw his support behind Worsley.

While still boasting of conservative credentials, Worsley appears to have a gentler approach to the state’s booming immigrant population than Pearce did during his time in office.

On a biography on the website of the Mormon church, Worsley wrote about his close ties to the Hispanic community. He said he is fluent in Spanish and spent time as a missionary in South America.

“I grew to love and appreciate the cultures south of the border,” he wrote. “We are all God’s children. We are all immigrants to this great country.”

Last year, after Pearce was thrown out of office, his critics warned that it was “a cautionary tale” for politicians who engage in anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Still, Pearce said he had no plans to change his positions on anything.

“I want to make something very clear,” he said. “If being recalled is the price for keeping those promises, then so be it.”

Since losing his seat, Pearce has remained part of the Arizona political scene. He was selected as the No. 2 position in the state Republican Party and he joined a group called Ban Amnesty Now, an organization devoted to fighting illegal immigration.

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