New America Media, News Report, Valeria Fernandez, Posted: Nov 09, 2011
MESA, Ariz. -- Mesa voters got their say in a historical election that resulted in the recall of Republican Senator Russell Pearce, also known as the architect of SB 1070.
Pearce conceded defeat in a brief press conference in the City of Mesa surrounded by politicians, friends and controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
“If being recalled is the cost of keeping one's promises, then so be it,” said Pearce.
His opponent, Republican Jerry Lewis, expressed surprise. “I think people were tired of the vitriolic politics,” he said.
Pearce will be required to step down immediately from office once the results are made official. His recall marks the success of a new strategy of political organizing in Arizona that brought together a diverse array of voters representing various religious and political affiliations.
“This is an exciting time for Arizona. We are (heading) in a new direction. We are saying, 'No' to the extreme divisive politics of Russell Pearce,” said Randy Parraz, co-founder of Citizens for a Better Arizona (CBA), the group that started the recall more than 10 months ago.
CBA collected more than 10,000 valid signatures to force a special election to recall Pearce, who ascended to the role of Senate president after crafting one of the toughest anti-immigrant laws in the country.
While SB 1070, which was partially enjoined in the courts, wasn’t the main focus of the recall, it did much to motivate voters to join the movement.
Pearce has been in office for 10 years. Like many of his constituents, he is a member of the Mormon Church and first gained national notoriety as an immigration hardliner for his support of Prop. 200, a ballot initiative denying public benefits to undocumented immigrants that was passed by state voters in 2004.
With no other issue on the ballot, election officials weren’t expecting a high turn out. But by Election Day, they said they had received more than 15,000 mail-in ballots from Mesa voters.
Around noon voters began to trickle in to the First United Methodist Church of Mesa voting center, an area with a high concentration of Latinos.
Long time Mesa resident José García, 64, said he voted for Lewis not because he disagreed with SB 1070 but because he supported Lewis’ stand on other policies.
“It’s not just that [Pearce] is discriminatory [against Latinos]. He’s bad for politics in Arizona,” he said.
Pearce supporters mostly criticized the recall, indicating that opponents should have waited until the regular election, and that Lewis should have faced him during a primary -- not an open -- election.
“I think the recall wasn’t necessary. We voted for him. We put him in office for a reason,” said 53-year-old charter school teacher Reed Gaddie.
Gaddie said he applauded Pearce’s efforts to fight illegal immigration and disregarded opponents’ arguments that he cut funding for education and health care.
“If border security and SB 1070 were dropped, the 100,000 (immigrants) that left will come back in larger numbers,” he said in reference to statistics that report an exodus of immigrant families from the state.
The Latina Candidate
The recall election wasn’t without controversy.
Signs reading “Sí Se Puede” began to appear around Mesa announcing the candidacy of Olivia Cortes, a Republican and a Mormon. Cortes did not grant any interviews to the media, did not have a website and was later revealed to enjoy the support of Greg Western, the Mesa Tea Party president.
Opponents of Pearce filed a lawsuit accusing Olivia of being a sham candidate whose goal was to split the anti-Pearce vote between herself and Lewis and to confuse Latino voters, who make up about 13,000 of the district’s 70,000 registered voters.
Pearce denied any relationship with Cortes and refuted allegations that she was “planted” to help him win the race.
Cortes later withdrew from the race, announcing on her website that her decision was due to “intimidation and harassment” and the costs of defending herself in the lawsuit.
Cortes’ campaign finances revealed that she had collected only $900 in contributions, leading to questions as to who paid for the circulation of petitions to get her on the ballot.