I was at a professional conference last Friday and a conversation with a colleague turned to the Russell Pearce recall. Pearce, as some who don't live in Arizona may not know, is the President of the State Senate and the second most powerful politician in the state (and some would argue the first, because the Governor reacts to what he does, rather than the other way around.) This individual, who does not reside in district 18 (Pearce's district) wanted to know why so many people in the state care. My answer was, because what Pearce has done affects the whole state, and well beyond for that matter.
Pearce was the lead sponsor of SB 1070 and has over the past few years been the chief proponent of a whole raft of anti-immigration legislation which has made Arizona synonymous with 'anti-immigrant' and some would argue 'anti-Hispanic' (I have Hispanic friends here in Arizona who are natural born U.S. citizens but since this has passed they have experienced racial profiling, unwarranted detention and harrassment of a type that as a white person I have never had to face.)
Besides Pearce's personal quirkiness which leans towards the extreme (for example in 2006 he 'accidentally' forwarded a virulently anti-Semitic email from the National Alliance, a white supremecist group to dozens of his supporters; and he carries a loaded firearm onto the floor of the state Senate and has encouraged others to do so as well) he has pushed towards the far, far right on virtually every issue. As President of the Senate he has pushed for cuts far more devastating to education and other state services than even Governor Brewer or House Speaker Kirk Adams (who is himself very conservative) have asked. Pearce promised that this state Senate would be a 'Tea Party Senate' and he has delivered, pushing or passing bills asserting the right of Arizona to nullify Federal laws, seize Federal land to train a state militia and kick thousands of people off of medicaid, including many who would be eligible in any other state in the nation.
The anti-immigrant rhetoric of Pearce and his supporters almost seethes with hostility, and it is for this reason, and for his role in crafting such a bad budget that earlier this year Pearce opponents (from both inside and outside of district 18) have come together to support his ouster. More signatures were collected on recall petitions than people who actually voted for Pearce last year, and despite several desperation lawuits by Pearce the recall is moving forward.
Pearce's supporters have even gone to the point of using despicable and unacceptable tactics, like throwing a padlock that struck Pearce's recall oppnent (more on that in a moment) in the nuts to try and deter him from announcing a run, and putting a sham candidate with an Hispanic surname on the ballot for the express purpose of diverting Hispanic votes. The candidate, Olivia Cortes, withdrew once it became clear that recall supporters had 'smoking gun' evidence tying her candidacy to Pearce supporters and she was about to be confonted with it in court.
Pearce's opponent is Jerry Lewis, also a conservative Republican from Mesa. Like Pearce, Lewis is a Latter Day Saint (Mormon)-- full disclosure: so am I-- and like Pearce, if he gets into the Senate expect him to cast mainly conservative votes. In their debates, the only place where Lewis clearly differed from Pearce was on immigration, decrying the mean-spiritedness behind a lot of Pearce immigration legislation and pushing for a comprehensive solution that is focused on keeping families together rather than deporting family members. Pearce has also gotten into some hot water with the Church for claiming that his position on immigration was supported by the Church and implying that he was some kind of church spokesman. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Pearce has never held any such calling, and in fact recently the Church has stated bluntly their position on immigration and it is in favor of the kind of comprehensive plan that Lewis is proposing-- in other words NOT what Pearce wants.
So why are so many Democrats and Independents, as well as Republicans supporting Jerry Lewis? If this is an election between two conservative Republicans then shouldn't we claim that we don't have a dog in this fight?
No, we should not. I don't care if Jerry Lewis is a conservative Republican. I don't care if he votes 95% with the Republicans. I don't care, because no matter what his positions are, he's not Russell Pearce. The substance may not change, but if Pearce is removed as leader of the Senate you can be sure that the tone will change.
As well it should.