In a celebratory display of unprecedented organization, a bipartisan group of activists poured into the Arizona secretary of state’s office yesterday with more than 18,300 signatures to demand the recall of State Senate president Russell Pearce. The filing of the petitions marked the culmination of a campaign that has defied expectations, and a watershed moment for the beleaguered state. Once the state and Maricopa County recorders verify the legal requirement of 7,756 signatures from the traditionally conservative and Mormon-founded Mesa district, Pearce—who is considered by many as the de facto governor and motivating force behind the state’s notorious blitz of extremist policies on education, health, guns and immigration—will become the first State Senate president in American history to be recalled.
Campaign supporters declared the historic moment to be a turning point in Arizona’s extremist politics, which have dominated national headlines over the past two years. Coming only days after a Supreme Court decision upheld the first in a series of controversial immigration laws originating in Arizona, the recall campaign also takes on national implications. Pearce has influenced legislators and government officials in other states—Georgia, for example, recently adopted a punitive immigration law modeled on an Arizona measure—and he is affiliated with the powerful American Legislative Exchange Council, a shadowy group of legislators and corporate lobby interests.
Working nonstop in the desert heat over the past four months, organizers welcomed such a national showdown with newfound confidence in their ability to reclaim the state’s floundering image and economy.
"We want to send a message to Senator Pearce, to every legislator down here at the Arizona legislature, that this kind of extreme, ideologically driven policies will no longer be tolerated in our state," said Citizens for a Better Arizona co-founder and Phoenix Republican activist Chad Snow.
"Extremist politics only result in short-term gain," added Citizens for a Better Arizona’s co-founder and main organizer, Randy Parraz, who called Pearce an "outright embarrassment to the state." The recall effort, Parraz went on, was a reminder for right-wing extremists across the country that there would be "consequences" for their ruinous policies.
Throughout the campaign, Arizona activists repeatedly stressed that the recall effort transcended the hot-button immigration issue, reminding residents that all of Pearce’s draconian measures are out of touch with the values and interests of Arizonans. In a statement on Tuesday, Citizens for a Better Arizona focused on Pearce’s "reckless disregard" for public education; his support for drastic cuts in healthcare for the poor, including the state’s widely denounced termination of the organ transplant program; and his overall role in diminishing the state’s reputation and economy.
Calling Pearce a "real demagogue," retired educator John McDonald, who lives in the state senator’s district and joined the door-to-door campaign over the past 120 days, said Pearce’s "meanness goes too far." McDonald criticized Pearce for what he called punishing measures against the poor and indigent, as well as schools and children.
An active Mormon, Snow charged that Pearce was even out of step with the majority of Mormons in the district and the nation. Earlier this spring, the Church of Latter Day Saints released a statement on immigration issues, calling for “a responsible approach” based on "love thy neighbor" principles, the need to keep families intact and the "federal government’s obligation to secure its borders."