By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Editor's note: See the latest on the race in Legislative District 18 here.
Mesa's Hohokam Stadium, home of the Chicago Cubs' spring training camp, seats 12,500 at capacity. But on the evening of October 14, only a small percentage of the seats were filled as more than a dozen speakers harangued an audience of 200 to 300 die-hard supporters of state Senate President Russell Pearce.
They had gathered for a pep rally for the embattled Arizona kingpin, who is staring down the barrel of a recall election in Legislative District 18, one that I predict he will lose narrowly to Republican challenger Jerry Lewis, a Mesa educator.
Tellingly, the audience consisted of the usual suspects, longtime Pearce supporters such as convicted public urinator "Buffalo" Rick Galeener, Legislative District 19 GOP committee persons Pat Oldroyd and Dan Grimm (simultaneously, Pearce stalwarts and signature-gatherers for sham recall candidate Olivia Cortes), plus-size nativist masseuse Brandy Baron, and Rusty Childress, once head of the now-defunct anti-immigrant organization United for a Sovereign America.
"Some of you I see at every event," Pearce told his groupies when he spoke. "Your dedication overwhelms me."
Generally, these were not LD 18 voters, the people who will decide Pearce's fate on Tuesday, November 8. When one speaker asked how many of the attendees were from out of town, more than half cheered, oblivious to the inadvertent message they were sending.
As Sheriff Joe Arpaio gushed on Pearce's behalf, he acknowledged this telling fact: "I know most of you are probably not from District 18. It's nice that you're all here supporting [Pearce], but we've got to get the voters of 18 to do the right thing."
Correspondingly, most of Pearce's financial support has come from outside his district. Of the nearly $230,000 raised by Pearce's re-election committee, Patriots for Pearce (also the sponsor of the rally), only about 12 percent was from Mesa residents. About 20 percent of the donations were not even from Arizona residents.
By contrast, nearly 70 percent of the financial support for Lewis came from Mesans, and most of that from LD18 itself, which comprises much of Mesa.
It is the qualified electors of LD 18 — more than 10,000 of them — who signed a petition circulated by Citizens for a Better Arizona to force the recall. And yet, on this night, the outsiders railed against those LD 18 residents, decrying the recall itself as un-American.
State Senator Frank Antenori, who represents LD 30 (in Pima, Cochise and Santa Cruz Counties), called the recall "an ambush." Tom Morrissey, chairman of the state GOP and a Phoenix resident, referred to it as "a power grab by the left."
Indeed, a common theme of the pro-Pearce camp has been that the recall is illegitimate, despite its being part of the Arizona Constitution.
But such arguments were not in vogue when, earlier this year, Pearce supported a failed recall effort against Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik or when such Pearce supporters as East Valley Tea Party chairman Greg Western backed a recall of LD 19 state Senator Rich Crandall, a fellow Republican. As with the Dupnik effort, that bid went nowhere.
Western, it's important to note, was the guy who recruited Cortes to run in the LD 18 recall as a means of siphoning votes from Lewis. This Richard Nixon-style dirty trickery — which arguably is a felony under Arizona law — backfired on the Pearce camp and has led to the defections of many of Pearce's conservative Mormon followers.
One who has stayed true to Pearce recently told a member of Lewis' campaign that if Pearce goes down in LD 18, it will be in large part because of the Cortes affair, and the numerous efforts to slime Lewis, himself a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
These efforts included fake Facebook and Twitter accounts, anonymous anti-Lewis websites, and YouTube videos that slandered Pearce's opponent, trying to gin up false charges of him stealing money from homeless kids he helps educate at Children First Academy in Tempe.
Not to mention the physical attack on Lewis shortly before he officially announced, when a man lobbed a padlock at Lewis' groin while he was jogging in Mesa. No one was caught, but it's hard to believe the perpetrator was a Lewis supporter.
None of this is important to Pearce's wingnutty cult of Kool-Aid drinkers, of course. But such strong-arm tactics and chicanery have alienated many LDS faithful who voted for Pearce in the past.
Drive around Mesa, and you'll notice signs of a Mormon civil war. Literally. Whole rows of houses boast white Jerry Lewis yard signs, despite the best efforts of Pearce loyalists who by night have driven around stealing them.
On other streets, blue Pearce signs dominate. And on yet others, Pearce signs battle it out with Lewis signs.
The signs themselves have become points of contention among friends, neighbors, and even family. Pearce's brother, Justice of the Peace Lester Pearce, approached a source of mine, asking that this person remove a Lewis yard sign and replace it with a Pearce placard. The source refused.
Questioned about this at an LD 18 meeting where his sibling spoke, Lester Pearce told me it was all a joke on his part. He denied campaigning on his brother's behalf, in defiance of Arizona's Judicial Code of Conduct, though he later admitted to another reporter that he was present when one of his nieces solicited signatures to place Cortes on the ballot.