Activist Randy Parraz Led an Army of Non-Partisan Warriors to Take Down Russell Pearce

Democrats say the darnedest things.

In the aftermath of Russell Pearce's defeat in the November 8 Legislative District 18 recall election, local Democrats have been trying to make it seem as if the former state Senate president's stuffed head was a prize they could hang on their walls.

The day after Pearce's downfall, ultra-lefty Democratic state Senator Kyrsten Sinema appeared on Keith Olbermann's show Countdown, on Current TV, to analyze the outcome.

Pearce and his old pal Sheriff Joe Arpaio say sayonara to Pearce's political career.
AP Photo/Matt York
Pearce and his old pal Sheriff Joe Arpaio say sayonara to Pearce's political career.
Republican attorney Chad Snow, co-founder of Citizens for a Better Arizona.
Sand Angel Media
Republican attorney Chad Snow, co-founder of Citizens for a Better Arizona.

By way of introduction to the topic, Olbermann said, "I know you worked — and everybody there worked — very hard on this, but did you ever expect this would happen?"

Sinema, who never has had anything to do with the recall group Citizens for a Better Arizona and did nothing to assist get-out-the-vote efforts in the waning days of the campaign, did not disabuse Olbermann of his misconception.

Nevertheless, her answer portrayed her own perception of a recall most Democratic leaders dreaded at the time it was filed in late January.

"In the early days, many of us just thought this was a political statement," she said, "to try [to] hold Russell accountable for not just [Senate Bill 1070] but, really, many other pieces of legislation and controversies that have gone on in Arizona.

"But over time, as Russell continued to get embroiled in [more scandals] — and efforts by [opponent Jerry Lewis'] camp and Democrats and independents, unaffiliated groups, doing great field work — it began to seem that it was really a possibility, that this election would come out on top for Jerry Lewis."

I remember speaking with Democratic Party insiders at the time Citizens for a Better Arizona filed its recall petition paperwork at the Arizona Secretary of State's Office. They were horrified by CBA and the group's co-founder, failed U.S. Senate candidate Randy Parraz, whom Democratic muck-a-mucks saw as a dangerous pariah.

The recall idea was "doomed to failure," they all said (off the record, naturally). And worst of all, they feared that the recall would "only make Pearce stronger" when it failed. They also feared retribution, that Pearce would retaliate against them, as he was known to do to any who crossed his shadow in the sun.

So it is amusing to sit and watch the Democratic bigwigs embrace publicly what they once privately loathed.

After Election Night, Arizona Democratic Party chair Andrei Cherny issued a statement noting the Democratic mayoral wins in the state's two biggest cities, and adding that the successful routing of Pearce was a "W" in the "D" column.

"For the first time in 20 years, we will have Democratic mayors of Tucson and Phoenix," Cherny said. "And for the first time in American history, a state legislative leader — the most powerful politician in Arizona — was recalled from office. "

Thing is, the guy who beat Pearce — at last count by 12 humiliating percentage points — was a deeply conservative Mormon Republican. Lewis is no Democrat (or even Democrat in disguise), and yet Cherny gives his win the same weight as Mayor-elect Greg Stanton, a Phoenix Dem?

Of course, the defeat of Arizona's far-right shadow governor, a nativist extremist committed to the idea of "attrition through enforcement" (i.e., driving illegal immigrants from Arizona through fear and economic retaliation) is much bigger than the ascension of Stanton, which was about as easy to predict as triple-digit heat in an Arizona summer.

Phoenix is a sliver of blue in a sea of Maricopa County red. The only drama in the Greg Stanton-Wes Gullett battle was what color tie Stanton would wear during his acceptance speech.

Then came the recent Senate Republican caucus meeting, in the aftermath of Pearce's loss, to elect a new Senate president, who turned out to be Prescott GOPer Steve Pierce.

Voting for Pierce in that caucus was the newly elected Lewis. One alternative to Pierce would have been ideologue Andy Biggs — often referred to as "Russell Pearce with a brain." But in a deal brokered in part by LD 19 Republican moderate Rich Crandall, Pierce took the top spot, a victory for the "non-crazy" wing of the state GOP.

That's because Pierce was one of several Senate Republicans to balk at approving five Pearce-backed anti-immigration measures in March of this year.

The bills included immigration-omnibus legislation — arguably as bad as Arizona's "papers please" law, Senate Bill 1070 — as well as bills aimed at denying birthright citizenship to the American-born children of illegal immigrants. When they went down in flames, Pearce was incensed, and the far right vowed retribution against GOP "turncoats" such as Steve Pierce.

Pierce and other Republicans voting "nay" were responding to a letter signed by 60 Arizona CEOs and business leaders urging moderation and the bills' defeat. That Pierce responded to that call and voted against all five showed that Prescott's Pierce was no nativist flunky. And certainly no Andy Biggs.

Nevertheless, Cherny belittled the choice, accusing Republicans of "wearing earplugs" in picking Pierce, stating, "By replacing Russell Pearce with Steve Pierce, very little will change — other than one vowel."

Randy Parraz was not amused by Cherny's objections to Pierce, since the Arizona Democratic Party had stayed out of the recall effort.

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