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Recalling Russell Pearce

State Senate President Pearce, the most malevolent man in Sand Land politics, and subject of dueling recall campaigns.
Stephen Lemons

TARGET PEARCE

Consider it a classic pincer move: two separate, ongoing efforts to recall the most powerful, hateful politician in Arizona, state Senate President Russell Pearce.

First into battle was the irrepressible DeeDee Blase, founder of Somos Republicans, an organization loathed by wingnut GOPers and mainstream Democrats with almost equal intensity.

Somos Republicans' stated intent is to increase the Latino Republican voting bloc. In working toward that goal, the group fervently attacks the nativist right, which is now dominant in the party of the pachyderms.

The group supports the DREAM Act and humane immigration reform, has opposed Pearce's breathing-while-brown law, state Senate Bill 1070, and continues to denounce the efforts of wingnut legislators to undermine the birthright citizenship clause of the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment.

Indeed, it was on the day that anti-birthright citizenship legislation was getting introduced by Pearce's lackeys in the state House and state Senate that Blase and a libertarian ally, Halina Reed, filed recall paperwork against Pearce at the Secretary of State's Office.

The official "grounds" for the recall by Blase's new group, Arizonans for Better Government, specifically cites Pearce's "overt disdain" for the U.S. Constitution, and Blase clearly was motivated by Pearce's attack on birthright citizenship.

"This guy is evil," Blase said of Pearce on the day she filed. "I was really bummed out because of the 14th Amendment [bills]. Now I'm so excited."

The recall effort will need to score 7,756 signatures of registered voters from Legislative District 18 by May 27. Once these are obtained and verified as legitimate, Pearce either has to resign or face a recall election on a date set by the Arizona Secretary of State's Office.

Voters of all party affiliations can sign the recall petition, and there's a large pool from which to draw: 68,409 registered LD 18 voters, as of last count, according to the Secretary of State's Office.

This means that forcing a recall election on Pearce is doable. So much so that Assistant Secretary of State Jim Drake told me that his office is preparing for the eventuality that both the Blase-skippered recall and one filed days after hers by another group, Citizens for a Better Arizona, might be successful.

If this occurs, Drake said his office will seek a judicial order combining the two recall elections into one. Pearce could face High Noon at the ballot box as early as November of this year or spring 2012.

It's conceivable that Pearce could lose. In 2008, Pearce bested his Democratic rival for the state Senate by 5,343 votes. In 2010, Pearce exceeded the combined vote totals for both the Libertarian and Democratic candidates by just 4,081.

Even if Pearce ultimately prevails, a recall would damage him politically.

See, Pearce longs to seek higher office, anything from governor or congressman to U.S. senator or — perhaps most powerful — Maricopa County Sheriff, should alterkocker lawman Joe Arpaio ever take a powder, get indicted, or just keel over while in office.

But if Pearce has to campaign to beat back a recall in his own district, it will distract him from exploring other options, robbing him of time, money, and energy in the process. It also will expose an otherwise un-remarked-upon weakness: Many in his own district and party loathe him.

Indeed, I'm convinced that Pearce could never win a statewide election. Congress or sheriff? Maybe. U.S. senator or governor? No way, Jose.

See, Pearce's ham-fisted use of power, his narrow, negative agenda, and his status as an icon of intolerance make him a hero to Tea Baggers, nativists, gun nuts, and the East Valley wackadoodles who dominate the Maricopa County Republican Party.

To a broader audience, Pearce simply looks like what he is: a bigoted, far-right extremist.

Sure, many despise Republican Governor Jan Brewer for her policies or for signing SB 1070 into law. Still, as ditzy as she can be, she doesn't come off as an aggro redneck in need of some serious meds, as the Senate president most certainly does.

Hell, even Sheriff Arpaio seems like a teddy bear compared to the truculent madman from Mesa.

But back to LD 18 and the other prong in the Pearce recall movement, Citizens for a Better Arizona, chaired by registered Republican Chad Snow and organized, in part, by former Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Randy Parraz.

CBA has been loosely organizing against Pearce for the past couple of months, mulling the possibility of a recall along the way.

Blase's group got the jump on them, filing recall paperwork first. But on January 31, between 30 and 40 CBA members of various political affiliations met at the Capitol and marched over to the Secretary of State's Office, where Todd Selleck, an LD 18 resident, submitted the recall application.

The grounds for CBA's recall are broader than those given for Blase's Arizonans for Better Government. CBA's statement knocks Pearce for "his failure to focus on issues and concerns that affect all Arizonans," demanding better representation on various issues.

"Mesa and Arizona need a leader who will pass laws to create jobs, protect public education, and ensure access to healthcare for our children and those most in need," CBA's petition statement reads, in part. "By signing this petition, we publicly withdraw our support for Russell Pearce and what he represents."

Politically, CBA may be wise to soft-pedal immigration, as the debate over Pearce — his obsession with legislative gun nuttery, his drive to slash Medicaid benefits for some 300,000 Arizonans, and his determination to disembowel the state's education system like an Easter pig headed for the spit — now crosses well beyond the brown-white divide.

CBA boasts thousands of dollars in pledged contributions and is hiring signature-gatherers at $10 per hour to canvass Mesa. This, too, is wise. Most serious signature-gathering efforts (for ballot measures, for example) require paid workers, in addition to volunteers, to be successful. Money will also help get the word out.

Sadly, the two groups cannot combine their signatures, but a registered LD 18 voter can sign both petitions, so at least the dual drives will not cancel out each other. The competition may, in fact, be a good thing, encouraging each effort to be first, for bragging rights, if nothing else.

Supporters of each organization have traded shots on Facebook and elsewhere. Some accuse CBA of having raised cash before registering as a recall group. However, Assistant Secretary of State Drake told me there would be nothing wrong with an exploratory group's feeling out promises for future donations, as long as it was registered when it began accepting contributions.

"You don't want to go forward unless you have people saying they're going to help out," Parraz told me. "And there's nothing worse than being part of an effort where there's no funding."

Though the goal is 7,756 signatures (CBA's deadline is May 31), each group will have to exceed that number — perhaps double it — because a number of the signatures are almost guaranteed to be disqualified for various reasons.

Some on the CBA side of the fence have called into question the motivations of Blase, Somos Republicans, and Arizonans for Better Government. But anyone who has ever spoken with Blase knows that her antipathy for Pearce and his ilk is genuine.

Best for each side to maintain a friendly, competitive spirit as they head-hunt Pearce in the deepest, darkest wiles of LD 18.

Otherwise the pincer move that should be squeezing Pearce silly for the next four months might turn into a version of the proverbial, circular firing squad. And no one who wants Pearce out of office wants that.

For more on Citizens for a Better Arizona, check out its Web site at recallpearce.com. For the rival group Arizonans for Better Government, see recallrussellpearce.wordpress.com.


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