Russell Pearce Is His Own Worst Enemy

Pearce’s hubris, hatefulness, and corruption could cost him his job.
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State Senate President Russell Pearce dwells in a bubble the size of the Biosphere, one insulated by his own arrogance, pride, and self-delusion.

What was Pearce's response to the recent decision by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding a lower court's injunction of the most outrageous sections of his infamous Senate Bill 1070 ("Pearce Denied," April 11)?

Contrary to reality, he told a local news station that 1070 was "in full effect, other than a couple of provisions I'd like to have."

In "full effect"? The bill was gutted by the original injunction handed down July 28 by U.S. District Court Judge Susan R. Bolton. The four parts of the law enjoined include the notorious "papers please" section, which forces local cops to inquire about the immigration status of a person who's been stopped, assuming there is "reasonable suspicion" to believe the person is undocumented.

This was the backbone of the law. Other key sections quashed for now involve making it a state crime for legal immigrants not to carry their "papers" with them, forbidding day laborers from seeking work, and allowing police to conduct warrant-less arrests if they believe a suspect has committed an offense that makes the individual removable from the country.

Public relations hacks might call Pearce's assertion "spin," but when "spin" denies, say, the existence of gravity or labels "white" as "black" or insists the world is flat, I'd call that psychotic.

There's more evidence from recent history that Pearce is in his own world. Take his defense of state Senator Scott Bundgaard, calling Bundgaard a "victim" in his roadside altercation with his girlfriend, one for which Bundgaard faces possible arrest once the legislative session is kaput.

Unlike Pearce, other Senate Republicans rightly saw Bundgaard more as a liability than a victim and stripped him of his post as Senate majority leader.

Also, Pearce pushed for the passage of five harsh anti-immigrant bills in the Senate, though he knew he didn't have the votes. Enough GOPers peeled away to defeat them all.

The Senate president has vowed to bring them back, regardless.

Then, there was the flap over substitute teacher Tony Hill's bigoted e-mail to Pearce, telling a tall tale about Latino students' not pledging allegiance to the flag and espousing anti-American sentiments.

State Senator Lori Klein, one of Pearce's legislative stooges, read the letter on the Senate floor without identifying its author, who contended that Hispanic kids aspire to be "gang members and gangsters."

The Glendale school where Hill subbed for nine (count 'em, nine) days investigated the matter. The school's principal characterized Hills' statements as "not accurate" and "inflammatory."

My colleague Paul Rubin dug into Hill's past and found that Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Susanna Pineda awarded sole custody of his children to Hill's estranged wife, writing:

"Father has a history of exploding by verbally calling the minor children vulgar names and using intimidating gestures . . . Father choked Mother at one point and physically abused the family pet in front of the children."

Yet Pearce said Hill was a "good man" and that everything in the letter had been "verified."

Regarding the recent revelations of Fiesta Bowl corruption, does it surprise anyone that Pearce was one of the scandal's most prominent beneficiaries? Several political figures from both parties received free, all-expenses-paid trips to watch football games in places such as Chicago and Boston.

On one, Pearce took his wife and stayed at a pricey Ritz-Carlton. On another, he took his wife and one of his sons, again staying in a luxury hotel, on the Fiesta Bowl's dime.

Other legislators have rushed to amend their disclosure forms and pay back the Fiesta Bowl for the freebies. Pearce has been unapologetic.

First, he defended himself by grumbling to reporters that he "never took anything they didn't offer everybody."

Later, he claimed that he paid for the expensive football tickets he had received — and that he would hunt for canceled checks to prove it. I'm not holding my breath for this one.

Tit-for-tat, Pearce sponsored legislation in the past that aided the Fiesta Bowl. The Fiesta Bowl's own investigation notes that Pearce took campaign contributions from Fiesta Bowl employees, who were illegally reimbursed after the fact.

Pearce allegedly pocketed tickets from Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker valued at a total of more than $7,400. Pearce's financial-disclosure forms failed to list all the gravy he was lapping up from Junker's outstretched hand.

By not listing these gifts and by accepting tickets to entertainment events, Pearce may have violated state statute.

But more damaging to "Mr. Rule of Law" is his sense of entitlement. This, in a lagging economy where most common folks cannot dream of enjoying such high-priced excursions, much less at someone else's expense.

That's why the Fiesta Bowl scandal and Pearce's other missteps are fueling the effort to recall him.


Initially, there were two groups looking to force Pearce out: Citizens for a Better Arizona, headed by registered Republican Chad Snow and organized by former Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Randy Parraz; and Arizonans for Better Government, led by DeeDee Blase, president of the Hispanic-Republican group Somos Republicans.

A few weeks ago, Blase encouraged her volunteers to help out Parraz's well-funded effort, stating that her group would "focus on the Mormons," meaning she wants to get voters in heavily LDS Legislative District 18, which Pearce represents in the state Senate, on the anti-Pearce train.

Blase recently hosted a Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-style "fireside" on immigration, which you can read about online in my Feathered Bastard blog post on the subject.

The CBA drive has nothing to do with Blase's outreach to Mesa's Mormon community, though CBA chairman Snow is an LDS member and there are other Mormons helping out with the recall.

The CBA's recall campaign has chosen not to focus on immigration. It's instead using the Fiesta Bowl scandal and Pearce's antipathy for public education and benefits for the needy to great success.

According to Parraz, the recall is more than two-thirds of the way toward its goal of 7,756 signatures from registered LD18 voters, the amount needed to force Pearce to either resign or take his chances with a recall election that probably would be scheduled for this fall or next spring.

Parraz says his group is vetting names, crossing out those who are ineligible to sign. The deadline to submit the recall petition is May 31.

Successful fundraising has given the group more than $20,000 to play with, allowing the recall campaign to hire a full-time field director and enlist the services of Sign Here Petitions, a professional signature-gathering company.

The recall also is doing robo-calls in LD18, encouraging people to come out to the Mesa Public Library on First Street, where recall workers keep a presence. Check the script of this latest robo-call, which recently hit 18,000 homes:

"Russell Pearce lined his pockets with thousands in illegal kickbacks from corrupt lobbyists for the Fiesta Bowl. Now he's voted to lay off teachers and cut our schools to the bone. If you want to fire Russell Pearce, come down to the Mesa Public Library . . . to sign our petition to recall and remove him from office."

Seems there's nothing like political corruption to light a fire in the electorate.

"The response [to the Fiesta Bowl-themed robo-calls] has been good," Parraz told me. "We got over 60 people to come out [to the library] and sign today because of it."

A visit to the Mesa Library on a recent Saturday confirmed Parraz's optimistic view that a successful recall of Pearce is within reach.

Inside, one volunteer, who identified herself as a Republican, contacted prospective signers via cell phone, while outside, a worker with Sign Here Petitions solicited those entering the library.

He also took signatures from people, responding to robo-calls, who stopped their cars in front of the library to jump out and sign.

When the library closed that afternoon, he proudly showed me several sheets of signatures from Mesa residents. He said the list totaled about 75, a "good day."

Volunteers showed up off and on during the afternoon to pick up packets with lists of homes to visit. Carolyn Cooper, a longtime Democratic activist from Tempe, allowed me to tag along as she canvassed a working-class neighborhood of Anglos and Hispanics near Spur Street and Broadway Road in Mesa.

At the first door she knocked on, an Anglo resident practically jerked Cooper's clipboard from her hand to sign it before she started her pitch. When I asked why he was so quick to sign, the man was blunt.

"Because [Pearce] is an idiot."

When Cooper spotted people in their yards, she flagged them down and asked them to sign. Cooper caught Eddie Bedos as he opened the door to his car. He nodded his head as Cooper talked of the "hateful laws" Pearce was backing in the Legislature.

"We need someone fresh," he said as he signed.

If an individual wasn't registered to vote, Cooper provided them with voter-registration forms. Parraz said the drive has signed up more than 750 new voters, including 90 Republicans, who registered just to sign the petition.

One Anglo woman, who asked not to be named, summed up the sentiments of many in the community.

"The Fiesta Bowl thing troubles me," she stated, after Cooper took her signature. "I know [Pearce] is concerned by illegal aliens, but I think there are a lot more things that need to be dealt with."

Cooper had one rejection, an Anglo who said he supported Pearce in the past but now had questions about him. He took some literature from Cooper but said he wasn't ready to sign anything.


In about 2 1/2 hours, Cooper scored 11 signatures. The door-to-door work can be grueling, but not everyone will go to the petition, so the petition has to go to them. Hence, Parraz's call for more volunteers to help the canvass.

Parraz is anticipating a legal challenge from Pearce over the signatures, but he thinks the message will be self-evident when the recall petition is submitted.

"This is the beauty of it," said Parraz. "When we turn in these signatures, we get to say, 'Russell Pearce [is getting] recalled from Mesa, that place you think is so conservative.'"

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