Ex-state Senate President Russell Pearce began slithering back into relevancy this Saturday during the Arizona GOP's winter meeting, held at Phoenix's Church for the Nations, where he was elected to the party's First Vice Chair position.
Despite an embarrassing 12-point loss to fellow Republican Jerry Lewis in November's recall election, Pearce remains popular with many state tuskers. His bid was endorsed by Arizona GOP Chair Tom Morrissey and various Republican office-holders
Though Pearce was running against a respected incumbent, Diane Ortiz-Parsons, when Morrissey announced the results at day's end, Pearce had crushed her, 669 to 443.
(The SeeingRedAz blog has a slightly different vote count, 668 to 441. The numbers I'm quoting above are what I heard Morrissey read to the assembled.)
One other stark result from Saturday's meeting: Congressman Ron Paul's name drew massive support in a presidential straw poll that served as a fundraiser for the party.
Paul scored 256 votes to 20 for Newt Gingrich, 17 for Mitt Romney and 8 for sweater-boy Rick Santorum.
Young, intelligent and enthusiastic, the Paul supporters were a welcome, non-conformist presence.
Otherwise, the day was dominated by Pearce's triumph over Ortiz-Parsons, and the sickening shadow of nativism, which darkens every aspect of the GOP in Arizona.
Pearce left nothing to chance. One state committeeman I know told me he had received a robo-call on Pearce's behalf, an unusual expense in a race for an unpaid, second-fiddle slot.
The former Senator worked the crowd throughout the day, and when he took the stage to speak, he was joined by a lineup of noted backers, including Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Congressman Trent Franks, Maricopa County GOP Chair Rob Haney, and state Senators Andy Biggs, Ron Gould and Sylvia Allen.
Pearce spoke briefly, a rah-rah address wherein he touted his passage of Arizona's breathing-while-brown law Senate Bill 1070 and condemned the federal government both for suing the state over the statute and for going after Arpaio.
"This state is the battleground for what's right with A
Others then spoke on his behalf. Franks mentioned Pearce's recent recall loss, and framed the First Vice Chair race as a Pearce comeback effort.
"Today, by the grace of God, it's our chance to see that [Pearce] rises to fight again," he said.
Biggs called Pearce "a true American and Arizona hero," but Haney topped both Biggs' and Franks' blandishments.
"When you and I are gone, if anybody's profile is carved into Camelback Mountain, it'll be Russell Pearce's," he told the crowd.
"The Latino community needs Russell Pearce," he declared. "Needs Sheriff Joe. [And needs] the Republican party to get behind them, damnit, and get these illegals the hell out of here!"
The crowd roared its approval.
Prior to the Pearce cult taking its turn on stage, Ortiz-Parsons made a passionate appeal to remain as First Vice Chair.
She said she wanted to keep Arizona a red state, and claimed that Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi's daughter was in-state forming "cells" to infiltrate Arizona Tea Parties.
Ortiz-Parsons touted her record as First Vice Chair, and the shoe-leather and elbow grease she'd expended while working for Republican candidates.
She boasted that she'd been an elected precinct committee person for nearly 20 years and in 2011 was given an award for being the state GOP's most valuable volunteer.
"Russell, you don't have to worry about my family," she said in a dig at Pearce, who was sitting before her. "In the 1700s my family sold the land for the first presidio. And like them, I too believe in border security."
Her supporters stood behind her as well, though none spoke. Dan Grimm, who was deeply involved in Olivia Cortes's sham candidacy during the recall election, was one of them.
There was also an African-American gentleman standing behind Ortiz-Parsons, as she claimed the GOP was an inclusive institution.
"For as diverse as this group is up here...that's how diverse
Since Ortiz-Parsons and this man were two of the few minorities present, she may have had a point, though probably not the one she intended.
A couple of the candidates for other offices had some intriguing things to say.
Chad Palmer, who made a successful bid for the party's 3rd Vice Chair slot, hit a new low in the annals of Obama-hatred.
"We need both the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts to learn about the constitution and our rights and our freedom so that they understand them," he said while talking about his daughters.
"And if the head terrorist gets back into office, that's not going to happen. My kids are going to grow up under a socialist regime which will turn into a communist regime."
I reckon the irony-deficient Palmer forgot about Osama bin Laden being killed during an operation ordered by that, um, "head terrorist."
Later, John Lyon, a far-right candidate for U.S. Senate, lectured the crowd on the perils of free trade and how American money was helping "red China" build up its military.
He also suggested that being present in the country illegally be made a felony with mandatory jail time on a first offense.
"We are sending a message to illegal immigrants [that] they have [these] great plums, this great reward waiting for them," he contended. "And the consequence if any will be that they may be deported. It's not sufficient. It's got to change."
Someone shouted from the audience that it would be "cheaper" to "shoot" them.
"Yes, it's cheaper," Lyon replied, in a non sequitur. "But unfortunately the long term cost is immense for us."
I remember Lyon from a 2009 anti-Israel demonstration outside Phoenix Symphony Hall. He was there to urge the release of John Demjanjuk, the former U.S. citizen once accused of being "Ivan the Terrible," an infamous concentration camp guard during the Holocaust.
In 2011, Demjanjuk was convicted by a German court for his role in helping the Nazis slaughter 28,000 at the Sobibor death camp.
Lyon's campaign website includes a page denouncing the United States government's treatment of Demjanjuk. On the same page, he warns ominously of the influence of "the Israel lobby."
After the results of the election for party officers was announced, videographer Dennis Gilman and I followed Pearce to his car, asking how he felt having to trample a Latina to win.
We also asked why Pearce never called now-state Senator Jerry Lewis to concede after Lewis won the recall election.
Pearce kept walking, though one of his supporters grabbed Gilman's camera in attempt to stop him from filming.
I went back and buttonholed Morrissey, asking him if there was any truth to the rumor that he planned to resign as chair, leaving Pearce in temporary control until an election could be called.
He replied that the rumors were not true.
"I am committed to staying till the end of my term," he vowed.
Why did he want Pearce as his First Vice Chair?
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"He'll be helping with fundraising and recruiting PCs," Morrissey told me. "And believe it or not our outreach to the Hispanic community, which I'm very focused on. There are a lot of people in the Hispanic community that welcome him."
I searched Morrissey's face for signs of humor, but there were none.
Yes, you heard it here first, Russell Pearce, Sand Land's biggest bigot, is now helping the state GOP with its Hispanic recruitment efforts.
By cloning Art Olivas, no doubt.