Russell Pearce Seems Incapable of Telling the Truth, Even About His Own Religion

Russell Pearce faces an uphill battle to become a state senator again.
Stephen Lemons

When a man is so duplicitous as to mislead others about his faith, what does it say about his character?

The question is more complicated in the case of former state Senate President Russell Pearce, because he's been caught fibbing about his religion before, during his failed effort to win in last year's recall election.

Pearce's 12-point loss was a result of many factors, not the least of which were the efforts of fellow adherents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, most of them Republicans.

Fed up with Pearce's bigotry and bullying, and troubled by the black eye his Mexican-bashing was giving their community, Mesa Mormons recruited political neophyte Jerry Lewis, an LDS member who could appeal to conservatives and moderates alike.

Ironically, the Pearce camp was of great assistance in Lewis' double-digit victory.

Because at the core of Pearce's campaign was intrinsic dishonesty. His friends, family members, and supporters engaged in a slew of dirty tricks, foremost being Olivia Cortes' sham candidacy, a shameless attempt to dilute the vote in favor of Pearce.

All this backfired to Lewis' benefit, of course, resulting in the historic recall of a sitting state Senate President, one who had predicted that he would win the contest handily.

Now, just four months later, Pearce has announced his run for the state Senate in newly formed Legislative District 25.

And, again, Mesa Mormons have recruited a political newbie, Republican LDSer Bob Worsley, founder of the lucrative SkyMall catalog, to best the bad seed in their midst.

Arizonans have seen this flick before, and we know how it ends, even if a clueless Pearce seems to be mimicking Bill Murray's role in Groundhog Day.

At a packed meeting of Legislative District 18 Republicans last year, Pearce told his most politically damaging lie yet, claiming that the LDS church had green-lighted his breathing-while-brown legislation, Arizona Senate Bill 1070.

"I got hold of the church headquarters in Salt Lake," Pearce avowed. "And they said they absolutely do not oppose what Arizona is doing."

When video showing Pearce making this statement surfaced, the LDS church smacked down Pearce — hard.

Contacted by Channel 12's Brahm Resnik for comment, LDS spokesman Michael Purdy said that the church had not taken a stand "on any specific immigration legislation in Arizona."

Purdy also said, "We have made our position on immigration clear. The church believes that an enforcement-only approach is inadequate."

But this message meant nothing to Pearce. One week before the announcement of his LD 25 run, Pearce repeated the canard when confronted by a caller on his Monday-night radio show on KFNX 1100 AM, sponsored by the nativist organization Ban Amnesty Now, of which Pearce is president.

"I called [the church's] PR room personally," Pearce contended. "They said they were not opposed to Senate Bill 1070."

Pearce added: "They simply, as a compassionate plea, talked about their concern [for] families. The appropriate thing on their side . . . I mean, the message was a little confusing to a lot of folks. But lie? I have never done that."

I e-mailed Pearce's comments to LDS headquarters, seeking a response. Church spokesman Eric Hawkins wrote back to me with the following reply:

"The church's position on immigration is principle-based and applies universally. Any position adopted by individual politicians or members is theirs alone and does not indicate the endorsement of the church."

He continued, "I know of no communication with Russell Pearce. When asked about our position on immigration by anyone, we have consistently explained that we believe it is important for any legislation to balance the three principles [previously stated by the church] and that 'enforcement only' approaches were not sufficient."

The three principles, as detailed by the church's 2010 declaration of support for the Utah Compact, a document advocating humane solutions to America's immigration problems, include: Jesus Christ's teaching to love one's neighbor, opposition to the separation of families, and the right of every nation to enforce its laws and secure its borders.

Lest anyone be confused by that last point, the church added in the same message that public officials should "create and administer laws that reflect the best of our aspirations as a just and caring society."

In June 2011, the church reiterated its stance in starker terms, demonstrating its concern that "any state [immigration] legislation that only contains enforcement provisions is likely to fall short of the high moral standard of treating each other as children of God."

SB 1070 is not mentioned, but it certainly falls into the category of enforcement-only immigration legislation.

This is not the only lie Pearce has repeated lately.

On the same radio-show episode where Pearce restated his whopper about the Mormon Church and SB 1070, another caller wondered why he was fired in 1999 as head of the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division.


As he's done before, Pearce depicted his ouster as unrelated to any wrongdoing on his part, making it sound as though he garnered a pink slip because of a change in gubernatorial administrations.

"I was the last Fife Symington appointee to go under Jane Hull," he insisted. "Badge of honor . . . I did nothing wrong, ever. It was simply a political process."

Pearce noted that he was "an appointed official" whom the governor could cut loose at any time. Then he added a new twist, one I hadn't heard before in previous versions of this tall tale.

"The person who was the head of ADOT at the time has apologized to me several times since then," he said. "So my legacy is good."

Mary Peters was the director of the Arizona Department of Transportation under Governor Hull. She eventually went on to serve as U.S. Secretary of Transportation in the George W. Bush administration.

It was Peters who sacked Pearce after he and two other MVD employees altered the driving record of a Tucson woman who'd caught two DUIs in 10 months.

According to press accounts from 1999, these changes would have allowed the woman to avoid a one-year mandatory suspension of her license. Allegedly, Pearce and his subordinates did this as a favor to a state legislator.

When Pearce's former assistant director claimed Pearce and his employees had been cleared, Peters shot back in the press: "There's a big difference between being cleared and choosing not to file criminal charges."

Currently, Peters runs her own Peoria-based consulting firm. I caught up with her by phone while she was in Washington, D.C. She denied ever apologizing to Pearce over his firing.

"I've talked with Russell, and I would say we've agreed to put the past in the past," she told me. "But I didn't apologize to him. That's just not an accurate statement."

Peters confirmed that she axed Pearce because of the scandal involving the Tucson woman's DUI conviction and the license-record change.

She said firing Pearce had nothing to do with the switch in administrations from Symington to Hull, both of whom are Republicans.

"I was deputy [ADOT director] when Fife stepped down, then Jane appointed me to be director," Peters said, noting that Symington had approved her appointment as deputy director.

On March 19, Pearce made the official announcement of his LD 25 run before a crowd of enthusiastic senior citizens at the Red Mountain Tea Party, which, interestingly, meets at a charter school in the new LD 16, not LD 25 in which Pearce is running.

The rally pretty much mimicked a pro-Pearce gathering that took place at Mesa's Hohokam Stadium during the recall. The same far-right politicos were present. The same elderly faces in the crowd.

As for Pearce, he regurgitated the same rhetoric and stale jokes that he's used over and over again during his career.

And at least one of the same lies.

"You know, it's interesting to me they would have you believe that 1070 was divisive," Pearce said of his anti-brown statute, without ever identifying who "they" are.

He continued, "Do you know, after it was passed, [a] Rasmussen poll said 60 percent of Hispanics voted for it? Of course, you don't see that [in] the Arizona Republic."

The reason why you won't see that factoid in the Republic (or any credible news source, for that matter) is that it's not true. The conservative Rasmussen Reports has not done a poll of Hispanic voters on 1070.

To my knowledge, there's never been a poll showing that a majority of Hispanics in Arizona, or the United States in general, support SB 1070.

Though I've caught Pearce in this lie before, I decided to check with Rasmussen again to see whether anything had changed since my initial debunking of it in 2010.

Rasmussen spokeswoman Beth Chunn told me that Rasmussen had not done a poll on 1070 restricted to Latino voters.

"It is difficult to get a sample of just Hispanic voters," she said.

The last time Rasmussen surveyed Americans on a 1070-style law, in January, 61 percent of respondents expressed support. But that was from a general pool of likely voters and was not confined to Latinos.

Those results are consistent with what Rasmussen found in 2010, when 1070 was passed. Then, 60 percent of Americans and 70 percent of Arizonans supported the new law.

In 2010, a Rasmussen representative told me the racial breakdown of that poll of Americans in general was: 77 percent white, 11 percent black, and 12 percent "other."

The 2010 poll showing 70 percent support from Arizonans was 81 percent white.

Rasmussen may not have surveyed Hispanics, but other firms have. A 2010 poll by Latino Decisions showed that 70 percent of Hispanics nationwide opposed 1070. A Rocky Mountain Poll from 2010 reported that 69 percent of Hispanics in Arizona were against the measure.


Perhaps Pearce is a student of Russian Communist Vladimir Lenin, who is reputed to have said: "A lie told often enough becomes the truth."

Or maybe Pearce simply is delusional and believes his own crusty falsehoods, no matter how often they're disproved.

Either way, a vote for Russell Pearce is a vote for a serial liar who repeatedly has been exposed to the public.

Which, among other reasons, is why Pearce is headed for defeat yet again at the hands of his brother and sister Mormons in Mesa.

To them, honesty is a revered quality that Pearce does not possess.

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