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

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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.

"It's disrespectful for someone to say that," he told me recently. "It shows that when you don't do anything, you try to discredit what other people do."

Rather, Parraz stressed the bipartisan nature of the victory.

Sure, Democrats, as individuals, worked like hell for CBA — first, to secure the signatures necessary to make the recall a reality, then on CBA's well-organized get-out-the-vote effort — but so did Republicans.

"There are a lot of Republicans I love and respect because of what they've done," Parraz said.

Indeed, there always have been many Republicans disgusted with Pearce's Hispanic-bashing, his sleazy Fiesta Bowl payoffs, his banning people from the state Senate building, his high-profile politicking with neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists.

We need only look back at the failed campaign of Republican Kevin Gibbons in LD 18's 2008 GOP primary for state Senate — when Gibbons pulled 30 percent of the GOP vote against Pearce — to know there was significant opposition to Pearce in the district.

That discontent continued to simmer, and it came to a boil in 2010 when Pearce failed to make it on LD 18's slate of precinct committeemen picked for the party's state committee.

More than 50 Republicans were elected from LD 18. To not elect Pearce was essentially a no-confidence vote from the people who knew him best.

This was such an embarrassment to Pearce that Maricopa County GOP Chair Rob Haney, an avowed nativist and Pearce's longtime ally, stepped in and forced a re-vote. Nevertheless, Pearce squeaked in, drawing the fewest supporters.

Though I reported on this shortly after Lewis announced his bid to replace Pearce in late July, such realities in LD 18 were lost on the political pundits who, from jump, never saw the tsunami coming.

Pearce's rabid nativism and outright bigotry never reflected the immigration stance of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which remains prominent in Mesa despite shifting demographics there.

I pointed this out in November 2010, observing that, according to the Utah Compact — a statement in support of humane immigration reform that the church backed — Pearce was a bad Mormon.

Phoenix attorney Daryl Williams, a church elder, even used my blog post as a footnote on a pro-immigration essay he wrote from an LDS perspective.

In June 2011, the LDS church strengthened its statement on immigration, decrying enforcement-only approaches by states, saying it was concerned that such legislation "is likely to fall short of the high moral standard of treating each other as children of God."

Though an LDS member, Pearce failed to get the message and went so far as to suggest in a Legislative District 18 GOP meeting that the church backed SB 1070.

The correction was swift and stern from LDS headquarters in Salt Lake City.

In response to information presented by Channel 12's Brahm Resnik, the church reiterated its objections to an enforcement-only approach (like 1070) and stated its three basic principles in the immigration debate: the Gospel's commandment to "love thy neighbor," the importance of keeping families together, and the federal government's responsibility to secure the border.

Pearce finally had gone one lie too far.

But none of this surprised me. Nor did the fact that Lewis, a former LDS stake president, argued passionately and effectively against SB 1070 during his campaign — something that I rarely heard prominent mainstream Democrats do during 2010. Instead, as 1070 roiled through the state, Dems seeking election to prominent offices hid their heads, hoping the issue would evaporate.

What did Lewis argue? The same thing those 60 business leaders did about the five bills now-Senate President Steve Pierce voted against earlier this year: Bigotry is bad for business.

Because of 1070, people outside Arizona looked at the state as "something akin to 1964 Alabama," and business leaders were shunning us, Lewis said at his debate with Pearce in early October at the East Valley Institute of Technology.

After the debate, he didn't back off his words. He defended them vigorously.

"In a 21st-century time," he said, "when we've been through all of these wonderful, wonderful battles to recognize that all people are created equal, we . . . have a subclass of individuals here we're treating in a different way than . . . everybody else. That's having a terrible impact on our economy."

Such words are blasphemy to the nativist right. His courage in sticking to his principles — and in continuing to smile through all the muck thrown at him by the Tea Party-inspired Pearce camp, from padlocks lobbed at him from moving vehicles to the sham candidacy of Olivia Cortes — helped earn him his win.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons