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

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But before Lewis ever would have the chance to make such statements, to run the squeaky-clean campaign that he did, or to be recruited to do so by Mesa Republicans, there had to be a pre-existing vision — and that foresight belonged to Randy Parraz.

Just off his failed run for the U.S. Senate, the community organizer and onetime AFL-CIO leader in Arizona, was poking around for his next challenge. It came in the notice that Pearce — the most extreme politician in the state and architect of 1070 — had been named Arizona's Senate president.

Parraz was enraged and began kicking around the concept of a recall with friend and Republican lawyer Chad Snow, who had worked with him against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in an organization Parraz fronted, Maricopa Citizens for Safety and Accountability.

Snow, a Mormon, likes to joke, "It was Sheriff Joe that brought us together."

In 2008, Snow attended a meeting of the county Board of Supervisors. He didn't know Parraz, who had led a group of MCSA supporters to the meeting, demanding that the Supes address Arpaio's various abuses of power.

Weirdly, Snow was placed in handcuffs briefly by Arpaio's deputies, for no apparent reason.

He remembered an MCSO supervisor coming down a hall, ordering his release.

"'You've got the wrong one, you'll have to let him go,'" the supervising deputy said, according to Snow. "As they were walking me out, they were walking Randy back, under arrest."

Parraz was falsely arrested for failing to obey a police officer, and a lawsuit against the county still is outstanding over the incident. Characteristically, Parraz has refused to settle.

That afternoon, Snow visited Parraz in jail and offered to defend him.

Though a GOPer, Snow was opposed to the politics Arpaio and Pearce represented, was open to the idea of the recall, and, like Parraz, was ready to throw in his own money to kick-start CBA.

Snow points to a chair in his law office, strewn with legal documents and hung with starched shirts and ties ready for courtroom appearances.

"It was in that chair that Randy said to me, 'Dude, let's recall Russell Pearce,'" Snow told me recently.

Snow and Parraz began in early January with a 21-day warning to Pearce to moderate his ways. Snow actually believed that Pearce's new Senate post — its position of responsibility — might rein him in.

"I was wrong," Snow says. "Randy thought Pearce would be emboldened by [his new position.]"

Parraz was right, and when no such sign of moderation was forthcoming from Pearce — who had lied to his Senate colleagues to win their support to be Senate president by suggesting he would put immigration on the back burner — CBA filed recall paperwork.

Initially, CBA was upstaged by a rival recall group fronted by DeeDee Blase, then the head of Somos Republicans, a Hispanic GOP group with a flair for garnering headlines. But Blase soon threw her support to CBA.

All the news media, save New Times, wrote off the effort as misguided, futile, or both. But I knew CBA had an opening. At the very least, I knew they could score the signatures necessary for a recall, which would place Pearce on the defensive and make him do something he hadn't done in some time: actually campaign in LD 18, rather than take his re-election there for granted.

As CBA volunteers went door-to-door seeking signatures, it was obvious that disgust with Pearce was rampant. Some people literally grabbed clipboards out of the hands of signature-gatherers to sign in favor of the recall.

So when CBA dropped its bomb on May 31, submitting more than 18,000 signatures in favor of the recall, thousands more than needed, I was hardly amazed.

The political establishment, however, including the Capitol press corps, reacted with indignation, scoffing at the accomplishment.

The Arizona Republic's Robert Robb already had declared the recall "an abuse of the process." How dare these little people?

On PBS' Horizon and elsewhere, local scribe Howard Fischer naysayed the possibility that the recall would move forward or that Pearce ever could be in trouble in LD 18.

Yet the recall did, indeed, move forward, with county and state elections officials certifying that more than 10,000 signatures were from valid LD 18 voters. Pearce fought the recall all the way to the Arizona Supreme Court, to no avail.

Under Parraz's day-to-day guidance, CBA had dotted every "i," crossed every "t." For all the wailing by Pearce and his friends in the press, the recall was on.

The local Fourth Estate's open hostility to the recall blinded it to Pearce's impending loss, even after dream challenger Lewis entered the race.

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