Dueling Mormons

It's like a scene out of the classic Western series Gunsmoke, with Marshal Matt Dillon facing off against some ornery outlaw in the streets of Dodge City. To one side, in a white hat and silver star, is courageous Congressman Jeff Flake from AZ's Sixth Congressional District, a proponent of comprehensive, humane immigration reform. To the other is bullet-headed bigot, state Representative Russell "White Pride" Pearce, a villainous hombre in a black hat who's infamous for forwarding supremacist e-mails to followers and advocating a return to Dwight D. Eisenhower's racist Operation Wetback.

Both rep Mesa (among other areas), and both are Mormons. But Arizona ain't big enough for both of 'em, partner. Three guesses whose corpse this carnivorous cormorant wants to gnaw once the fightin' is done? If you're stumped like Rose McGowan's right leg in Grindhouse, check The Bird's earlier column on Pearce ("Mesa Muttonhead," October 19, 2006) outing his prejudiced ways.

Pearce is meaner than Ian McShane’s character, Al Swearengen, in HBO's revisionist Western drama Deadwood, though not nearly as smart. Shoot, the Mesa moron's nearly as dumb as peckerwood Slim Pickens’ Taggart in Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles! The varmint's determined to drive illegal aliens south of the border, no matter how peaceful and law-abidin' they may be.

To this end, Pearce's teamed up with Chris Simcox, a.k.a. "The Little Prince," leader of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps and Don Goldwater, the mush-mouthed loser nephew of late Senator Barry Goldwater. Their plan? Get two initiatives on the state ballot: one punishing AZ businesses that hire illegals, the other forcing local gendarmes to arrest anyone they figure may be undocumented. Basically, Pearce wants a final solution to illegal immigration, and he doesn't care if he has to wreck the economy, put companies out of business, and herd hundreds of thousands of souls out of AZ like cattle.

But while Pearce appeals to the worst in Arizona and in his religion, Flake appeals to what Abraham Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. The 44-year-old, Libertarian-minded Republican has been profiled by 60 Minutes for his idealistic battles against pork-barrel spending in the U.S. House. And he's not one to shy away from confronting Pearce and his ignominious ilk with a bill he calls STRIVE: Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy Act of 2007.

STRIVE's an attempt at a compromise between the two sides on the issue. It provides for beefed-up security on the border; enhanced enforcement of immigration laws with increased penalties for lawbreakers; the electronic verification of eligibility to work; the creation of worker visas for those filling jobs Americans do not want or take; conditional six-year nonimmigrant visas for those already here before June 1, 2006 (with background checks and fines and fees to be paid); and an arduous pathway to U.S. citizenship, requiring back taxes be paid along with a $1,500 fine, passing medical examinations and exiting and re-entering the United States at a predetermined point of entry during the six years of "conditional nonimmigrant status," a provision referred to as "touchback."

Flake's proposed law, which he's introduced in the House with Illinois Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez, offers a sweeping overhaul of U.S. immigration policy with no one interest group getting everything they want. But as good as it looks on paper, this skeptical kestrel wonders, can it pass both houses of Congress?

"We've got the best shot we've had in a long time," the congressman told The Bird via phone from D.C. "The president has been very consistent on this issue. I was at the White House this morning, and he talked about it again. He's committed to comprehensive reform. Then you have Democrat control in the House and the Senate that's more likely than Republican control to get this product through. You have a pretty decent partisan coalition here that wants comprehensive reform."

Flake observed that Republican efforts to blame the Dems for lack of progress on immigration reform backfired. So now, more Republicans are looking for a compromise. Some of the bill's language is similar to the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill from the last Congress. Flake expects the House to begin holding hearings on the legislation in late April or early May and believes the Senate version may come to a vote before the House version.

When this dyspeptic pigeon phoned Pearce's office for a comment on his fellow Republican and Mormon's STRIVE legislation, Pearce relayed an answer through a staffer, stating, "It's an outrageous amnesty program. It will cost the taxpayers billions of dollars above what it's already costing us today."

Flake rejected that amnesty label while chatting with this pollo loco, pointing out, "In 1986, we had an amnesty. We said, 'You get a shortcut to a green card if you've been here illegally.' We're not doing that here. We say, 'You go to the back of the line and you can't adjust your status until everyone who's in the queue works their way through.' "

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