Feathered Bastard

Joe Arpaio Recall: A Chance to Prove the Pundits Wrong

What was the most fun for me as a columnist during the recall of ex-state Senate President Russell Pearce -- other than watching Pearce crash and burn?

That nearly all the pundits in Arizona ended up being as wrong as white shoes after Labor Day.

See also: -Joe Arpaio Recall Still On, Despite Lack of Support from (Some) Deep-Pocket Democrats -Joe Arpaio Recall's Naysayers Laurie Roberts and Mario Diaz, and Why We Fight

Remember, Pearce was at the zenith of his power in early 2011, a righter-than-right-wing wanna-be John Wayne, in his stomping grounds, the deeply conservative Legislative District 18.

He had just been re-elected by a healthy margin, and had ascended to the state Senate presidency following his legislative triumph the year prior with Senate Bill 1070.

Other politicians feared him. And he was wildly popular with the rabid Republican base in this state.

Which is why almost everyone in the local press corps thought the effort to oust him from office was "doomed," to borrow a word used by the Arizona Republic's Laurie Roberts this week to describe the current recall effort against Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Roberts' assessment followed an announcement by Respect Arizona, the Arpaio recall group, that it no longer had the funds to pay professional petition circulators as much as $2 or more per signature.

Just two weeks ago, Respect Arizona was riding high, with news that it had 120,000 valid signatures from qualified electors, signatures verified through county election rolls.

RA suspended the paid campaign on Sunday, March 17. Lilia Alvarez, RA's campaign manager, declined to give me the final count of valid signatures on the 17th, stating that RA was holding that information close to the vest.

But check this: If RA collected valid signatures at the same rate from March 6, when the 120,000-mark was announced 'til March 17, then by my calculation, the organization would have picked up close to 37,714 additional signatures in those 11 days.

Which would mean that RA may have around 157,714 valid signatures in the bank.

If RA were able to maintain the same pace, scoring 3,428.57 signatures (on average) per day, in the 74 days from March 18 to May 30, they would end up with around 411,428 valid sigs, exceeding the 335,317 needed to recall Joe.

By this math, the recall is still possible, though obviously it's a longer shot without the paid circulators.

(Note: Keep in mind, I'm not including the chaff, the majority of those signatures that would be tossed. For example, on March 6, there were, according to RA, 150,000 signatures, 120,000 of them verified.)

RA has enough money to maintain its operational costs, but it needs more -- a lot more.

Thing is, if a few big-money Dems (or Republicans) were to start writing checks, RA could, hypothetically, restart the paid drive.

Sadly, that cannot be counted on. The donkeys with the big bucks and/or the ability to raise those big bucks, such as Mario Diaz, whom I spoke with recently, don't see anything in it for them.

They are wrong about that, of course. The recall of Russell Pearce changed Arizona for the better, politically decapitating a colossus of the nativist movement, a man who boasted national prominence in the wake of SB 1070.

Which brings me back to what the pundits were saying about the Pearce recall when it began in late January 2011.

Basically, they gave it the same chance of success that Roberts gives the Arpaio recall.

In her recent column, she said a recall election now was as likely as Joe "being named Sheriff of the Year by Chicanos Por La Causa."

Flashback to January 30, 2011, when Roberts' curmudgeonly colleague Doug MacEachern, declared that Pearce was "safe," because, historically, he had dominated LD 18 elections.

Dennis Welch, a veteran political reporter and a guy whose work I admire, dismissed the notion of recalling Pearce around the same time as MacEachern, calling the recall more "symbolic" than anything.

"Russell has been so unbelievably popular in his district," said Welch on Channel 8's Horizon. "People will tell you he fits that district perfectly."

Welch pointed out that the district was heavily weighted toward GOPers. He also saw the number of signatures necessary, close to 8,000, as daunting. Though that goal sure seems piddly by comparison to 335K-plus.

I don't mean to pick on either Welch or MacEachern, as most people didn't give the Pearce recall a snowball's chance in Yuma back then. Nor was victory ever certain. Many in the Fourth Estate thought Pearce would pull it out, up 'til the last minute.

Pearce, of course, lost by double digits to Jerry Lewis, also a conservative Republican and a Mormon. Lewis lacked Pearce's congenital hatefulness and bigotry. Recruited by his fellow LDS members, he was the perfect guy to take on the Mesa Goliath.

Lewis was recruited late in the game. When the recall began, no one knew who would be running against Pearce, or if there even would be a recall election.

In re-reading my first column about the Pearce recall in the beginning of February 2011, I see that some of the same arguments apply to the Arpaio recall.

"[F]orcing a recall election on Pearce is doable," I wrote.

After crunching the numbers, I stated that it was "conceivable that Pearce could lose."

"Even if Pearce ultimately prevails," I observed, "a recall would damage him politically."

Similarly, the Arpaio recall is worth committing to, if only to harass our common enemy.

The recall forces Arpaio and his supporters to live under a cloud of uncertainty, a 120-day case of angina for Sand Land teabaggers.

Meanwhile, more Latino voters are being registered in the process, and those in the anti-Arpaio camp have something to hope and strive for: i.e., an end to two decades of tyranny.

It's either this or meekly accept another four years of deaths in the jails, financial mismanagement, outright corruption, and gross incompetence.

Add in racial profiling and the regular roundups of the undocumented via employer raids, and I really don't see that any Democrat, any progressive, any Latino, or anyone with a conscience, has a choice but to back the recall with everything they've got.

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