Russell Pearce Challenger Jerry Lewis Formally Announces Candidacy in LD 18 Recall Race

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As Eddie Albert liked to say in The Longest Yard (the original, not the Adam Sandler remake), "His-to-ry."

That's what Arizona witnessed this morning in Mesa in the garden room of the Victorian-style Wright House, the quaint, embowered venue where so many marriages have taken place. 

There, charter school superintendent and former CPA Jerry Lewis stood before a crowd of supporters and press hounds, to announce his challenge to state Senate President Russell Pearce in the recall election scheduled for November 8 in Legislative District 18.

"Some have asked me why I'm running for this senate seat," Lewis told the crowd, dressed casually in khakis and a button-down blue Oxford shirt. "The answer is simple. I believe it's time to restore a style of leadership to Mesa that its residents can be proud of."

With backers such as Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley looking on, Lewis spoke of the importance job growth and recruiting businesses for the district, as well as the significance of investing in education.

"Safeguarding that investment will be one of my top priorities as a state senator," he vowed to enthusiastic cheers from the audience.

Lewis also promised a clean campaign against Pearce, who is known for his mean-spirited vendettas and his retribution against rivals.

"I will not make negative personal attacks against my opponent," he said. "He is a member of my community and a friend. Our shared faith teaches us to treat others with respect and kindness. That is how I will campaign and that his how I will lead at the state Senate."

Noble sentiment, one I can envision the dark prince of Arizona politics Chuck Coughlin sneering at, what with Coughlin's recent threats against anyone who challenges Pearce's supremacy as the Sauron-like Lord of Sand Land.

Between the white hats and the black hats, Lewis is definitely wearing the former: A Richmond many hope will slay (metaphorically, natch) Mesa's Richard III. Though, Lewis apparently plans to kill him with kindness.

Troubling, though, was the news yesterday of an attack on Lewis as he was doing an early morning jog. An assailant reportedly threw a padlock at Lewis, nailing him in the groin. Initial accounts had the incident occurring Monday. It actually took place Saturday.

Mesa attorney and Lewis confidante W. Dea Montague introduced Lewis, who, after his short address, left, supposedly to file formal notice with the Arizona Secretary of State's Office

Montague explained that Lewis had been shocked by the attack, but had no idea whether or not it was politically motivated.

(Fill in your own joke about Chuck Coughlin's whereabouts on the morning in question.)

I wondered if Lewis or his family had received any threats since his name was first floated. Montague said that so far, the only threats had been political.

Supervisor Stapley held court with a few fourth estaters after Lewis had left. He expressed the hope that Lewis' candidacy would mean a new day in Mesa politics, and Arizona politics as well.

"Instead of this concept that we're going to rule by fear, and if you don't play our way, on our team...we'll attack you in some way, Jerry is one who will listen to all sides and then make the right decision," he stated.

Stapley challenged Pearce to play clean as well. He noted that part of his supervisorial district covers LD 18, and that he lives in Mesa, though in LD 19.

"This would be a positive change," he said of the possibility of a Lewis win. "In the sense that we would have someone who would listen to the people, to the voters and who will represent them in a better way, especially on jobs and education and the economy, areas that Senator Pearce has virtually ignored."

He also pointed out that Pearce is hardly the King Kong of LD 18 that some in the media believe him to be.

"Right out of the box, 10,000-plus signatures on the recall petition, it's never been done in the state of Arizona, ever," he said. "There's a lot of dissatisfaction. I talk to a lot of the residents of District 18 on a regular basis, in meetings, on the phone, on the street. There's generally a very large number of people who are very unhappy...with the lack of leadership by the current senator."

Along those lines, Stapley criticized Pearce for not supporting the extension of federal unemployment benefits, noting that those were dollars that will not be going into the state's economy. 

As far as immigration goes, Stapley said he believed Lewis would support the stance of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has espoused a humane, common-sense approach to the issue.

Regarding the influence of LDS voters in LD 18, Stapley said he believed there may be more Catholics than Mormons in LD 18, but that those of both faiths will be attracted to Lewis' candidacy. 

However, the fact that Lewis, unlike Pearce, has held high positions of leadership in the Mormon Church, will no doubt help him.

"I think that's a natural consequence," Stapley observed. "It can't help but benefit him."

Lewis has served as an LDS bishop and as a stake president previously. He's known for instructing Mormon youth, and for being a Vice President of the Grand Canyon Council of the Boy Scouts of America. 

In short, he is everything Pearce is not. And in this game, with Arizonans in general being weary of the merchants of hate who govern this state, the fact that Lewis is not a career politician is also a plus. 

If Lewis wins, all of Arizona wins, and Pearce's political career will effectively be over. And the white hats will have won, for a change.

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