Feathered Bastard

Russell Pearce Lobbyist Shindig Crashed by Citizens for a Better Arizona

Four hundred clams. That's what some lobbyists may have paid to attend a fundraiser held for embattled state Senate President Russell Pearce Wednesday night at Alexi's Grill in Phoenix.

By my estimation, there were about 30 or 40 attendees at the height of the action. If they all paid to get in, it could mean Pearce scored a nice little purse from the soiree.  

But I'm guessing there were a few there who were just cronies and hangers-on, like former weatherman and Pearce shill Ed Phillips. Maybe they didn't pay the premium price. Others may have sent in checks ahead of time.

Among those present, I spotted Levi Bolton of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, Brian Livingston of the Arizona Police Association, and Farrell Quinlan of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Pearce entered and exited via the kitchen, so as to avoid supporters of his recall, who were dining at a large table near the party area, which was separated from diners by some plants.

He was accompanied by two plainclothes officers with the Arizona Department of Public Safety, J. Gentry Burton and Jeff Trapp.

These two men are assigned to the state Legislature as a security detail, and Pearce uses them as bodyguards at political events. I saw them shadowing Pearce once before at a Tea Party rally for Pearce in North Phoenix a while back.

They've also been involved in enforcing Pearce's blacklist banning certain members of the public from the state Senate building, like human rights advocate Sal Reza. 

Indeed, these officers arrested Reza and another individual earlier this year as the activists attempted to meet with state Senator Steve Gallardo.

In any case, the recall supporters, some of them members of Citizens for a Better Arizona, twice attempted to crash the Pearce function, with limited success.

The first foray along these lines was made by Legislative District 18 Republican Mary Lou Boettcher, a retired teacher, and Inez Parraz, mother of CBA co-founder Randy Parraz.

Mrs. Parraz was in town from Sacramento, where she lives, and she wanted to serve Pearce with a cease and desist letter from her son's counsel, ordering Pearce and his minions to stop making defamatory statements about him, such as the ones made in signs posted around Mesa by Citizens Who Oppose the Pearce Recall, chaired by Pearce sycophant Matt Tolman.

"It's very disturbing as a parent," Mrs. Parraz said of the Tolman signs accusing her son of being against the rule of law, and for open borders and the boycott of Arizona. All of which is untrue.

She pointed out that hers was a law enforcement family, and that her late husband had been a high-ranking deputy with the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department.

Boettcher simply wanted to meet with her elected representative, though she admitted that she's no Pearce fan.

"He's so anti-everything I believe in," she said of Pearce. "Like public education."

She also doesn't like Pearce's vindictive style of leadership.

"If someone doesn't vote the way he wanted them to, he says, `Well, I'll see that you don't get elected again,'" she explained.

Needless to say, Boettcher and Parraz didn't make it past the gatekeepers, one of them Gretchen Jacobs, a lobbyist with Arizona Governmental Affairs, who informed them they could only enter if they could pony up $400.

Boettcher was using a walker to get around. She insisted that Pearce knew her and that he had acknowledged her presence from the back of the crowd. Still, Jacobs denied them entry.

(Jacobs later informed me that she had meant to convey that $400 was the maximum requested donation. She told me she gave $100, and that the recall folks might have been able to get in with a Benjamin.)

Burton and Trapp seemed to be itching to arrest someone, even these two ladies, if they'd gotten the chance. But after being rebuffed, Boettcher and Parraz sat back down. That's when the entire table decided to go up to the party area and try to gain entry.

One LD18 voter made it past the Praetorian guard. The man insisted that he simply wanted to talk with Pearce, and initially refused to leave. At this point, Burton and Trapp began to restrain him.

Eventually, the man left the premises. After this, Jacobs complained that she had been pushed by the man several times. Burton ran out to the parking lot trying to track the man down, returning empty-handed.

Various recall supporters argued intensely with another young woman, who again told them they needed to donate to see Pearce. Eventually, Michael Zistatsis, one of the owners of the place, asked the recall supporters to be seated, and they reluctantly complied.

I found Zistatsis to be very accommodating and patient. He later even apologized to the activists for having to ask them to sit down, though he was well within his rights to do so.

After this excitement, the recall supporters eventually meandered home. Before he left, I got a chance to speak with attorney Michael Wright, who owns the Wright House in Mesa. Wright's supporting Republican Jerry Lewis in the recall election, and was at the table with the recall supporters. He said he showed up to make a point.

"Russell Pearce, when we first filed the petitions, complained that the supporters of the recall were outsiders," he told me. "We're not outsiders. The people who are here giving money to him tonight are outsiders...We're not lobbyists, we're not fellow politicians, we don't have anything to gain other than better representation."

Wright, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said he believed there was a groundswell of support for Lewis within Mesa's influential LDS community.

"The LDS people generally are right of center, but not far right of center," he stated. "They are fiscally conservative and have strong values. We're very focused on education and family...children and children's health problems.

"We follow the philosophy of helping the poor when necessary. So you'll find generally that LDS people are in favor of Lewis because he reflects that. We don't think Pearce reflects that so much."

After Wright and the other recall supporters left, I stuck around and waited for Pearce to leave, hoping to snap a photo and ask him a couple of questions. But his security detail rushed him out through the back way, and his supporters blocked him from my view as they did so.

Now just think, if I'd had a few Benjies to throw around, I could've had an exclusive with the Senator. Gosh darn it.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons