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Russell Pearce Seems Incapable of Telling the Truth, Even About His Own Religion

When a man is so duplicitous as to mislead others about his faith, what does it say about his character?

The question is more complicated in the case of former state Senate President Russell Pearce, because he's been caught fibbing about his religion before, during his failed effort to win in last year's recall election.

Pearce's 12-point loss was a result of many factors, not the least of which were the efforts of fellow adherents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, most of them Republicans.

Fed up with Pearce's bigotry and bullying, and troubled by the black eye his Mexican-bashing was giving their community, Mesa Mormons recruited political neophyte Jerry Lewis, an LDS member who could appeal to conservatives and moderates alike.

Ironically, the Pearce camp was of great assistance in Lewis' double-digit victory.

Because at the core of Pearce's campaign was intrinsic dishonesty. His friends, family members, and supporters engaged in a slew of dirty tricks, foremost being Olivia Cortes' sham candidacy, a shameless attempt to dilute the vote in favor of Pearce.

All this backfired to Lewis' benefit, of course, resulting in the historic recall of a sitting state Senate President, one who had predicted that he would win the contest handily.

Now, just four months later, Pearce has announced his run for the state Senate in newly formed Legislative District 25.

And, again, Mesa Mormons have recruited a political newbie, Republican LDSer Bob Worsley, founder of the lucrative SkyMall catalog, to best the bad seed in their midst.

Arizonans have seen this flick before, and we know how it ends, even if a clueless Pearce seems to be mimicking Bill Murray's role in Groundhog Day.

At a packed meeting of Legislative District 18 Republicans last year, Pearce told his most politically damaging lie yet, claiming that the LDS church had green-lighted his breathing-while-brown legislation, Arizona Senate Bill 1070.

"I got hold of the church headquarters in Salt Lake," Pearce avowed. "And they said they absolutely do not oppose what Arizona is doing."

When video showing Pearce making this statement surfaced, the LDS church smacked down Pearce — hard.

Contacted by Channel 12's Brahm Resnik for comment, LDS spokesman Michael Purdy said that the church had not taken a stand "on any specific immigration legislation in Arizona."

Purdy also said, "We have made our position on immigration clear. The church believes that an enforcement-only approach is inadequate."

But this message meant nothing to Pearce. One week before the announcement of his LD 25 run, Pearce repeated the canard when confronted by a caller on his Monday-night radio show on KFNX 1100 AM, sponsored by the nativist organization Ban Amnesty Now, of which Pearce is president.

"I called [the church's] PR room personally," Pearce contended. "They said they were not opposed to Senate Bill 1070."

Pearce added: "They simply, as a compassionate plea, talked about their concern [for] families. The appropriate thing on their side . . . I mean, the message was a little confusing to a lot of folks. But lie? I have never done that."

I e-mailed Pearce's comments to LDS headquarters, seeking a response. Church spokesman Eric Hawkins wrote back to me with the following reply:

"The church's position on immigration is principle-based and applies universally. Any position adopted by individual politicians or members is theirs alone and does not indicate the endorsement of the church."

He continued, "I know of no communication with Russell Pearce. When asked about our position on immigration by anyone, we have consistently explained that we believe it is important for any legislation to balance the three principles [previously stated by the church] and that 'enforcement only' approaches were not sufficient."

The three principles, as detailed by the church's 2010 declaration of support for the Utah Compact, a document advocating humane solutions to America's immigration problems, include: Jesus Christ's teaching to love one's neighbor, opposition to the separation of families, and the right of every nation to enforce its laws and secure its borders.

Lest anyone be confused by that last point, the church added in the same message that public officials should "create and administer laws that reflect the best of our aspirations as a just and caring society."

In June 2011, the church reiterated its stance in starker terms, demonstrating its concern that "any state [immigration] legislation that only contains enforcement provisions is likely to fall short of the high moral standard of treating each other as children of God."

SB 1070 is not mentioned, but it certainly falls into the category of enforcement-only immigration legislation.

This is not the only lie Pearce has repeated lately.

On the same radio-show episode where Pearce restated his whopper about the Mormon Church and SB 1070, another caller wondered why he was fired in 1999 as head of the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division.

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