UPDATE, 11-9: According to Reuters, after falling behind opponent Jerry Lewis by a margin of 7%, recalled Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce gave a terse concession speech late Tuesday night. The disgraced legislator framed his loss with “keeping one’s promises” and “loyalty to this great republic”; others, such as Elise Foley at Huffington Post, rendered it a bipartisan effort to communicate that fervent nativism is no longer the will of the people in Arizona’s 18th District:
“[Pearce’s] critics rallied behind Lewis as the most viable alternative to Pearce, forming an unexpected coalition between Republican critics of Pearce and immigration reform supporters. Petra Falcon of Promise Arizona in Action, an immigrant organizing group, said Pearce’s loss reflected the public’s distaste for Pearce’s ‘extremist positions.'”
Polls will open today for the recall election targeting Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce (R-18), anticipated with much verve by his supporters and opponents alike. Known for his nativist views, Pearce’s entrenched station in a district popularly opposed to immigration afforded him numerous allies; the organization helming the recall effort, Citizens for a Better Arizona, seemed to fight a futile battle. But after collecting and submitting over 18,000 signatures in favor of the recall, the Arizona activists received startlingly good news this summer when Governor Jan Brewer announced that the referendum would take place on November 8th.
Curiously, Pearce will be undergoing the first election of its kind in the state’s history, decisively defying what appeared to be overwhelming support for the controversial legislator. Despite this purported popularity, many interpret the recall as a challenge to Pearce’s intractable anti-immigrant platform—a tendency that often skirts downright racism. And perhaps this sinister history can shed some light on Arizona’s first recalled legislator, a man long united with neo-Nazis, prison labor profiteers, and the largest anti-immigrant network in the country.
- For a public servant, Russell Pearce has a surprising proclivity for controversy and the taboo. Despite his outright denials, Pearce often cordially met with Arizona’s premier neo-Nazi, J.T. Ready—even going so far as to personally ordain him into the Church of Latter Day Saints. Ready is a former member of the National Socialist Movement and has run for various minor public offices on an explicitly fascist platform. In 2006, Pearce also circulated an email to his constituents that espoused Holocaust denial and racist diatribes, originally composed by the neo-Nazi organization National Alliance.
- Pearce is a member of State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI), a nation-wide coalition of anti-immigrant lawmakers. SLLI was founded under the auspices of the infamous Tanton network, a nativist coterie descended from the abject white nationalism of its progenitor, John Tanton.
- Before entering the Legislature in 2000, Pearce was chief deputy under Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He claims to have collaborated with the notorious Arizona lawman in establishing the desert tent cities now used as supplemental state prisons—a move decried by many as a human rights violation. Since leaving law enforcement, Pearce has made an unprecedented effort to fill these prisons with immigrants through his prolific catalog of nativist legislation.
- Pearce is credited as the author of SB 1070, an omnibus anti-immigration bill derided for its sanction of racial profiling. Before becoming law, SB 1070 was reviewed and underwritten by several unsavory contributors such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization that likes to populate for-profit prisons with immigrants. Kris Kobach, uncontested darling of the far-right, also lent his experienced lawyer’s hoof to draft the bill “pro bono”—a specious gesture often concluded by paying him and the subsequent legal fees out of overwrought state coffers.
Pearce supporters have engaged in all sorts of shenanigans to ensure victory, like nominating bogus candidate Olivia Cortes to split opposition votes. Why are they so nervous? Is the sun setting on nativism in a state it so long called home?
More to come as details emerge—in the meantime, check out the page at Citizens for a Better Arizona.