Pearce foes have gathered enough names to force recall vote, officials say

2011-07-09T00:02:00Z Pearce foes have gathered enough names to force recall vote, officials sayHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
July 09, 2011 12:02 am  • 

PHOENIX - State election officials announced Friday there are more than enough signatures to force Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, to defend his seat.

Elections Director Amy Bjelland formally certified there are 10,365 valid signatures on the petitions. Only 7,756 were needed.

Gov. Jan Brewer now has 15 days to call the election, something she cannot legally refuse to do. That means the vote will come on the next available election date, Nov. 8, unless there is a legal challenge.

Attorney Lisa Hauser, who represents Pearce, said she is reviewing the more than 1,200 pages of documentation produced by Maricopa County in its review of the signatures which explain how county workers decided whether each signature was valid or not. Yvonne Reed, spokeswoman for the county elections department, said that paperwork is in anticipation of a possible legal challenge to what would be Arizona's first-ever recall of a state elected official.

Hauser said she will present Pearce with various legal theories on how the certification might be challenged.

But Pearce said he has no plans to take the issue to court.

"I'm ready for an election," he said, citing his 16-0 record in primary and general elections, to date.

Once the governor calls the election, challengers will have until Sept. 9 to submit nominating petitions with at least 621 valid signatures. Pearce, by virtue of his incumbency, does not need to do that.

Unlike regular elections, though, this is a single vote open to all registered voters of all parties or no party at all, with no primary to narrow the field. Whoever gets the most votes would serve out the balance of the term through the end of 2012.

Randy Parraz, one of the recall organizers, said there is no one at this point ready to take on Pearce.

Pearce said the leaders of the recall are "outsiders ... Democrats, open-border folks," people who he said do not represent the majority of those who live in his district.

Still, he conceded, his popularity is far from unanimous, as reflected in the large number of signatures gathered to oust him, even with the use of paid circulators.

"I know they've induced some good people" to sign, he said. "I know there are some good people who just disagree with what I'm doing."

Still, he said he remains convinced most district residents support his positions on issues, ranging from his support of laws to make it easier for people to carry weapons to backing measures to put new restrictions on abortion.

But it has been his multiyear push for new laws aimed at illegal immigrants that has made him a lightning rod, and ultimately became the impetus for the recall.

Pearce was the force behind the 2004 initiative to deny certain public benefits to those not in this country legally and to impose new identification requirements to vote. At that time, Pearce was out of step with many politicians, including some in his party, who urged voters to kill the measure.

It passed by a wide margin.

Since that vote, Pearce has found more support among GOP lawmakers to change state laws through the legislative process, including ones allowing the suspension or revocation of the business licenses and permits of any firm found guilty of knowingly hiring undocumented workers and the highly controversial SB 1070, giving police more power to detain and arrest suspected illegal immigrants.

"These folks are mad because I'm doing what I said I would do, successfully," he said.

Parraz said it would be a mistake to dismiss the recall as simply an objection to Pearce's stance on illegal immigration.

He said those who were involved were concerned about state policies that cut education funding and reduced health care for the poor, policies that Pearce, as Senate president, was instrumental in crafting.


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