Senate President Russell Pearce

Capitol Media Services file

Activists seeking to recall state Senate President Russell Pearce say they're on track to collect enough signatures for an election and that recent controversies have made their campaign easier.

The Mesa Republican is one of many elected leaders to face a recall campaign, but most fizzle quickly despite an initial burst of publicity. The Pearce recall group used a Tuesday media event to claim they've got two-thirds of the 7,756 verified signatures required by May 31. They predict submitting petitions before the deadline, possibly within weeks.

Volunteers with Citizens for a Better Arizona said they've been surprised how often voters are willing to sign petitions as they knock on doors every weekend. Others say they've voted for Pearce before but now oppose him.

"Some people are very excited," said Brenda Rascon. "I don't even have to explain to them who Russell Pearce is."

Pearce did not return a call from the Tribune seeking comment.

The campaign against Pearce started in late January. Rather than targeting Democrats in the heavily Republican Legislative District 18, Citizens for a Better Arizona is going after Pearce's base. That includes Republicans and voters who, like Pearce, are Mormons.

Some voters insist Pearce is their hero, volunteers said. But they say they've seen a backlash over a report claiming the Fiesta Bowl paid for Pearce to travel to out-of-state games. He has claimed he reimbursed the bowl for tickets. Also, Pearce declared state Sen. Scott Bundgaard was the victim in a domestic abuse incident along a Valley freeway. Police consider the girlfriend the victim based on witness accounts and plan to charge the lawmaker.

Voters frequently bring up those incidents when agreeing to sign, said Chad Snow, a founder of the campaign. He called Pearce a gift that keeps on giving.

"He really thinks he's invincible and completely above the law," said Snow, who is Mormon.

Citizens for a Better Arizona insist Mormons and Republicans are a major part of the group. One is Mary Lou Boettcher, a retired school librarian who was a founder of the Mesa Republican Women's Club. She said Pearce has cut too much from education.

"Russell Pearce has not been a good person for Mesa," she said.

Pearce opponents said some people pledged to vote against the lawmaker but are fearful because of their church or because they are government employees.

If the anti-Pearce campaign leads to an election, an opposing candidate would face a huge hurdle in getting votes because of the lawmaker's history of easy election victories.

Activists say no candidate has emerged but they will benefit by putting Pearce in an uncomfortable position of having to explain why he's been recalled. Strong candidates will identify themselves only after an election is called, said Randy Parraz, one of the campaign's founders.

"This is going to create a lot of room for people to maneuver politically," Parraz said.

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