A group trying to recall state Senate President Russell Pearce is pressing election officials to verify petition signatures quickly so an election can be held in November rather than March.
The recall group is trying to gather far more signatures than needed to trigger an election, but that approach makes it more likely the election would fall in 2012. Rather than turning in signatures early, they're asking election officials to do their work in less time than the law sets aside to complete the verification process.
Organizers gathered in Secretary of State Ken Bennett's office Wednesday to seek assurance election officials won't drag their feet and delay the election until March.
"We just want to make sure that politics doesn't enter into this at all," said Chad Snow, chairman of Citizens for a Better Arizona.
The group plans to submit paperwork Tuesday, the deadline for the 120-day window to gather signatures.
Bennett addressed the recall organizers and said all of his elections workers would turn to signature verification if the group submits the paperwork. They'd work as quickly as possible while ensuring their work is accurate, he said.
"We'll do everything as fast as we can," Bennett said.
The recall campaign said they initially believed a November election was likely if they used the full 120 days to gather signatures. Bennett acknowledged his office mistakenly told the group that a November election was possible if the group filed by May 25. The office later realized May 10 is the correct date if every step of the process takes the maximum time required by law. His office notified the group when the error was identified last week, Bennett said.
If signatures are submitted, Bennett's office reviews them first. They then go to the Maricopa County Recorders office and are returned to Bennett for further action. If everything checks out, Gov. Jan Brewer would then have 15 days to call an election.
Bennett and Brewer, like Pearce, are Republicans. Bennett said he won't let politics interfere with the process.
"I don't think the governor is going to play politics in this either," Bennett said.
A recall would require 7,756 valid signatures from residents of the heavily Republican legislative District 18, which covers west Mesa. Backers said they plan to submit 17,553 signatures, which is one more than the number of votes Pearce got in 2010.
If Pearce were recalled in a November election, he'd be out of office before the next legislative session starts in January. A March election would come in the middle of the session - and at about the time lawmakers would start their campaign for November's legislative elections.
Also Wednesday, the group announced it's retained the law firm of Perkins & Coie, whose specialties include election law.
Pearce opponents began gathering signatures in January, targeting the lawmaker in large part for creating SB 1070 last year and additional immigration bills this year. Backers also cite Pearce's role in hundreds of millions in budget cuts that affect education, health care, organ transplants and more. Organizers said some Pearce supporters turned on him when the Fiesta Bowl investigation revealed he was one of many elected officials told to repay the bowl for taking free trips to various games.
Pearce supporter Sean McCaffrey cast doubt on whether the recall effort will get enough valid signatures. McCaffrey founded Ban Amnesty Now, an anti-illegal immigration group that Pearce is national chairman of.
"I'm a skeptic and think that if they do, they've been very lucky to get signatures only from people that don't support what I call Arizona values to begin with," McCaffrey said.
Pearce will find support from voters ranging from Reagan Democrats to tea party activists for his immigration views and otherwise conservative voting record, McCaffrey said. Recall activists often cite non-immigration issues in arguing for the recall, but McCaffrey said immigration is the real motive.
"I think that part, they're lying to you," McCaffrey said. "I think they're trying to be less transparent than they really are."
Wednesday's gathering in Bennett's office included several lifelong Republicans and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which Pearce is a member.
Carolyn Cooper clutched a folder with pictures of relatives in military uniforms and became upset that Pearce opponents have been called anarchists. Cooper noted Pearce once was close with J.T. Ready, an anti-immigration activist who has been photographed wearing swastikas. Pearce has since cut those ties, but Cooper said that didn't matter.
"And he has the gall to call us too extreme," Cooper said.
Julie Jorgensen is a Republican and fifth-generation Mormon who has opposed Pearce for cutting adult education funds. She teaches adult education and dismissed the assertion that only liberals or open-border activists oppose Pearce.
"I want people to know that all Mormons and all Republicans are not as extreme as Russell Pearce," Jorgensen said.