It looks like the embattled president of the state Senate is going to have to fight to keep his seat in the Legislature.
Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne said Wednesday her office has reviewed about 13,500 signatures on petitions calling for the recall of Russell Pearce. At this point she said more than 8,250 have been determined to be valid, far more than the 7,756 required to force Pearce into a special election.
And Osborne said still has close to another 3,000 signatures to review.
Pearce, a Mesa Republican, told Capitol Media Services he is not surprised.
“You know, when you pay people to get signatures and when they tell the kind of stories they’re telling, people sign almost anything,’’ he said. “I understand that.’’
Pearce, first elected to the Legislature in 2000, also said he is not afraid of being forced to defend his seat in a special election, saying he is an old hand at winning races.
“They’ve elected me 16 times, counting primaries,’’ he said.
“I trust the voters of Mesa, I know the voters of Mesa,’’ said Pearce. And he said the reverse also is true.
“I’m born and raised there,’’ he said. “They know me. They know who I am.’’
Osborne stressed that this is simply an interim report. She said even after all the counting is done the final numbers need to be audited.
Lisa Hauser, an attorney who represents Pearce, said even if Osborne’s office does verify there are enough valid signatures, that does not automatically mean an election.
Hauser said county officials are verifying the signatures only of those who signed the front of the petitions as wanting a special election. What they have not verified, she said, is whether those who circulated the petitions -- and signed a notarized statement on the back -- were qualified to circulate the petitions in the first place. Instead, the Secretary of State’s Office, which does the preliminary review of the petitions, only yanked the petitions where there were obvious problems with the notarized statement.
“And there are a variety of other things to look at as well,’’ Hauser said. “We want to make sure that we think the county and the secretary of state have removed everything that we think they were legally required to remove.’’
When a special election would occur depends, at least in part, on how quickly Osborne’s staff finishes its work -- and in part to the whims of Gov. Jan Brewer.
State Elections Director Amy Bjelland said having the vote in November requires that all the formalities be completed by Aug. 10.
Osborne’s office has through Aug. 2 to complete its verification. But Arizona law then allows the governor up to 15 days to issue the formal call for the election.
That means if the county finishes its work before late July, the election automatically will be in November.
But if her office takes the full time, Brewer could delay the election until March simply by taking the full 15 days to make the call.
Until now, Pearce has been a political ally of the governor. But that relationship was strained this week when Brewer said Pearce did not deliver promised Republican votes for her proposal to change state law to keep about 15,000 Arizonans eligible for extended unemployment benefits.
Pearce said he warned a Brewer aide last week, before the failed special session began, that the votes were not there, but that she insisted on going ahead anyway.
Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson has brushed aside queries of how quickly his boss intends to act on an election call, saying the question is premature.