What lies ahead for Pearce? Campaign reimbursement? Sheriff run? - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

What lies ahead for Pearce? Campaign reimbursement? Sheriff run?

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Posted: Wednesday, November 9, 2011 5:16 pm

Arizona voters may not be quite done with Russell Pearce.

Questions of Pearce’s political future aside, a little-known provision of the Arizona Constitution requires the Legislature to act to reimburse any recalled public official his or her “reasonable special election campaign expenses.’’

Only thing is, no one knows exactly what that means — or how it works. That includes Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who is the state’s chief elections officer.

“Our office has no statutory authority to determine the provisions for providing reimbursement of campaign expenses,’’ said spokesman Matt Roberts. He suggested checking with the Senate.

But Wendy Baldo, the Senate chief of staff, said how the statute might work remains an unexplored issue.

The question goes beyond who determines what is “reasonable.’’

There also is the fact that the approximately $260,000 Pearce spent in his unsuccessful effort to defend his seat all came from donors. That raises the question of whether he would have to give that money back if the taxpayers pick up the tab.

Arizona history provides no guidance, either, as this was the first-ever recall of a state elected official.

A recall campaign was launched against Evan Mecham after he became governor in 1987. But there never was an election, as the Legislature impeached Mecham and removed him from office first.

Despite that, Mecham requested reimbursement of more than $828,000 for both his campaign expenses and well as what it cost him to mount his unsuccessful impeachment defense. In the end, lawmakers approved — and Mecham accepted — $405,000 to settle both claims.

Pearce was not giving interviews Wednesday. And Chad Willems, his campaign manager, said the question has not come up.

But Willems speculated that Pearce won’t force the issue.

“I don’t know if that’s a path he would want to go down,’’ Willems said. “It would be taxpayer money.’’

Further down the road is what will now become politically of Pearce, who is 64.

A former chief deputy sheriff, Pearce has made no secret he would like to become Maricopa County sheriff. But he also has indicated he would not try to unseat incumbent Joe Arpaio who has been a political ally, even standing with Pearce at several campaign events in the recall.

But Pearce also said that if he lost the recall he would consider trying to reclaim his seat from Jerry Lewis.

Pearce has never lost a race since he was first elected to the Legislature in 2000. But in each case, he first won a GOP primary in his heavily Republican Mesa legislative district, making him a virtual shoo-in over any Democratic foe in the general election.

In a recall, however, there is no primary, with all registered voters getting a voice. Pearce said that enabled Lewis to win with Democratic support, something he could not get in a 2012 Republican primary.

Only thing is, Pearce may not get the chance: Draft maps adopted by the Independent Redistricting Commission actually put Pearce and Lewis in two different legislative districts. Instead, Pearce would be in the same district as another GOP incumbent, Rich Crandall.

The two are not political allies, though, with Crandall having opposed some of Pearce’s immigration measures and supported Lewis in the recall race. But Crandall has said he is unconcerned about such a race, speculating that Pearce may choose to take the opportunity to do something else — something that pays more than the $24,000 a year legislators get.

As architect of some of the first — and the toughest — state laws aimed at illegal immigration, Pearce also has gained something of a national reputation he could parlay into a new role. That is the route taken by former Congressman Tom Tancredo, also a supporter of tough new immigration laws, who formed a political action committee to help elect politicians of a similar mindset.

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