East Valley organizers have formed a group to oppose state Sen. Russell Pearce, hoping to build momentum on a local level for a different approach to immigration and other key issues.
The East Valley Patriots for American Values say the state's voters have disagreed with Pearce on education and state spending, but that the Mesa Republican doesn't represent everyday people at the Capitol.
Brian Barabe said East Valley residents are more moderate than Pearce, the lawmaker behind SB 1070 and the next session's Senate president.
"As a group, we feel very strongly that Russell Pearce doesn't speak for the state and that's why we're doing this," Barabe said. "We think that there are other voices out there, more open-minded and conciliatory and that Russell Pearce doesn't speak for those people."
The group plans to stop what they call Pearce's "politics of fear, hatred and division." It will take a calm approach to issues rather than turning to confrontational tactics, said Barabe, a retired teacher who lives in Chandler.
They plan to launch their first major effort in early 2011 by drafting their own version of the Utah Compact, which business, community and religious leaders drafted as an alternative to Arizona's immigration law. It is a set of five broad principles that call for stronger federal enforcement, having local law enforcement focus on criminal behavior but not immigration law, and not allowing families to be broken up.
The group calls for a more civil conversation on immigration and other issues, said member Saul Solis of Mesa. Organizers will bring a Utah Compact-type document to East Valley cities and ask them to take symbolic votes in favor of the approach, the retired educator said.
Because courts are reviewing key provisions of Arizona's immigration law and could overturn those elements, Solis expects lawmakers will need to approve alternative laws. If organizers can get local elected officials to voice support for more moderate approaches, Solis said, lawmakers could feel more comfortable rejecting the ideas Pearce has promoted.
"We are going to pursue a spirit of collaboration, recognition and inclusion, and that is what is lacking," Solis said.
Solis noted that Pearce, in published comments, said the group favored immigration and would destroy the nation. Pearce did not return calls for comment.
Organizers acknowledged they'll face a tough battle on some issues, especially since polls show Arizonans broadly support SB 1070. But they say voters have gone against key issues Pearce has supported, including May's approval of a statewide sales tax. Also, voters in November defeated Proposition 302, which would have let lawmakers spend $324 million that is set aside for early childhood development. Barabe said even voters in Pearce's district broke ranks with him on both issues.
"Many people in his district don't go along with him, necessarily, on everything." Barabe said. "And we thought that was really significant."
The group spoke to Mesa's City Council last week, making its first public appearance but not asking for any action at the time. Councilman Dave Richins said the city's police department is on the front lines of immigration, but Mesa has no say in what the federal government or the Legislature does. He supports the Utah Compact but said he doesn't know if it's worth making a statement on the issue.
"I'm not going to pick a fight with the Legislature and I'm not going to pick a fight with Russell Pearce," Richins said.
Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh said several of his colleagues have spoken favorably of the compact and may want to weigh in. The Legislature has enacted many policies that hurt cities, he said, adding he can't imagine how the city's support of the compact could make things any worse. He welcomed the group's approach.
"We don't need to do the shouting. The tea party approach doesn't work on these particular issues: education, health care and immigration reform," Kavanaugh said. "I think there is some movement to their platform."