All indications are there will be a recall election involving Republican State Senate President Russell Pearce, who represents Mesa’s Legislative District 18. The election will likely come in November, although it could be delayed until next March.
The recall effort led by Citizens for a Better Arizona collected over 18,000 signatures on recall petitions. There are an estimated 68,000 registered voters in LD-18. Only residents of the district are eligible to sign petitions and vote in a recall election.
Of 18,000 signatures submitted, the Maricopa County elections office validated about 10,000 of them — 7,756 signatures are needed for Gov. Jan Brewer to set a recall election for Pearce.
Pearce, who claims widespread grass roots support in his district and from his hometown of Mesa, can challenge the signatures and petitions in Maricopa County Superior Court. But that might just put off the inevitable — the biggest effort to remove a ranking Arizona politician from office since Gov. Evan Mecham was impeached in 1988 by his fellow Republicans.
Mesa voters have sent Pearce to the Arizona Legislature for 16 years and put him in a position of power that some say surpasses that of fellow Republicans Brewer, Secretary of State Ken Bennett, Attorney General Tom Horne, Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal and his fellow legislative leaders. He’s been mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate in 2014.
While Pearce boasts of his humble Mesa roots, the man who controls the Arizona Legislature has considerable ties to groups and financial support from way beyond the his hometown city.
Records at the secretary of state’s office show Pearce is no wallflower when it comes to taking money from unions, wealthy national corporations and business owners, private prisons, the scrap metal industry, gaming interests and the Fiesta Bowl. Those ties can be seen in some of his legislative decision-making.
Besides being the go-to guy for these special interests, the former deputy sheriff and Fox News regular has become the face and mouth of the anti-illegal immigrant movement.
Right after the recall petitions were turned in, the national Ban Amnesty Now group sent out an email proclaiming: “Obama-La Raza Attacking Senator Russell Pearce.”
The email was soliciting contributions of $15, $25, $50, $100, $500 or even $1,000 “to unite our broad coalition against this recall scheme.” A second BAN email praised Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and ex-congressman JD Hayworth while attacking retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. O’Connor, who was raised on a southern Arizona cattle ranch and still calls Arizona home, was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and was the nation’s first female Supreme Court Justice.
No doubt between Pearce’s big-money friends and the anti-illegal immigrant crowd, money will pour in to fight any effort to remove their benefactor from power.
The people who signed the petitions to remove Pearce from office have friends also who’ll contribute cash and more to the recall effort. They’ve already accomplished what most said couldn’t be done: They gathered enough signatures to force a recall election and challenge the power Pearce wields.
Before it’s all over, Mesa could see a street fight like never before in the battle to keep or remove Pearce.
Even though Pearce’s type of leadership and influence is a statewide issue, in the end the choice of whether Pearce remains as the most powerful state-elected official in Arizona will fall on the voters of Mesa’s Legislative District 18 and no one else.
• Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at email@example.com