Pro-immigrant groups are crowing over immigration hardliner Russell Pearce's historic loss last night. Pearce, the first sitting state senate president to be recalled, was the architect of Arizona's anti-illegal immigration bill SB1070, which inspired several copycat bills in other states. Pearce also unsuccessfully introduced legislation to issue separate birth certificates to the children of illegal immigrants born in America that would deny the children citizenship. Peace was defeated by Republican charter school administrator Jerry Lewis 53 percent to 46 percent.
"Outraged by Pearce's 'show me your papers' legislation, the community came together and proclaimed: enough!," Rudy Lopez, political director of the Campaign for Community Change, said in a statement. "Laws clearly aimed at running hardworking immigrants out of a community or a state will not be tolerated."
Pro-immigrant groups led the recall effort, gathering 17,000 signatures to put Pearce's name on the ballot. But the hard fought and at times dirty campaign that followed mostly focused on other issues. And it's far from clear that Pearce's recall will signal a sea change in the Republican Party's stance on immigration. Presidential candidate Herman Cain has joked about creating electrified border fences to kill illegal immigrants, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry has taken heat from the other candidates for allowing young illegal immigrants in Texas to access in-state tuition.
However, attacks against Pearce largely avoided his record on immigration. An ad paid for by Citizens United for Progress, below, hit Pearce over accusations that he accepted free tickets to the Fiesta Bowl, cut education funding, and--perhaps most damaging—enticed a "sham" Latina candidate to run against him and split the anti-Pearce vote.
A Maricopa County judge ruled that Pearce supporters encouraged Mexican immigrant Olivia Cortes to run against him solely as a decoy to help him win the election. "The court finds that Pearce supporters recruited Cortes, a political neophyte, to run in the recall election to siphon Hispanic votes from Lewis to advance Pearce's recall election bid," the judge wrote, according to the New York Times.
Pearce's nieces even helped gather signatures to get Cortes on the ballot, while Pearce's brother—a justice of the peace—drove them in the car. Pearce said he had no knowledge of these actions. Cortes dropped out of the race, but her name was still on the ballot.
Lewis did take a notably more moderate stance on illegal immigration than Pearce, even though he didn't make it a centerpiece of his campaign. He said enforcement of immigration laws should be left to the federal government, and advocated finding "a rational and fair solution for dealing with immigrants who have committed no crime other than being here without proper documentation," on his campaign website.
"If being recalled is the price for keeping one's promises, so be it," Pearce told the Arizona Republic.
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