Prominent Arizona lawyer Chad Snow, who led 2011 recall effort, dies at 51

·7 min read
Chad Snow and Ken Smith.
Chad Snow and Ken Smith.

Chad Snow, the former chair of Citizens for a Better Arizona, has died at the age of 51 after a years-long cancer fight, according to several people close with him. Snow was known politically for leading the recall effort against former state Senate President Russell Pearce in 2011.

Outside of his political engagements, he was most remembered for his generous, easy-going nature that helped him make friends easily and his tireless pursuit of an ethic of love and acceptance.

Snow, an attorney who fought for workers' rights at Snow, Carpio & Weekley, PLC, was diagnosed with cancer more than five years ago.

In a Facebook post in December 2021, Snow wrote that having a terminal illness made life's more trivial details fade away. Knowing death was near, he embraced the relationships forged throughout his lifetime.

"Everything gets distilled down to that which is most important, which I've found to be (1) my relationship with God; and (2) my relationships with my family and closest friends," Snow wrote. "At the end of your life, those two things are all that really matter to you."

They mattered as much to his friends as they did to Snow. In his final weeks, friends and family members from around the country traveled to Arizona to say goodbye. The farewell messages and adventures were chronicled on social media, and included caroling with friends and visiting a Chinese buffet.

Snow died Sunday morning. Services for him are being planned for Jan. 29, his family announced.

Lifelong friendships formed during recall election

Yasser Sanchez, an immigration attorney, told The Arizona Republic he met Snow during the effort to recall Pearce more than a decade ago.

Pearce, a Republican from Mesa, was the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 1070 — a controversial immigration enforcement law that was the toughest in the nation when it passed in the spring of 2010.

Sanchez said Snow, chairman and co-founder of the recall effort, provided a "stable voice in the community" during that time, linking activists and community groups across party lines to secure his vision for a better Arizona.

His efforts were successful. In November 2011, Pearce became the first sitting president of a state Senate in U.S. history to be recalled and removed from office.

In November 2021, Snow commemorated the anniversary of the recall with a speech in which he said the recall paved the way for Medicaid expansion and other improvements in Arizona.

"Apart from the immigration component about it, I think the education system has become much better — the state is just a much better place today than it was 10 years ago because of what we did," he said.

Snow and Sanchez maintained a friendship over the years. Sanchez described Snow as "incredibly brilliant," with a wonderful sense of humor and commitment to others. He loved his family, cared for his community and was "obsessed" with the Phoenix Suns, Sanchez said.

Snow exemplified kindness, forgiveness, grace and humor even in the midst of his cancer fight. Sanchez said he looked up to Snow for the impact he had on all who knew him, and that his legacy of service will live on.

"It makes you want to be a better human being so when your time comes, you can say you made a difference to the world," Sanchez said.

Ken Smith crossed paths with Snow at a Spanish-language TV station during the recall effort. Smith, a personal injury lawyer, said he "hit it off" with Snow.

The pair worked on several cases and even served together in the public affairs bureau of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Smith attributed Snow's natural ability to connect with others to their shared faith.

"That was the power Chad had — he could be at home with any religion, any age person, any ethnic category, any race," he said. "He was a man of faith. He knew what the end game is, and he knew everybody was a brother or sister."

That faith gave Snow "the courage and the strength" he needed to be at peace even as he knew cancer was cutting his earthly time short, Smith said.

He added that it was a "blessing" to know Snow and see all the good he did with his life.

"He's the type of guy that the world needs — he made the world a better place," Smith said.

Ian Danley had been working for immigrant rights for a number of years when he met Snow during the recall effort.

Several years later, each of them was diagnosed with blood cancers. They endured treatment together, bonded over their shared experience and celebrated one another's victories along the way. He said Snow always had a mischievous smile and "never let cancer stop him from living."

"He didn't get angry and bitter and 'why me?' — he just took it," Danley said, calling his friend a "really resilient guy."

Danley was working for David Garcia's campaign for Arizona governor in 2018 and said Snow offered an entire floor of his building to the team, an example of his "super generous" spirit.

Danley said he'll "truly miss" his friend, who he said, above all else, wanted to spread love and justice.

"He didn't protect, he didn't try to hold and save, he tried to share — and he's loved for that," Danley said. "His legacy is going to be really incredible, and his legacy is going to continue to grow."

Snow was the 'consummate protector of the underdog'

Former state Sen. Jerry Lewis first met Snow on the night that he defeated Pearce in the 2011 recall election.

Lewis said Snow was the "epitome of servant leadership" and had a knack for connecting with people of all backgrounds and beliefs.

"He was very sincere in his efforts to help people without any ulterior motives, without any hidden agenda," he said. "He was about doing good for his brothers and sisters who needed advocacy on their behalf. He was always just genuinely kind and honest and full of integrity."

Lewis said that, ultimately, his friend eschewed labels and simply "did what was right for humanity."

"Chad was the consummate protector of the underdog," Lewis said.

The pair developed a "wonderful" friendship that included numerous lunches and discussions about their shared faith and commitment to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Lewis last saw Snow on Thursday, when he stood alongside his friend as he was honored by the Arizona Senate with a proclamation on the floor.

"Be it proclaimed by the Senate of the state of Arizona that Chad Snow's leadership and advocacy will forever be remembered for making our state stronger, and more inclusive, and recognized for his contributions on behalf of all Arizonans," said state Sen. Raquel Terán, who also serves as chair of the Arizona Democratic Party.

Attorney Danny Ortega said he "jumped for joy" that he was also able to attend the event. He said he hugged Snow, told him he loved him and said goodbye for what he knew could be the last time.

Ortega knew Snow for about 20 years, adding that he "took a very active part in fighting for justice, equality and all the things that are the founding principles of our country."

He said Snow's upbringing in Latino communities in the West Valley helped him develop compassion and a "tremendous ability to connect" with people regardless of their background.

Ortega called Snow a "model of servant leadership," and said that despite the accolades and accomplishments he racked up over his life, what matters most was how he treated others.

"People can say he was a great human being, he was a great lawyer, he was a great member of our community, but I think the fact that on top of that he was so kind — that's probably what I'll remember most about him," Ortega said.

Reach the reporter at bfrank@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8529. Follow her on Twitter @brieannafrank.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Lawyer Chad Snow, who led historic recall effort, dies of cancer at 51

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