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Arizona Immigration-Law Author Pearce Loses in Recall Election

Republican Russell Pearce
Republican Russell Pearce yesterday lost by about 53 percent to 45 percent, according to the Maricopa County Elections Department. Photographer: Joshua Lott/Getty Images

The president of Arizona’s Senate and author of hard-line laws against illegal immigration lost a recall election seen as a bellwether on “extreme” politics.

Republican Russell Pearce yesterday lost by about 53 percent to 45 percent, according to the Maricopa County Elections Department. Pearce, 64, was defeated by Jerry Lewis, a Republican school administrator who has said he opposes Pearce’s enforcement-only approach to immigration policy.

“There is a deep dissatisfaction in Arizona for what is viewed as politics in the extreme,” said Earl de Berge of the Phoenix-based Behavior Research Center, a nonpartisan polling company. Pearce “symbolizes a very hard-nosed view on conservative policies.”

Pearce championed rigorous laws on illegal immigration, including a 2010 measure that sparked national boycotts and was emulated by Georgia and other states. That law, mostly put on hold by a federal court, requires police to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect is in the country illegally. He also helped push through a ban on benefits for undocumented immigrants and penalties for those that hire them.

Pearce, the first state officeholder in Arizona to face a recall, said he didn’t regret taking controversial positions.

“If being recalled is the price for keeping my promises, so be it,” he said in his concession late yesterday. He said his loyalty has always been “to this great Republic and the rule of law.”

Lewis, 54, will serve the remainder of Pearce’s term through 2012 and must run for re-election next November if he chooses. He will be sworn in after the Secretary of State certifies the election results, expected by Nov. 21, said Matt Roberts, a spokesman for the office.

‘Sea Change’

Pearce’s defeat will show moderates that they can win in the state, de Berge said. “It is going to be a sea change in Arizona,” he said.

The election pitted two Republicans against each other, dividing the heavily Mormon legislative district in Mesa, east of Phoenix, that Pearce represented in the House and then the Senate for 11 years. Both Pearce and Lewis are Mormon.

While the economy often took center stage in the campaign, national groups that backed Pearce warned supporters that the recall was an attempt by pro-amnesty immigration groups to oust the closed-border advocate.

Lewis, a charter-school superintendent, said the election was in part a referendum on political polarization.

“Hopefully it sends a message to all politicians that people are tired of negative campaigning, they are tired of the constant vitriol among politicians,” Lewis said by telephone late yesterday.

Two Challengers

Lewis was one of two challengers on the ballot. The other, Olivia Cortes, pulled out after a judge found in October that Pearce’s supporters helped her get on the ballot to draw votes from Lewis. While votes for Cortes didn’t count, ballots had already been printed with her name. She polled about 1 percent of the vote.

In another Arizona race, Phoenix voters elected a new mayor, Greg Stanton, a former city council member and a Democrat. His opponent, Wes Gullett, a Republican lobbyist, conceded late yesterday in the nonpartisan run-off race.

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