I began this blog in May 2009 following the death of Marcia Powell at Perryville State Prison in Goodyear, Arizona. It is not intended to prescribe the path that leads to freedom from the prison industrial complex.

Rather, these are just my observations in arguably the most racist, fascist, militaristic state in the nation at a critical time in history for a number of intersecting liberation movements. From Indigenous resistance to genocidal practices, to the fight over laws like SB1070 and the ban on Ethnic Studies, Arizona is at the center of many battles for human rights, and thus the struggle for prison abolition as well - for none are free until all are. I retired the blog in APRIL 2013.

Visit me now at Arizona Prison Watch or Survivors of Prison Violence-AZ

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How the Tea Party Senate lost Russ Pearce


For those who haven't yet heard, the President of the Tea Party Senate 
was thrown out of his job by Mesa voters this week...


Dethroned: Host of factors helped oust Russell Pearce

Political experts will spend years analyzing how a political novice emerged from obscurity in west Mesa to knock off Arizona's most powerful lawmaker in Tuesday's unprecedented recall election.

But analysts and people involved in the fierce campaign pointed Wednesday to an array of factors in Jerry Lewis' improbable upset victory over Senate President Russell Pearce.

Those factors include:

The nature of the recall itself, which allowed Democrats and independents to vote in what amounted to an "open primary" election pitting two Republicans against each other.

The influence of outside groups, some aligned with liberal causes, that allied with the conservative Lewis to knock off the even more conservative Pearce.

Political blunders by Pearce and, more spectacularly, by his supporters.

Dissatisfaction with Pearce's tone, style and priorities.

Unhappiness among Mormon voters over the image that Pearce, a Mormon, had cast on their religion.

Lewis himself, described by backers as the "perfect" candidate to challenge a politician of his own religion and party.

Open election

Under the recall provision of Arizona's Constitution -- a century-old vestige of the Progressive Era -- any number of candidates can run, and all voters in the electoral district can cast ballots.

Pearce campaign officials said that created a situation where Democrats and independents could vote in what would, under other circumstances, have been a Republican primary election.

Pearce campaign manager Chad Willems said recall organizers deliberately set out to create that kind of race, announcing early on that their preferred candidate would be a White, Mormon, Republican conservative -- all of which describe Lewis.

"They knew they would split the Mormon vote and split the Republican vote," Willems said. In the meantime, Democrats would be almost certain to vote against Pearce; recall organizer Randy Parraz said on Election Day that Democrats turned out in large numbers.

Outside influence

Most of Pearce's campaign cash, and a great deal of his high-profile support, came from outside the district in the nationally watched campaign.

Lewis got outside help as well. In addition to his own campaign committee, which was run largely by Mesa residents with little political experience, Citizens for a Better Arizona -- the group that launched the recall drive to begin with -- was a powerful force for Lewis once the actual election campaign began.
Other groups weighed in as well.

Eliseo Medina of the Service Employees International Union, said Wednesday that his group worked to get out the Hispanic vote in District 18, and Petra Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona in Action, said her Phoenix-based group used 300 volunteers to do the same thing.

"Mr. Pearce has always had his enemies, and by default they became Jerry's friends," said John Giles, a former Mesa vice mayor and one of Lewis' campaign chairmen.

Political mistakes

Pearce already was in some political trouble as the year began, nearly losing a seat on the state Republican committee.

In the spring he rushed to the premature defense of a Senate colleague involved in a domestic-abuse incident; he was found to have received almost $40,000 in benefits from the scandal-scarred Fiesta Bowl; and Republican senators helped defeat five of his immigration bills last session.

As the recall campaign kicked in, Pearce allies committed blunders that may ultimately have cost him his job.

A phony Twitter account in Lewis' name tried to falsely paint him as an advocate of open borders and lawlessness. Campaign signs were erected in violation of state and city law.

Then a Mexican immigrant named Olivia Cortes emerged as a candidate, and Pearce supporters admitted helping her get on the ballot in an effort to siphon votes away from Lewis. She survived one court challenge, but withdrew before a second. Her name stayed on the ballot, and she earned 1.2 percent of the vote.

Then, the Saturday before the election, Democratic voters got a "robocall" from someone with a Hispanic accent saying both remaining candidates were Republicans and suggesting voters enter write-in candidates.

Michael O'Neil, a Valley consultant and pollster who supported Lewis, said the Cortes matter was particularly damaging for Pearce.

"For the first 30 days of this election, he was completely off-message" as he dealt with allegations about Cortes, O'Neil said. "It wasn't offense for him. It was total defense."

Even Willems and Pearce spokesman Ed Phillips said some of the pro-Pearce schemes were boneheaded.

"You could make the argument that it could have been death by a thousand cuts," Phillips said. "It's sad the campaign centered on Cortes when it should have been about how Senator Pearce has helped get this state back on a sound footing."

"I think Russell was not successful last night because of friendly fire," Willems said, adding that the accented robocalls probably only reminded Democrats that there was an election Tuesday.

Launching the recall

Parraz, a Scottsdale Democrat, said he and his allies had been wary of Pearce but became alarmed last fall when he was elected Senate president.

Pearce was "already extreme in his own party," Parraz said, and "now had risen to one of the most powerful positions in Arizona."

Early in the new legislative session, Parraz said, Pearce "was focused on nullifying federal law, changing the Constitution, putting guns on campuses, gutting education, cutting off people who were waiting for organ transplants."

Parraz's group wrote Pearce in January asking him to change his priorities. Pearce ignored it, and the recall drive was launched three weeks later.

Lewis, who reluctantly agreed to run weeks after the recall was certified, did not participate in the recall drive or sign a petition. He differs little from Pearce on most issues, but said immigration is only one problem that must be addressed.

Lewis favors border enforcement but also reforms that would accommodate illegal immigrants already in the country. Pearce favors legal sanctions and deportation to deal with the issue.

Lewis' view is in line with a majority of Arizona residents, according to a statewide poll that was released Wednesday, the day after the election.

"On many levels, there was support for a change that permeated the district, and there were warning signs that have been flashing and ignored for months, if not years," said Lewis campaign co-chair Dea Montague.

Question of religion

The candidates' membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meant the campaign always would have elements of a Mormon family fight, and observers were cautious in discussing that.

But the religion issue really flamed late in the campaign when Pearce distributed an e-mail from a supporter who claimed divine inspiration in calling Lewis a "Judas goat" -- a highly charged term in Mormon quarters -- insinuating that Lewis was a tool being used to lead the Mormon faithful to political slaughter.

Regardless of whether that tipped Mormon votes in one direction or the other, Giles said Mormons knew which candidate most closely comported with church views.

"His enforcement-only approach to immigration is contrary to the LDS church's official position," Giles said.

'Perfect' candidate

Lewis, Giles said, "is a political novice but on the other hand he was a heavyweight in other categories that most candidates can really only dream about."

Giles noted that Lewis learned Spanish because "he was a church leader over a Spanish-speaking congregation ... he became their champion and they came out for him."

"Until you got a Jerry Lewis to be the candidate, (the recall) is a truly bad idea," Giles said. "It was doomed to failure. I don't know who else could have pulled this off."

No comments:

Post a Comment