Jerry Lewis Makes History, Thumps Russell Pearce
The Arizona Senate President Loses Recall Battle Against Fellow Mesa Republican
Jerry Lewis delivers his victory speech.
By John Guzzon
Modern Times Magazine
Nov. 9, 2011 — When Gerald Ford assumed the presidency after the Watergate scandal had toppled President Nixon, the speech he gave to reassure the nation included a line which became an iconic axiom, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”
Well, after Jerry Lewis’ historical recall defeat of soon-to-be former Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, it seems that in this time and place, our long statewide nightmare is over.
And a long nightmare it was — for both the residents of the Grand Canyon state and Pearce himself.
Pearce is a fifth generation Arizonan, raised by an alcoholic father, who joined the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in 1970. By the time Joe Arpaio began his reign, Pearce had moved up the ladder and he became one of Arpaio’s chief deputies. A little later, he came up with the idea of “Tent City.”
After a quick falling out with Arpaio in the early 1990s, he was appointed director of the motor vehicle division in 1995. That job only lasted about four years as he was removed from his position when it was revealed he had taken part in altering the driving records of a Tucson woman so she would not lose her license.
Few in state legislative district 18 cared, however, as he won his first stint in the legislature in 2000. He served his term-limited maximum of eight years in the house, where he began his immigrant crusade, culminating in SB 1070, before moving over to the senate in 2010.
He made Arizona not just a pariah, but also a laughingstock.
But beyond the facts is the attitude. Pearce operated as a politician like a policeman at 2 a.m. — he ain’t a happy guy. He bullied, he refused to talk, he threatened. He defended Scott Bundgaard after he fought with his girl friend on a Valley freeway. He put the inept and dogmatic Lori Klein and Sylvia Allen in prime leadership positions.
He was identified as someone who had benefited — to the tune of $40,000 — from the Fiesta Bowl spending spree.
Basically, he pulled all kinds of shenanigans in his political career but it might have been the last attempted trick that was his undoing. As the first statewide politician to ever be recalled, Pearce and his supporters looked to any tactic that would give them the advantage.
Then, someone had the bright idea to run a sham candidate with a Spanish name in order to siphon votes from Lewis.
But it backfired bigtime. The sham candidate, Olivia Cortes, was hauled into court and revealed that Pearce supporters had gotten her on the ballot. She wisely stepped down when her “supporters,” left her swinging in the breeze.
Many experts say those shenanigans cost him about 3 percent of the vote Tuesday night — a margin for victory.
Jerry Lewis slayed the metaphorical “dragon,” not with a sword, but with ethics and votes.
Lewis was perhaps the perfect candidate to unseat Pearce just on the superficial level — he is both a republican and a Mormon. But more than that, Lewis had a devotion to run a clean campaign that carried with it moral strength indicative of the best that a politician can offer.
“We ran a clean and civil campaign. We set out to show the word that we are serious about being different than the status quo. We ignored the attacks and launched none of our own. Let’s continue to take the high ground,” Lewis said in his concession speech as he refused to bash Pearce.
Sure, now he has to govern as the most junior member of the state senate with a flock of right wingers that held an unwavering allegiance to Pearce. Surely, it will be hard for him to find anyone to work with him on anything for at least the first legislative session.
While Lewis is not part of the Arpaio political machine as was Pearce, he is good friends with Arpaio foe and Maricopa County Commissioner Don Stapley. Stapley was a critical element to Lewis’ campaign and was joyous at the Lewis campaign party Tuesday night.
Some say this was a referendum on immigration reform and SB 1070, but it was more of a fight within the Mormon community and two political factions within the state.
With Pearce gone, though, those immigration hardliners have definitely lost their strongest champion. Pearce has not been one to accept defeat in the past and it is very possible that even if he does not hold office again, he will not disappear completely.
Regardless, Arizona seems like a bit more hopeful place now that the dragon of the state senate has been slain.
The long statewide nightmare is over.
John Guzzon is editor of Modern Times Magazine.