Arizona voters recalled the ranking lawmaker who authored the state’s controversial immigration bill, sending a message that residents prefer gentler ways of healing the nation’s immigration system.
As state Senate president, Russell Pearce led a two-thirds Republican majority in passing the nation’s toughest immigration reforms in 2010 and 2011. However, as of Tuesday evening, Pearce is unemployed.
Pearce conceded defeat after all 16 precincts in his Phoenix district reported that charter school executive Jerry Lewis had won 53 percent of the vote.
“It doesn't look like the numbers are going my direction in this, and I'm OK with that," he told supporters.
Pearce continued, “I intend to spend a little time with my God, my wife and my family and reassess where we need to go.”
The recall is a direct commentary on Pearce’s immigration legislation. He authored SB1070 which mandated that police officials check the legal status of suspected illegal immigrants and jail and seize the vehicles of illegal immigrants caught behind the wheel. The bill, signed into law by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, emboldened Republicans in other states to enact their tough immigration legislation while also sparking a national backlash.
Arizona faith leaders protested the immigration bill as dehumanizing and a violation of human rights.
The Rev. Trina Zelle, a Presbyterian minister and director of the Arizona Interfaith Alliance for Worker Justice, told reporters during a July 2010 prayer vigil, “People are living in fear, afraid to go to work and church, or to leave their home at all.”
The Rev. Jan Flaaten, executive director of Arizona Ecumenical Council, said in an April 2010 statement, “All the religious leaders of Arizona know and understand that this law will not solve the issue of crime along the border or in our state, but it will demonize anyone who looks suspiciously like an undocumented person leading to inevitable racial profiling.”
Pearce and other state Senate Republicans also approved immigration reform bills that would deny citizenship and state residency to the so-called “anchor babies” of illegal immigrants. The bill eventually failed.
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, called the Arizona immigration laws “extremist reforms” and said that Republicans are “failing miserably” among the Hispanic community.
The U.S. Department of Justice sued the state and succeeded in striking down provisions in the 2010 law.
Arizona residents also petitioned the special recall election.
Lewis, a political novice whose campaign platform championed civility in politics, said of his win, "We showed that civility is a sign of strength, not weakness.”