What the recall of architect SB 1070 Russell Pearce tells us today


Ten years ago this month, a diverse coalition of Arizonans rose to remember the most powerful state legislator and architect of the most radical anti-immigration legislation in the countryside.

It sparked a movement that not only removed Senate Speaker Russell Pearce from office, but also shut down other anti-immigration efforts in the Legislature.

He stimulated a broad base of a disenfranchised electorate and, years later, overthrown Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his regime which illegally targeted Latinos.

This founding moment resonates and still counts today.

SB 1070 was the trigger for the movement

To understand its relevance and potential power in 2021, we must understand its genesis in 2011.

In the spring of 2010, Senator Pearce, a Republican from Mesa, pushed the Arizona legislature to pass Senate Bill 1070. It expanded Sheriff Arpaio’s legal authority to identify, detain and deport “unauthorized aliens.”

The law also required that “aliens” 18 and over carry documents at all times, made it a state crime to be in Arizona without papers, legalized the “reasonable suspicion” standard for law enforcement officers ordered to stop and ask for someone’s papers, and criminalized the accommodation, transportation and employment of an unauthorized stranger. Anyone who knowingly invited an undocumented person into their home, hired them to babysit their children, mowed their lawn, or cleaned their home was considered a criminal.

The passage of SB 1070 sparked a formidable backlash from groups from all walks of life who denounced the law as racist, divisive, unnecessary, punitive and petty. There have been numerous calls to boycott Arizona, state Capitol protests, civil disobedience, prayer vigils and mass marches.

Yet Pearce resisted them unscathed and emboldened.

An unusual coalition formed to fight back

A parade of protesters marches towards the Capitol against SB 1070.

A wave of opposition stood up to confront Pearce more directly. An unusual coalition has formed – Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Latinos, Mormons, Catholics, other faiths, atheists, union members, retirees, educators and young activists. Early, many viewed the recall as mad and desperate and feared that such an effort – a doomed effort against someone as powerful as Pearce – would make matters worse.

For some politicians, the decision of activists and other leaders to wait until the next election has had immediate, damaging and sometimes irreversible consequences. Pearce’s hateful rhetoric and racist behavior encouraged others to do the same.

The decision to launch Pearce’s recall arose out of our belief that mainstream Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives, would share our concern that Pearce was just too extreme for Arizona.

To recall and revoke him, Republicans needed Democrats and Democrats needed Republicans. Republicans needed Democrats to lead the signature drive to recall Pearce and run a special recall election. And Democrats needed Republicans to identify and recruit the right kind of Republican candidate to challenge Pearce.

In November 2011, Pearce became the first sitting president of a state Senate in U.S. history to be removed and removed from office. Pearce was done.

Nothing like the SB 1070 has happened since

Siblings Logan and Aubriann Perry hold signs in 2011 supporting Jerry Lewis, who occupied Pearce's seat after his recall.

Since the 2011 special recall elections, there has not been a single anti-immigrant bill – not a single one – like SB 1070 passed. In less than 20 months, Arizona has gone from zero in fighting racist laws like SB 1070 to zero tolerance for anti-immigrant bills.

Now in 2021, with the nation so bitterly divided, the story of Pearce’s recall provides a compelling example of how Republicans and Democrats, sometimes secretly and sometimes in the open, can, should, and must work together to rid the politics of individuals who are too extreme, too divisive and too destructive.

Before Pearce’s recall, no one was talking about a multi-layered strategy of one million dollars in 2016 go right to Sheriff Arpaio in a county where Republicans outnumber Democrats by over 200,000 voters.

With the departure of Pearce, the same governor who signed SB 1070 and waved his finger in President Obama’s face, signed the Medicaid expansion in 2013, which has provided healthcare to hundreds of thousands of low-income Arizonans.

The recall victory had a transformative impact on a new generation of leaders who helped redefine what was possible in Arizona. They dared to dream again, to face more powerful adversaries and much more important causes.

They turned their efforts to suppress Latino voters

Our effectiveness in getting Latinos and other voters with low propensity to participate so outraged Pearce, Arpaio, and their Republican allies that Republican lawmakers spent the following years crafting and ultimately adopting. a bill criminalizing the collection of mail-in ballots. It is now a crime liable to up to 18 months in prison.

Under this law, citizens can be prosecuted, not for having stolen or destroyed ballot papers, but for having returned them (with the express consent of the voter). Visuals of groups casting thousands of postal ballots of citizens bearing the last names of Rodriguez, Gomez, Garcia, Hernandez and other Spanish voters – many of whom are first-time voters – have threatened Republican leaders so much that they changed the rules. .

The main reason that thousands of Latino voters gave us their mail-in ballots is because we asked them! We asked them to register to vote. And they did. We asked them to register to receive their ballot in the mail. And they did. We asked them to vote for our candidate. And they did. And we asked them to give us their mail-in ballot, so that we could give it to them. And they did.

Our hard work must continue

As a result of our success, we are now seeing some of the most partisan, restrictive and retaliatory attacks on the rules that govern how, when and where we vote – rules that will disproportionately harm people of color.

Now is not the time to abide by these unnecessary restrictions on our right to vote, but to exercise our right to vote publicly.

However, nowhere in history does it say that progress is inevitable or that victories, once achieved, can never be undone. When it comes to rebuilding, revitalizing and preserving our democracy, the hard work must continue to remove all obstacles that undermine and subvert the compelling ideal of one person, one voice.

The work to dismantle Arizona’s anti-immigrant machine must continue, not by withdrawing Democrats and Republicans into their corners, but by coming together when it counts.

There is only one way to do it: Together

In 2016, when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump won Maricopa County by some 44,000 votes, Sheriff Arpaio lost to Democrat Paul Penzone by over 200,000 votes. Thousands of Republicans have come by to support the Democrat due to Arpaio’s shameful record.

And in 2022, another part of the anti-immigrant machine may be dismantled with the passage of the referendum to revoke Arizona’s ban on state tuition fees for undocumented college students and the universities. Again, a small number of Republicans, putting Arizona’s interests first, joined with Democrats in providing the slim majority to put this on the ballot.

Pearce’s recall provided a roadmap for how citizens can step in to tackle the extreme, racist and confrontational views of a vocal minority. It transcends partisan affiliations, religions, generations, sexes, races, ethnicities and ideologies. It allowed individuals – regardless of legal status – to become public citizens with the goal of creating a better Arizona.

Today, the extremist agenda in Arizona is to criminalize civic engagement and question the legitimacy of our elections. This fight requires a creative, bipartisan and daring strategy.

And yes, I plan to go back to Arizona and be a part of it.

Randy Parraz led the Russell Pearce recall effort and is the author of the new book “Dignity by Fire Dismantling Arizona’s Anti-immigrant Machine”. (dignitybyfire.com). He is president of the Organizing Institute for Democracy, which advocates the expansion of voting rights, especially for immigrants and people of color. Reach it at [email protected].


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