By Elise Foley, First Posted: 11/8/11 11:09 PM ET Updated: 11/8/11 11:29 PM ET | Source: Huffington Post
State Sen. Russell Pearce, the controversial architect of Arizona's immigration law, was voted out of office on Tuesday evening in a special recall election. He was defeated by Jerry Lewis, a fellow Republican who does not support the immigration crackdown and has vowed to reject gifts from special interest groups and work to ban gifts for legislators.
Lewis won with roughly 54 percent of the vote, state officials announced on Tuesday evening.
Pearce is the top Republican in the state senate, and a 10-year state legislator. He pioneered S.B. 1070, an immigration law passed in Arizona in 2010 that quickly prompted a lawsuit from the federal government. The law, which would have allowed police to ask for immigration papers at stops if they had "reasonable suspicion" someone was undocumented, was predominantly blocked before it went into effect.
The Arizona Republic reported on Tuesday that Pearce said the numbers were not "going his way" as results trickled in. "If being recalled means keeping your promises, then so be it," he said.
His critics rallied behind Lewis as the most viable alternative to Pearce, forming an unexpected coalition between Republican critics of Pearce and immigration reform supporters. Petra Falcon of Promise Arizona, an immigrant organizing group, said Pearce's loss reflected the public's distaste for Pearce's "extremist positions."
"The political jerseys came off," Falcon said in a statement. "We are willing to work across party lines. We appreciate candidates of all parties who care about the future of our great state: those who respect and bring together diverse communities, focus on education, job creation and building a better Arizona. We look forward to a productive dialogue with Senator Lewis."
Promise Arizona organized about 300 volunteers for a door-knocking campaign, visiting 7,000 residents in the area since September, according to the organization. Promise Arizona contacted about 2,000 Latino voters on Tuesday to encourage them to vote.
They largely focused on the differences between Pearce and Lewis on immigration. Lewis, though for stricter border enforcement, has said the state rushed into S.B. 1070, which has been criticized as bad for the state and its immigrant and Latino populations. Lewis has said he would have voted "no" on the bill, although he understands the state's frustration over border issues.
"A year and a half after its passage, can we say that our border is more secure now than before its passage? I believe the answer is no," he told the Arizona Republic.
"Securing the border and protecting public safety requires that we provide our police and sheriff agencies with the necessary resources to combat violent criminal cartels. In this regard, SB 1070 missed the mark."
Pearce, meanwhile, has stood behind S.B. 1070, despite lawsuits from the federal government and various civil rights groups.
He has also attempted to fend off criticism for potentially inappropriate campaign donations. Pearce was caught up in a scandal surrounding the Fiesta Bowl, a college football tournament that came under fire for its illegal political contributions. Pearce accepted $1,025 in contributions from Fiesta Bowl executives and was accused of illegally accepting gifts in the form of tickets to games, which he has denied.
Pearce has pushed for a repeal of the state's Citizens Clean Elections Act, which was meant to aid candidates who refused special interest donations.
Lewis ran on a promise to introduce a bill banning gifts for legislators, and said in a campaign pledge that he will not "take any lobbyist or special interest group's gifts, lunches, tickets, or any other privilege."
Public Campaign Action Fund, a national organization that advocates against special interest money in politics, also encouraged voters to support Lewis over Pearce. The organization spent about $47,000 on the race, sending mailers to more than 17,000 voters over the past three weeks, said National Campaigns Director David Donnelly.
"His opposition to clean elections and his leadership in trying to repeal the law made him an immediate target for us," Donnelly said. "Given that he already had a target painted on his back because of his controversial positions on immigration, we felt like it was an opportunity to deliver a secondary punch that would knock him out."