The successful recall of Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce caught most political observers off-guard. As people analyze how this happened, it seems that their preconceived notions, mixed with anger and shock, are the dominant factors in reaching their conclusions. If we expect to be successful in future elections it is important to make sure we make plans based on accurate information. Following are my observations based on conversations I had with hundreds of residents of LD-18 both before and after the election. So that you can judge for bias, I am disclosing that I campaigned for Russell Pearce, I am a voting member of the executive committee of the Arizona Republican Party, I am an active Mormon, and I do not live in LD-18.
Going into the election I thought it would be important to LD-18 voters to keep the senate president in their district. This was going to be one of my arguments to voters to retain Russell Pearce. I quickly found that this wasn't as important as I thought. His strong supporters indicated it was important, but it was obvious they would have supported him anyway. There were a small number of business people that indicated they were passively supporting him because they disliked the idea of Andy Biggs becoming the new senate president. I believe they would not have supported Russell if they new Steve Pierce would become the president, so Russell did gain a few votes in order to keep his presidency. However, I found a substantial number of voters that opposed Russell indirectly because he was the president. Their concern (perhaps unfounded) was that he spent too much time in other parts of the district and they were voting for someone who would "stay home". One of the first people to mention this was a woman who told me that her brother in Pinetop saw Pearce more than she did.
It's an accepted fact that in previous elections Russell overwhelming won the Mormon vote, but at best captured half in the recall. The reasons I have encountered are not the same as those given by others. I found very few that completely disagreed with his position on illegal immigration. I did find several that felt he was mean-spirited and enjoyed causing them grief. I don't know how to describe these voters' feelings excect that they want Russell to deport illegals, but feel bad about it. There are two other factors in the Mormon vote that haven't been explored much in the media.
The first is Russell's campaign manager. To Mormons, temples are their most sacred place of worship. There are currently only three operating in the entire state. After the LDS Church announced plans to construct a new temple in Phoenix, and group called Phoenix Property Rights Coalition formed to opposed the construction, at least in it's initial form. PPRC hired a respected consultant, Chad Willems, to assist them. Let me editorialize by stating that I have know Chad for years and he holds no ill will to any religious group. A large number of Mormons were upset when they learned that Chad was Russell's campaign manager. They felt that Russell had turned his back on the church and hired what they referred to as an "anti-Mormon".
The second is a grainy videotape of what was interpreted to be Russell claiming the church has endorsed him. Editorializing again, I have know Russell for many years and know he would not intentionally mislead people this way. Mormons by and large are very protective of the church's policy of not supporting or opposing candidates. They interpreted Russell's remarks as lying, and therefore would no longer trust him.
In politics a general rule is that you support the candidate you want to win, not an opponent. This rule was broken. Some of Russell's biggest supporters were responsible for the candidacy of Olivia Cortes as well as a last minute phone campaign to potential voters that were assumed to oppose Russell! While I don't see either as a legal or ethical violation, others did. The worst thing is that every minute and every dollar spent on these efforts were not spent on actually supporting Russell. Perhaps these additional resources would have resulted in a different outcome.
Jerry was well know and well liked in the district. This certainly put him in a good position, but he could have been beaten. Legitimate points were made that Jerry was inexperienced, too liberal, and being used by democrats. Even people that personally liked Jerry were willing to consider these arguments. However, they were not open to the idea that he stole from homeless children. They then questioned everything else coming from PearceI am not opposed to negative campaigning, but it has to be believable.
All Politics is Local
Most of the arguments for and against Russell were better aimed at a state audience. One question I was asked multiple times was, "I'm happy about what he's doing for the border, but what has he done for Mesa?". This was easy is answer, but it should have been answered before the question was asked. I also ran into other people that questioned Russell's loyalty to his home district. More than one person mentioned that they Mesa Junior High is closing. They said they understand that nobody's immune to the economy, but they don't understand voting to give extra state money to the Pinal County Sheriff's Office.
We can complain all we want about the outside influences on this election and the recall process itself, but they weren't the only (or perhaps even the main) reasons the recall was successful. I don't believe that the open-borders groups should be feared. Republicans can and do win elections, even when the process seems rigged. Arizonans are basically conservative. If we focus on getting the right message out to the right people we are going to win.
Arizona Recall Precess
I am not opposed to changing the recall process, however, it is important to begin this discussion with accurate historical facts. A common complaint is that the recall process wasn't designed to remove somebody from office for trivial things. Actually, it was. The framers of the state constitution believed that elected officials worked for the voters and, as such, they could fire them at any time and for any reason. Part of me agrees with this notion.