Immigration and Tea Party Impact of Pearce Loss

November 10, 2011

The architect of Arizona’s controversial immigration law is out.  Russell Pearce is the first lawmaker in state history to lose his seat in a recall election.  It was a dramatic fall for a tough-talking Tea Party favorite who became one of Arizona’s most powerful politicians. From Phoenix, Paul Atkinson looks at what it means to immigration reform and the conservative movement.

On the night he lost his seat as President of the Arizona senate, Russell Pearce sounded more reserved than usual.

RUSSELL PEARCE “We’re the envy of this nation.  I’ve got patriots from across this nation that email me and write me everyday thankful for what Arizona has done leading the way.”

Pearce has advocated anti illegal immigration policies for several years, but he is best known for S-B 10-70.  The fury of publicity surrounding it elevated Pearce to national stardom when Arizona’s governor signed it into law last year.  Pearce becoming a role model for Tea Party conservatives and a frequent guest on national cable talk shows.

RUSSELL PEARCE, APRIL 2010 “We have an obligation to enforce the law.  No longer can we stand by, sit on the sidelines and allow our citizens to be attacked, hurt, injured, jobs taken from Americans while we don’t enforce our law.  We have policy that restricts them.”

A Federal judge put most of S0-B 10-70 on hold.  It’s now before the U-S Supreme Court.  Along the way, Pearce’s brash approach gave opponents ammunition that was used to collect more than 10-thousand signatures for his recall.  Randy Parraz led the effort.

RANDY PARRAZ “Russell Pearce represents extremist type divisive politics.  And now we said no to that.  He overreached and for the first time in the 100 year history of Arizona, a politician was recalled for that kind of abusive behavior.”

TODD LANDFRIED “I think it could have a dramatic game changing impact.”

Todd Landfried is with Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform. He says Pearce’s departure can have a major impact on immigration policy if people realize the debate doesn’t have to be so polarizing.

TODD LANDFRIED “If those people can stand up and the business community can stand up and say ‘we just saw that it was safe to talk about immigration on a more holistic level –not just secure the border.

In other words, an immigration debate focused on constructive solutions instead of divisive rhetoric.  But, Landfried says Pearce’s defeat is significant in another way.  The Senate President is a Tea Party favorite.

TODD LANDFRIED “I think it’s a real threat to the Tea Party.  “That says something about how people are starting to perceive the influence, or over influence or too large of focus on the Tea Party as a political philosophy.  I think it’s wearing thin.”

Try telling that to Tea Party conservatives like Arizona state representative Eddie Farnsworth.   He says Russell Pearce’s leadership will be missed at the state capitol, but there are others to carry on the cause. 

EDDIE FARNSWORTH “Russell isn’t the only conservative there.  So the conservative movement and the principals of liberty will still be defended and those of us who agree with Russell will continue to push those issues and policies that we’ve all worked together on and you know, we’ll work through this.”

As for Pearce, he says he’ll regroup and relax for the time being.  On election night, he thanked supporters in Arizona and elsewhere.

RUSSELL PEARCE “You can’t do this without good people standing with you. I wouldn’t have put up with what I put up with without these good folks that depend on somebody stepping forward and defending these liberties we so love.”

Those who know the veteran lawmaker say he’ll continue to play a major role on immigration policy behind the scenes and expect him to run for office again.  In Phoenix, I’m Paul Atkinson. 

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