Russell Pearce recall, Arizona State Legislature (2011)

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An effort to recall Russell Pearce, a Republican, from his position as the 18th state senate district representative to the Arizona State Senate took place in 2011.[1] Pearce ultimately lost a recall election on November 8, 2011 to Republican challenger Jerry Lewis.[2]

Trailing in the polls on election night, Pearce declared, "if being recalled is the price for keeping one's promises, so be it."[3]

It is the first ever recall of an elected state official in the state's history.[4]

The recall petition stated:

"We, Citizens for a Better Arizona and residents of District 18, submit this petition to recall State Senator Russell Pearce for his failure to focus on issues and concerns that affect all Arizonans. Mesa and Arizona need a leader who will pass laws to create jobs, protect public education and ensure access to health care for our children and those most in need. We deserve a representative that reflects our values, beliefs and vision for Mesa and all of Arizona. By signing this petition we publicly withdraw our support for Russell Pearce and what he represents."[5]

The group "Arizonans for Better Government" supported the recall effort.[1] This group was chaired by DeeDee Blase of Somos Republicans.[6] The recall group's official recall statement said, "We find Russell Pearce's overt disdain for the United State's Constitution to be indicative of his inability to govern as prescribed by his job description and the oath he took to regain his seat in the state Senate."[6]

The Arizona Republican Party issued a press release on June 23, 2011 supporting Pearce, referring to the recall as a "coordinated attack on legitimate Arizona voters by the Democrat Party in collusion with their Acorn and LaRaza like community organizers."[7]

Pearce said he took the recall seriously. "You take everything seriously, people know who these folks are, they've tried it before. They're simply open-border anarchists who have no respect for the rule of law, we'll deal with it," he said.[8]

Path to the ballot

To force a recall election, recall organizers needed to submit 7,756 valid signatures on recall petitions by May 31, 2011.[6] This is 25% of the 31,091 votes cast for his seat in the November 2, 2010 Arizona State Senate District 18 section.[9]

On May 31, 2011, petition organizers said they filed 18,315 signatures to recall Pearce. State officials said it could be until August before it was known whether there were sufficient, certified signatures to recall Pearce.[10] The Secretary of State's office had 10 days to review the signatures before transferring them to the Maricopa County Recorder's Office for verification. That agency then had 60 days to officially verify the signatures, at which point the recall could be certified.[11]

Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne announced on June 15 that, of about 13,500 signatures reviewed to that point, over 8,250 were validated, more than enough to force a special election. Validity of the approximately 3,000 signatures remaining had to be completed by August 2. Once that was completed, the governor had 15 days to formally call for the election.[12][13]

On June 28, Elections Director Karen Osborne said 10,361 signatures had been verified and that they were double checking the ones that were originally rejected.[14]

Osborne submitted a 1,200-page certification package to the Secretary of State's office on July 8 confirming enough signatures had been gathered to force a special election. Later that afternoon the recall was officially put onto the ballot,[15]with Gov. Jan Brewer announcing it would take place November 8.[16]


Registered Independent Tommy Cattey was the first to declare his intention to run against Pearce in a recall, filing paperwork with the Secretary of State on July 17. He said he decided to run because of SB 1070, explaining, "It has been pretty emasculated by the courts. I believe his intention for it is harsh. We do need to control the borders and it does need to be done in a better way and more humane way."[17]

Registered Independent Olivia Cortes filed paperwork to run on July 26.[18] With rumors flying that she might be a "sham candidate" put up by Pearce supporters in order to split the vote, she withdraw from the race in early October.

Charter school executive Jerry Lewis announced his candidacy on July 27, promising to run a positive campaign devoid of personal attacks.[19] Cattey dropped out of the race on August 12, endorsing Lewis. Cattey said he had the necessary signatures but did not want to split the vote.[20]

Attorney Michael Kielsky filed paperwork to run on August 16. He previously ran as a Libertarian for Congress and Maricopa County attorney.[21] Kielskey said SB 1070 should be repealed as it encourages racial profiling. He also advocated for decriminalizing marijuana, lowering taxes, and increasing personal freedom.[22] However, Kielsky dropped out of the race on September 9, throwing his support behind Lewis.[23]

Signatures submitted

Candidates needed to submit at least 621 valid signatures from registered voters in District 18 to the Secretary of State by September 9 in order to qualify for the ballot. On August 18, Jerry Lewis submitted 1,187 signatures.[24]

1,177 signatures were filed on behalf of Cortes by Greg Western, a tea party activist, on September 9.[23] There were indications that Western may have recruited Cortes to run in order to help Pearce gain re-election, something he denied.[25]

Citizens had a deadline of September 23 to file challenges against either of the candidates.


Pearce and Lewis took part in a candidate forum hosted by the Mesa Chamber of Commerce on October 6, the only debate of the campaign.[26] Olivia Cortes was initially supposed to take part, but withdrew from the race earlier in the day.

The candidates agreed on most issues, including paying teachers based on performance, recent reforms to the state's retirement system, and cutting business taxes and unnecessary regulations. The only major split between the two occurred over illegal immigration and SB 1070. Lewis argued for a more cohesive immigration–reform plan, stating that SB 1070 has led to a bad state image. Pearce called that a "myth," citing similar legislation being considered in other states. "We’re at the front of the parade. We are doing everything right from jobs to safe neighborhoods. I don’t know how much better it can get,” he said.[27]

Cortes controversy

After filing to run, Cortes kept a low-profile, leading some to speculate that she may have been a "plant" by Pearce supporters to try and split the vote. She denied the accusation.[28]

At a press conference in late August, Randy Parraz, a leader of the recall effort, publicly accused Cortez of trying to dilute the anti-Pearce vote. "We know for a fact that this person Olivia Cortes was a supporter of Russell Pearce beforehand and would not sign the recall petition," he said.[29] On September 19, Robert McDonald, a Democratic precinct committeeman in District 18 sent a letter to the Secretary of State's office asking for an investigation of Cortes as well as the group Citizens Who Oppose the Pearce Recall, alleging fraud.[30]

In early September, Jerry Lewis issued a statement calling Cortes' his candidacy "a political stunt, designed to deceive voters." Meanwhile, Ed Phillips of the Pearce campaign said, "We have nothing to do with her campaign. Her campaign is her campaign. I personally do not even know who she is and we have our own campaign to run."[31] Cortes herself refused to speak to reporters. More questions were raised when East Valley Tea Party Chairman Greg Western, who had supported Pearce in the past, submitted Cortes' nominating signatures on September 9.[32]


On September 23, District 18 voter Mary Lou Boettcher filed a lawsuit alleging Cortes was a fraudulent candidate and as such was in violation of state law. The suit stated Cortes "has no campaign committee, no volunteers for her campaign and her campaign is being financed and operated entirely by those who wish to dilute the vote in favor of recalled Senator Russell Pearce."[33] Earlier that week Democratic precinct committeeman Robert McDonald filed a similar complaint which the Secretary of State's Office declined to investigate.

Tom Ryan, Boettcher's attorney, stated that the Arizona Constitution assures "the purity of elections." "Campaigns can be as dirty as they want to be, and this one has been. But elections must be pure. Running a sham candidate is a violation of Arizona's election code," he said.[34]

The case opened on September 29 in Maricopa County Court. Cortes asserted that she was in the race to win and that while she supports some of Pearce's positions, said his immigration policy is too harsh. However, she said she did not know who paid to hire circulators to collect signatures to get her on the ballot, nor who paid to put up campaign signs.

Ryan argued it didn't matter if Cortes knew she was being used or not, stating, "The fraud has already occurred. She would not have been able to get the (nominating) signatures except for the chicanery and skullduggery of the East Valley Tea Party."[35]

On October 3, Judge Edward Burke ruled that evidence showed Pearce supporters recruited Cortes to run, but that it was up to the voters to judge candidates' motives for running, not the courts.[36] “The court assumes that candidates have run for office for less than the noble motive of serving the public, which could include getting a better-paying job, pension benefits, achieving a position of perceived importance, boredom, or no reason at all,” he explained.[37]

The following day Burke agreed to hold an additional hearing after attorneys said they had new witnesses able to tie Cortes's campaign directly to Pearce campaign organizers.[38] The additional hearing was canceled, however, as Cortes withdrew from the race on October 6, citing "constant intimidation and harassment" of herself, family, friends and neighbors.[39] As the ballots had already been printed, her name remained on them, while notices were posted at polling places stating she was no longer a candidate and votes for her would not be counted.[40]

Under investigation

On October 28, 2011, the Secretary of State's office asked the Attorney General's Office to investigate Cortes for possible campaign finance violations for not disclosing who paid for her petitions. Since Attorney General Tom Horne endorsed Pearce, the case was transferred to Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores.[41]


Conducted November 1

Arizona Capitol Times/ABC15 News Poll[42]
Candidate Party Percent
Jerry Lewis Ends.png Republican 46.0%
Russell Pearce Ends.png Republican 43.0%
Olivia Cortes Not on ballot 2.5%
Undecided 8.5%

November 8 recall

See also: November 8, 2011 election results

Unofficial election results show Pearce losing to Lewis. The county is expected to verify the results by November 16. They must then be certified by the Secretary of State's office along with the Governor and Attorney General, which is expected to take place November 21.[3]

Recall of Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, 2011
Candidate Vote % Votes
Russell Pearce Incumbent 43.5% 10,121
Green check mark transparent.pngJerry Lewis 55.1% 12,812
Olivia Cortes (withdrawn) 1.2% 277
Write-In Candidate 0.2% 57
Total Votes 23,267

Legal challenges

County Superior Court challenge

Pearce supporters filed a challenge in Maricopa County Superior Court on July 18 asking that all signatures on the recall petitions be thrown out. They argued that, per the state constitution, petition circulators must sign an oath that the signatures are "genuine," but circulators in the Pearce case only signed affidavits confirming they were present when the petitions were signed.[43]

Pearce said he received phone calls and emails from people saying they were mislead into signing a petition, or never actually signed it although their name appeared on it.[44]

Challenge rejected

On August 12, Superior Court Judge Hugh Hegyi rejected the challenge, allowing the election to take place as planned. Hegyi ruled that the word "genuine" is not required to be in the oath signed by recall petition circulators, stating, "It merely requires 'an' oath that the Petition signatures are genuine, but does not prescribe a specific oath that will accomplish that objective."[45]

The decision was appealed and a hearing was set for September 7, with no specific deadline for a ruling.[24] Attorneys for both sides submitted a joint request asking the state Supreme Court to hear the case without having to go though the Court of Appeals first. The attorneys agreed that whoever loses was nearly certain to seek appeal from the Supreme Court, and the election schedule would not permit that.[46]

Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne was required to mail out ballots at least 45 days prior to the November 8 election, leaving them with a deadline of September 23.

Supreme Court upholds decision

On August 31, 2011, the state Supreme Court agreed to accept the transfer of the case, bypassing the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court considered the case on September 13, and, without hearing oral arguments,[47] upheld the earlier ruling of the trial judge, clearing the way for the recall election.[48] The court did not explain the ruling, saying that they would provide details in the future.[49]

The Court released their ruling on November 14, stating, ""The delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1910 were willing to risk statehood over a robust recall system that subjected every official to removal.... Adopting a standard that makes it more difficult for the public to remove its own officers would frustrate this historical intent." It went on to say "Voters may attempt to remove an officer for whatever reasons they choose."[50]

Voter registration fraud controversy

A story run in the June 15, 2011 edition of the Sonoran News alleged that there could be massive voter registration fraud on the recall petitions. One of the signers singled out in the article was Benita Lantigua, who was shown to have three active voter registrations at her address, each under a different last name.[51] Don Sorchych, publisher and editor of the Sonoran News, wrote an editorial on June 22 referring to Lantigua as a "Mexican woman," and "likely an illegal."[52]

In response to the accusations, Lantigua, who had been a U.S. citizen since 1996, showed up at a press conference sponsored by Citizens for a Better Arizona to display her U.S. passport. CBA organizer Randy Parraz said, "It seems [Sonoran News] willfully published false information and accusations that would ultimately be accusing [Lantigua] of committing both federal and state crimes."[53]

Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne said that Lantigua did nothing wrong, but rather, "She did everything she was supposed to do as a citizen." Lantigua divorced and remarried, each time updating her name with a new registration. County officials, however, never consolidated the registrations into one.[54]

Campaign financing

Will taxpayers pay for recall?

Article 8 of the Arizona Constitution includes a provision requiring the Legislature to enact any laws necessary for a recall election, including "provision for payment by the public treasury of the reasonable special election campaign expenses of such officer" (Part 1, Section 6). However, this provision is not self-enacting, meaning it requires a vote by the legislators. Thus, according to State Elections Director Amy Bjelland, after the election, the legislators decide if taxpayers will end up paying for Pearce's expenses.

Following Pearce's recall, state Rep. Jack Harper (R) brought up the provision, suggesting the state would have to reimburse Pierce. Phoenix attorney Paul Eckstein said Pierce may be able to seek some money, but not all of the $159,587 that he spent. Pierce is not yet indicated if he will or will not seek reimbursement, but Democrats said if he does, they will oppose the move.[55]

Candidates in the race were eligible for public funds, but if accepted their campaign would be limited to spending $21,533.[56]

In early September, the Maricopa GOP launched an independent expenditure committee and fundraising website to support Pearce.[57] Earlier in July, state Solicitor General David Cole ruled that, under state law, neither corporations or unions can contribute directly to any candidates in the recall election.[58]


Jerry Lewis filed his campaign finance report, due October 27, a week early in answer to criticism that he was being supported by outsiders. Lewis campaign co-chairman John Giles stated, "Contrary to claims from the Pearce campaign that Jerry Lewis is promoted by 'outsiders,' his financial reports show that the large majority of his contributions come from Mesa residents."[59]

According to the report, Lewis raised $68,837, spending $40,510. Analysis released by the campaign stated 133 donors from within District 18 gave $30,069, 105 donors from other parts of Mesa gave $16,390, 158 donors from other Arizona cities gave $21,407, and 11 from outside of Arizona, contributed $969.[59]

Pearce's report showed he greatly outraised Lewis, bringing in $230,282 and spending $159,150. Some 20 percent of Pearce's donors were from outside of Arizona, with about 12 percent from Mesa.[60]


Supporters of the recall that contributed money included:

  • Citizens for a Better Arizona - raised and spent approximately $92,000 to get the recall on the ballot. Spending included $45,000 for staff pay and $35,000 for paid petition circulators.[61]
  • Campaign Money Watch - spent $16,413 to oppose Pearce.[61]


Opponents of the recall that contributed money included:

  • American Federation for Children - spent $21,140 on mailers in support of Pearce.[62]
  • Home Builders Association of Central Arizona - spent $5,520 on mailers in support of Pierce.[63]
  • Arizona Deserves the Best - spent $18,000 on mailers, door hangers and advertising.[61]
  • Citizens Who Oppose the Pearce Recall - raised $72,610, including a $5,000 donation from the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association.[64]

Ads relating to the campaign

Groups opposing recall

Citizens Who Oppose the Pearce Recall

Following the launch of the campaign to recall Pearce, a group of Pearce allies formed a political committee known as Citizens Who Oppose the Pearce Recall (CWOPR). Chairman of the group Matt Tolman said, "We're focusing in making sure the voters know where the recall committee is coming from and who is behind it. Russell Pearce has been elected 16 times and there is no reason he won't be elected a 17th time."[65]

CWOPR came under fire in mid-August for posting signs attacking recall organizer Randy Parraz and opposing candidates, stating they "oppose the rule of law, support open borders (and are) supported by labor unions who boycotted Arizona." Parraz said the claims are false and fellow recall organizer Chad Snow sent letters to Pearce and CWOPR chairman Tolman demanding removal of the signs.[66]

The city of Mesa ordered the signs be removed because some were too close to streets and did not have legally required contact information.[67] The group told officials that it intended to defy the order, which could have resulted in the signs being confiscated.[68]

Committee to Oppose Recall of Russell Pearce

Former Congressman Tom Tancredo started the Committee to Oppose Recall of Russell Pearce in late July 2011 to oppose Pearce's recall.[69] Tancredo served as co-chair alongside Angela M. Buchanan, who was co-chair and treasurer. Tancredo and Buchanan also served as co-chairs of the Virginia-based Team America PAC.[70]

See also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 KGUN-9, "AZ Senate Pres. also target of recall movement," January 28, 2011 (dead link)
  2. The Arizona Republic, "Early voting under way for elections in Phoenix, Pearce recall in Dist. 18," October 13, 2011
  3. 3.0 3.1 The Arizona Republic, "Russell Pearce on verge of historic loss in recall," November 8, 2011
  4. Yuma Sun, "State Supreme Court will decide Pearce recall case," August 31, 2011
  5. Arizona Central, "Russell Pearce recall election: Hear from the candidates," October 24, 2011
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Phoenix New Times, "Russell Pearce Recall Paperwork Filed by Anti-Pearce Group," January 27, 2011
  8. AZ Family, "Sen. Russell Pearce responds to recall effort," May 19, 2011
  9. Arizona Republic, "Drive to recall Russell Pearce under way," February 3, 2011
  10. Fox News Latino, "Russell Pearce, Sponsor of SB 1070, Faces Recall Election," June 1, 2011
  11. Phoenix Times, "Russell Pearce Recall Scores 18,315 Signatures and Counting, Let the Battle Begin," May 31, 2011
  12. East Valley Tribune, "Official: Petitions enough to force Pearce recall election," June 15. 2011
  13. New York Times, "In Arizona, Sponsor of Immigration Law Now Faces a Recall," June 18, 2011
  14. Daily Courier, "State: Count of Pearce recall signatures tops requirement ," June 28, 2011
  15. Arizona Republic, "Russell Pearce recall: Enough signatures to force election," July 11, 2011
  16. Fox News Latino, "Gov. Jan Brewer Sets Recall Election For Arizona's SB1070 Sponsor," July 13, 2011
  17. East Valley Tribune, "First declared candidate enters recall against Pearce; another one likely," July 26, 2011
  18. Sonoran Alliance, "Olivia Cortes to enter LD-18 Senate GOP Recall Race," July 25, 2011 (dead link)
  19. My Fox Phoenix, "Lewis Announces Candidacy in Recall Election," July 27, 2011 (dead link)
  20. Phoenix New Times, "Russell Pearce Recall Opponent Tommy Cattey Drops Out, Endorses Jerry Lewis," August 12, 2011
  21. East Valley Tribune, "Mesa attorney enters Pearce recall race," August 16, 2011
  22. Arizona Republic, "Pearce recall election: Mesa candidate pushes for change," August 19, 2011
  23. 23.0 23.1 Houston Chronicle, "Three-way field set in Ariz Senate recall election," September 9, 2011
  24. 24.0 24.1 Arizona Republic, "Jerry Lewis files signatures to run against Russell Pearce," August 19, 2011
  25. Phoenix New Times, "Russell Pearce Supporter and Tea Party Chairman Greg Western Submits Sigs for Olivia Cortes," September 9, 2011
  26. East Valley Tribune, "Pearce, Lewis to debate Oct. 6 at Mesa chamber forum," September 27, 2011
  27. Tucson Citizen, "Pearce, Lewis mainly split on immigration enforcement," October 7, 2011
  28. Phoenix New Times, "Russell Pearce's Mystery "Challenger" Olivia Cortes Speaks, Kinda-Sorta," August 4, 2011
  29. AZ Central, "Pearce recall supporters attack stealth candidate," August 25, 2011
  30. Tucson Citizen, "Secretary of state asked to investigate Pearce recall candidate," September 21, 2011
  31. My FOX Phoenix, "3rd Candidate in Pearce Recall Election a Sham?," September 9, 2011 (dead link)
  32. Phoenix New Times, "Russell Pearce Supporter and Tea Party Chairman Greg Western Submits Sigs for Olivia Cortes," September 9, 2011
  33. Arizona Central, "State will not investigate recall candidate Cortes," September 23, 2011
  34. Arizona Central, "Suit challenging hopeful in Pearce recall to go forward," September 28, 2011
  35. Ahwatukee Foothills News, "Cortes tells judge she's in recall race to win," September 29, 2011
  36. Houston Chronicle, "Ariz. judge won't bump candidate in Pearce recall," October 3, 2011
  37. New York Times, "Judge Finds Manipulation in Recall Vote in Arizona," October 8, 2011
  38. Tucson Citizen, "Pearce recall: Arizona high court declines to block Cortes hearing," October 6, 2011
  39. East Valley Tribune, "Cortes withdraws from Pearce recall race," October 6, 2011
  40. So-Called “Sham Candidate” Withdraws from Arizona Special State Senate Election
  41. AZ Central, "Olivia Cortes to be investigated for campaign-finance law violations," October 29, 2011
  42. Arizona Capitol Times, "Poll: Lewis, Pearce neck-and-neck in recall contest," November 3, 2011
  43. Yuma Sun, "Pearce supporters file recall challenge," July 18, 2011
  44. AZ Family, "Russell Pearce breaks silence on recall effort," July 20, 2011
  45. CNN, "Arizona state senator recall election can go forward, judge rules," August 12, 2011
  46. East Valley Tribune, "Both sides in Pearce recall dispute seek to speed things up," August 23, 2011
  47. Houston Chronicle, "Arizona high court accepts transfer of recall case," August 31, 2011
  48. FOX News Latino, "Recall Redux: Russell Pearce Election Can Proceed, Arizona Supreme Court Says," September 14, 2011
  49. Arizona Supreme Court clears way for Pearce recall election
  50. Tucson Sentinel, "Why Az high court let Pearce recall proceed," November 14, 2011
  51. Sonoran News, "Pearce recall petitions indicate massive voter registration fraud," June 15, 2011
  52. Sonoran News, "Improved delivery • Pearce will win," June 22, 2011
  53. Phoenix New Times, "Russell Pearce and Sonoran News Slammed by Recall Group," June 29, 2011
  54. Phoenix New Times, "Russell Pearce's Supporters' Claims of "Massive Voter Registration Fraud" Contradicted by Elections Officials (w/Update)," June 27, 2011
  55. Huffington Post, "Russell Pearce, Recalled Arizona Senate President, Reimbursement Unclear," November 12, 2011
  56. Arizona Daily Star, "Taxpayers could wind up footing bill for Pearce's recall campaign, win or lose," August 17, 2011
  57. Tucson Citizen, "Maricopa County GOP launches independent campaign to aid Sen. Russell Pearce," September 8, 2011
  58. Yuma Sun, "AG rules Pearce cannot accept corporate donations in recall," July 11, 2011
  59. 59.0 59.1 Arizona Central, "Pearce recall: Lewis files report amid 'outsiders' claim," October 21, 2011
  60. AZ Central, "Most of Pearce's campaign money from outside Mesa," October 29, 2011
  61. 61.0 61.1 61.2 Washington Examiner, "Group for Pearce recall says donors topped 1,000," October 27, 2011
  62. KTAR, "School choice group spends $21K in Pearce recall," October 24, 2011
  63. Arizona Central, "Recall election spending starts to roll in," October 24, 2011
  64. Phoenix New Times, "Russell Pearce Anti-Recall Group Scores $5K in Union Dough," October 27, 2011
  65. East Valley Tribune, "Political committee formed to oppose recall of Pearce," June 2, 2011
  66. The Arizona Republic, "Pearce foes demand removal of signs," August 20, 2011
  67. My FOX Phoenix, "City of Mesa Orders Pearce Recall Signs to be Taken Down," August 24, 2011 (dead link)
  68. Phoenix New Times, "Russell Pearce "Opponent" Olivia Cortes' Campaign Signs: State Law Violation?," August 25, 2011
  69. Arizona Capitol Times, "Tancredo forms group opposing Pearce recall," July 25, 2011
  70. Arizona Daily Star, "Ex-Rep. Tancredo co-chairs pro-Pearce group," July 26, 2011