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Pearce pushed, prodded and pandered to pass his ‘legacy bill’

With former Gov. Janet Napolitano out of the way, Sen. Russell Pearce wielded public support for his illegal immigration bill like a weapon to bring reluctant Republican lawmakers on board while micromanaging the effort at every level.

After years of frustration, Pearce set out on a mission this session to make sure his colleagues understand there would be heavy consequences for opposing him on immigration policy. At the same time, he had to keep the Governor’s Office happy, secure the endorsement, or at least the neutrality, of groups that otherwise would have risen up against the bill, and drum up enough public support to nullify any effort to kill S1070.

Pearce, a veteran lawmaker who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, had a lot of tools at his disposal to ratchet up the pressure on people to support his bill, but none was more powerful than public opinion. Voters have consistently and overwhelmingly supported tougher immigration policies, and Pearce pounded that message into the heads of all lawmakers who had concerns about the bill.

Republican lawmakers who opposed one of Pearce’s prior bills to ban what he calls “sanctuary cities” learned a harsh lesson about what it means to stand against the anti-illegal immigration icon. After six House members skipped a vote on Pearce’s bill on the final day of the 2009 session, Pearce sent an e-mail to supporters urging them to find out why those lawmakers were absent.

Rep. Russ Jones, one of the few Republicans who voted against the 2009 bill, said he and the “sanctuary six,” as they were dubbed, were flooded with angry e-mails and phone calls after Pearce’s message circulated on the Internet and on conservative blogs. Another of the six, Rep. Adam Driggs, drew a well-funded primary opponent who cited Driggs’ non-vote on the bill as his reason for running.

“(Pearce) put out an e-mail himself last year that named the six folks individually and was very, in my opinion, over the wall. It was off the reservation,” Jones said. “I got e-mails and stuff from folks calling me everything from a communist to unpatriotic and un-American and all these kinds of things because of my position on the bill.”

Rep. Bill Konopnicki of Safford, one of the six, railed against S1070 when it came up for its final House vote. He said the bill would do nothing to strengthen border security or decrease illegal immigration, and said the Legislature should focus on pressuring the federal government to solve the problem.

Still, Konopnicki voted for the bill.

“I get really tired of playing games and passing feel-good bills that don’t do a thing to stem the tide of illegal immigration,” Konopnicki said. “This bill is filled with problems. But I feel obligated to vote aye.”

The threat that Pearce would turn the public loose on those who oppose S1070 was enough to bring almost all Republicans to the table — the only Republican who voted against S1070 was Sen. Carolyn Allen, who is retiring from the Legislature this year.

Once he had everyone’s attention, Pearce was willing to make what he viewed as minor concessions to ensure their support. Jones said the holdouts from 2009 felt there were problems with the bill that hadn’t been addressed. But by the time the debate began on S1070, they figured it would pass, so they decided to improve it as best they could.

Pearce said Republicans ought to be scared of their constituents, not him.
“People need to be held accountable,” Pearce said. “They’re afraid of their constituents, and they ought to be.”

After hesitant Republicans agreed to vote for S1070 in exchange for some changes, Pearce authorized a House amendment by Rep. Andy Biggs that changed some of the language that had caused concerns. Biggs worked as the liaison between concerned House members and Pearce, but it was Pearce who made the final decision on each of the changes.

Jones also proposed an amendment to S1070 to soften the penalties that can be assessed to cities that fail to enforce immigration laws. In exchange for Jones’ support, Pearce agreed to run a trailer bill after S1070 passed to make the changes Jones wanted.

Colleagues aside, Pearce also worked with special interest groups to keep them out of his way. He tapped law enforcement organizations, business groups and others to get them on his side, or at least to keep them quiet. To appease the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, he removed a provision that would have given county attorneys more power to enforce the employer sanctions law.

Pearce also took steps to ensure that his bill didn’t die on the Ninth Floor, like so many of his other bills. Napolitano, a Democrat, vetoed five Pearce-sponsored bills on trespassing and sanctuary cities. So

Pearce met with Brewer’s staff to ensure that the bill was satisfactory. He said Brewer had concerns over the trespassing language in the bill, which was ultimately changed.

The passage of S1070 is the culmination of years of work by Pearce. Jones called it Pearce’s “legacy bill.”

Pearce said he has testified dozens of times through the years in legislative committees about issues he addressed in the bill.

“I’ve been engaged in this battle probably 25 years,” Pearce said.

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