Saying they have defied doomsayers and skeptics, a group filed Tuesday more than 18,000 signatures to recall Senate President Russell Pearce, a conservative lawmaker from Mesa who is nationally known for his anti-illegal immigration legislation.
The group, Citizens for a Better Arizona, dropped four boxes of petition forms at the Secretary of State’s office. Its leaders said they are confident the boxes contained more than enough signatures to qualify for the recall.
They also boasted the signatures they submitted are more than what Pearce received in the last general election, although they admitted those they submitted include a “fair percentage” that are likely invalid.
The group needs at least 7,756 valid signatures to force a recall election.
Pearce couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
If enough signatures are verified, the special election could happen either on November 8 or March 13.
That depends on how quickly the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office can verify the signatures.
Also, the governor must also call for the special election.
Whether the recall effort poses a serious threat to Pearce’s power remains to be seen, but the group’s leaders said if ultimately successful, it would be the first time in state history that a sitting Senate president has been recalled.
According to state elections officials, no legislator in state history has ever faced a recall.
The group’s leaders also rejected the premise that their efforts are for naught because voters will just re-elect Pearce.
Pearce’s district, Legislative District 18, is one of the state’s conservative enclaves. The Mesa Republican won nearly 57 percent of the three-way race last year.
“People said we couldn’t recall him. People said we couldn’t get enough signatures,” said Randy Parraz, one of the group’s organizers.
Parraz said the situation is different today. Pearce is now head of the Senate, and people have seen his “very limited” agenda, Parraz said.
Told that voters have elected a Legislature that’s more conservative than its predecessors and many have credited Pearce for helping achieve that, Parraz said: “A lot of good people had stayed silent, and we are staying silent no longer.”
Ultimately, the group is hoping that viable candidates will step up to challenge Pearce in the recall election, assuming it happens.
Chad Snow, the group’s chairman, said a recall election is essentially an open primary where more mainstream candidates have the chance to get on the ballot. Partisan primaries tend to produce the “most extreme” candidates from both parties who then duke it out in the general election, in a way limiting the public’s choice, Snow said.
“The best case is you can get two Republicans (running in the recall election) and all the Democrats and the independents can vote for the more moderate Republican. There are all kinds of scenarios that could play out,” Snow said.
In the meantime, the group’s leaders are also hoping the recall effort will produce an immediate and tangible result: the removal of Pearce as Senate president.
“Realistically, I don’t think there’s any chance the Republicans will have someone be the Senate president who is under threat of a recall,” Snow said. “I think they’d be hard-pressed to have someone as Senate President who has been recalled by the people in his own district.”