Jerry Lewis, a Mesa Republican and charter school executive that many say can pose a serious challenge to Senate President Russell Pearce, has officially entered the Senate race.
The state has scheduled a Nov. 8 recall election after a group seeking Pearce’s ouster submitted more than enough signatures to force one.
Lewis declared his candidacy Wednesday morning at west Mesa’s Wright House reception center, saying it is District 18 voters who have called for the recall election and they want a “fresh start for Mesa.”
He also filed the paperwork to open a campaign committee with the Secretary of State. He would need to collect a little more than 600 signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Lewis stuck to large themes in his brief speech, emphasizing, among others, that attracting and keeping companies in Arizona and investing in education is a priority.
“Some have asked me why I’m running for this Senate seat, and the answer is simple: I believe it is time to restore a style of leadership to Mesa that its residents can be proud of,” said Lewis, who was flanked by about a dozen supporters when he declared his candidacy. Dozens more stood in the crowd.
“In this time of record unemployment, budget deficits and a stale business climate, Mesa needs a leader in the Senate they can count on,” he added.
In an earlier interview, Lewis said he has voted for Pearce in the past but wouldn’t explicitly say what caused his support for Pearce to erode.
Instead, the charter school executive had cast his reasons in altruistic terms — that voters have encouraged him to.
“It’s just been a real groundswell of support from so many people wanting to have a positive image for District 18, a positive image for the state Arizona, that have come to me,” Lewis said Tuesday in a phone interview. “Frankly, I agree with their request and that’s the only reason why I would even consider going against anybody.”
Lewis talked about how voters approached him seeking fresh leadership in the district and saying they want someone who can focus on “all the issues” and who can work well with “all” legislators as well as with the federal government.
Implicit in those statements are criticisms against Pearce’s perceived singular attention to illegal immigration and his supposedly unyielding approach to issues he advocates for.
Also implicit is the oft-repeated criticism that Pearce’s advocacy for strict enforcement-only type of immigration measures has placed Arizona out of the mainstream in the immigration discourse.
But while Pearce’s allies describe him as passionate about illegal immigration, they said he is immersed in a wide-range of issues from the budget to taxes to public safety.
They pointed to Pearce’s influence in the Senate, and said that it would be a loss to Mesa if he were removed from office.
They have also repeatedly argued that the recall drive is an abuse of the recall process since the Mesa Republican did nothing illegal and merely hunkered down to deliver what he promised during campaigns.
Longtime Capitol observers and legislators, speaking on background so they could freely share their assessment of the emerging campaigns, said if there’s anybody who has a chance of knocking down Pearce, it would be someone like Lewis — a Mormon Republican with strong roots to the community.
But they also agreed that Lewis will be taking a huge political risk, and said he should be prepared for a tough campaign.