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Pearce attacks Lewis on immigration, says challenger ‘embarrassed’ to be an Arizonan

In his first attack mailer, Senate President Russell Pearce said his challenger, fellow Republican Jerry Lewis, is “embarrassed” to be an Arizonan.

“Jerry Lewis is embarrassed to live in Mesa,” the campaign piece says. “And yet Jerry Lewis wants to be your next state senator?”

The mailer went on to say Lewis compares Arizona to “something akin to 1964 Alabama.”

Pearce’s attack piece stemmed from comments Lewis made during the candidates’ first public debate earlier this month.

During the Oct. 6 forum, Lewis said the state can grow its economy if it could eliminate its poor image and attract businesses here.

“We need to change the image that we have in Mesa and in Arizona. We are seen as a very unfriendly business state. We are seen as something akin to maybe 1964 Alabama,” Lewis said.

Pearce’s attack piece isn’t a surprise. The incumbent earlier demanded an apology from Lewis for calling “everyone in this state who supports our tough immigration laws a racist.”

But Lewis’s spokesman, John Giles, said Pearce’s campaign “mischaracterized” Lewis’ comment.

“What Jerry said is that Arizona has an image problem. Mr. Pearce owes the state an apology for creating that negative image. Jerry doesn’t owe anyone an apology for pointing it out,” Giles said.

When pressed if Lewis’s Alabama comparison is an exaggeration, Giles said the perception of the South in the 1960s is that it wasn’t place to do business in or be supportive of because the “image was that the state was a bigoted state.”

“The image that Mr. Pearce has created of the state of Arizona is not much different than that,” Giles added.

Interestingly, the mailer reinforces the prominence of illegal immigration as a major issue in the recall election that is targeting Pearce, Arizona’s most hawkish anti-illegal immigration advocate.

Both candidates had been reluctant to delve into this complex and often emotional issue, but as the campaign has shifted into gear, their differences became clearer.

Pearce’s mailer also compared the two candidates’ position on “jobs for illegal immigrants.”

It correctly noted that Pearce authored Arizona’s employer sanctions law, which penalizes businesses for intentionally hiring undocumented workers.

It went on to quote Lewis as saying when it comes to Americans doing the hard, honest work in agriculture, “We won’t do it.”

There is, however, one glaring problem. When he made the remark, Lewis was actually referring to legal foreign workers who are seasonally hired to work in U.S. farms. He wasn’t talking about hiring illegal workers.

The mailer also panned Lewis for a remark he made in a 2005 article in the East Valley Tribune about the changing demographics of the Mormon church.

Lewis, a former high-ranking church leader, at the time said he wanted Hispanic parishioners “to feel comfortable,” regardless of their legal status.

He later explained that quote to the Arizona Capitol Times this way: “That was a long time ago and I believe that statement was taken out of context.”

Lewis said he was a Mormon stake president at the time and was speaking about his desire for people to feel comfortable in a church.

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