Exactly two weeks after unseating Senate President Russell Pearce in a recall election, Republican Jerry Lewis took his oath as the Senate’s newest member and promised to focus on getting the economy back on track.
His oath-taking on Nov. 22 completed a political transition that was triggered by the recall drive targeting Pearce.
State officials had completed the canvassing of the election results the day before.
And while some view Pearce’s defeat as a turning point in the debate over how to confront illegal immigration, Lewis, who is far more moderate on the issue, said he won’t be introducing any immigration measures next session.
“The priorities right now are the economy. We have to get people back to work and I think the voters have spoken loud and clear. They want us to focus on those things which are most near and dear to them,” he told reporters.
That doesn’t mean he won’t be working toward a “sensible solution” to this complex immigration problem, he said.
Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca Berch administered the oath. It was over in a few minutes.
After the swearing in, incoming Senate President Steve Pierce and Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, escorted the new senator to his desk on the Senate floor.
Lewis’ wife, children, grandchildren, and key players of his campaign also witnessed the oath-taking.
Several legislators attended the ceremony, including Lewis’ district mates, Rep. Cecil Ash and House Majority Leader Steve Court.
Ash, who supported Pearce in the recall election, said voters have spoken.
“We need to move forward now and not try and relive these issues except as they may come up in policy,” Ash said, referring to potential legislation to deal with the recall process.
Ash said he offered Lewis help to “acclimate” in his new job.
Lewis said he will be on the Education Committee. He will likely be assigned to a few more panels.
Pearce had championed a string of laws aimed at curbing illegal immigration, and as a legislator, he was highly successful. He was the author of SB1070, one of the country’s strictest state-level immigration laws.
But some of his proposals were polarizing, and Pearce’s critics said his approach was too harsh.
Some of those critics successfully organized the recall drive that ultimately led to his ouster this month.
According to the Secretary of State’s Office, Lewis received 12,812 votes compared to Pearce’s 10,121, a nearly 12-point margin of victory.
“Now Mr. Lewis is official,” Gov. Jan Brewer remarked during the canvassing, adding she talked with Lewis and found him to be “very capable” of carrying out his duties. She said she looks forward to working with him.