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Pearce appears headed to recall election

Senate President Russell Pearce (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, a prominent champion of legislation against illegal immigration, appears destined for a November recall election after Maricopa County officials certified that petitioners gathered more than the number of valid signatures required to trigger the special vote.

County Elections Director Karen Osborne presented the 1,202-page certification package to state Elections Director Amy Bjelland on Friday.

Osborne said her office determined that pro-recall petitions included 10,365 valid signatures of voters from the Mesa Republican’s legislative district. State law required 7,756 valid signatures to hold a recall election.

The secretary of state now must make its own verification. Then, it would notify Pearce that he can either resign or face a recall election. It would be up to Gov. Jan Brewer to formally call for the election.

Pearce is known nationally for his role in Arizona’s immigration legislation, including the 2010 enforcement law known as SB1070, which is being challenged in federal court. But the people calling for his ouster generally have focused their criticism on other issues, such as budget cuts to education and social services.

Pearce won re-election in November with 17,552 votes, compared with 10,663 for Democrat Andrew Sherwood and 2,808 for Libertarian Andrea Garcia. He has said he won’t resign and he believes the recall proposal is an attempt to undermine Arizona’s attempts to combat illegal immigration.

Potentially complicating Pearce’s political situation are recent disclosures that he accepted gifts from the Fiesta Bowl for free trips to numerous college football games.

Assuming there’s no legal challenge action or other development that halts the process, it appears Pearce’s recall election would be held in November, Bjelland said.

Under a state law limiting when the state and its local governments can hold elections, the next opportunity for a recall election would be in March. That would be during the Legislature’s 2012 regular session and only about six months before the 2012 primary election.

Lisa Hauser, a lawyer for a committee supporting Pearce, said she would review the county’s certification to examine it for possible grounds for a legal challenge. No decision has been made on whether to sue to try block the recall, she said.

Osborne said the county’s certification package was large because it includes a line-by-line accounting of its findings on all 16,949 signatures that were checked after the state weeded out hundreds of others for various reasons.

The detailed accounting would make it easier for a judge, lawyers and elections officials to consider all issues if there’s a legal challenge, Osborne said.

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