The election results have not yet been finalized, but it appears Arizona voters have ousted the state’s senate president, Republican Russell Pearce, who authored Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB 1070.
As vote tallies rolled in on the night of November 8, Pearce addressed his supporters and acknowledged the numbers did not favor him. A campaign spokesperson later called the speech a concession of defeat, according to Fox News Latino.
Pearce trailed his opponent, charter school executive Jerry Lewis, by about 1,800 votes as of November 9, Fox reported.
The recall election was held after detractors in Pearce’s district, which includes the city of Mesa, gathered 10,000 signatures. Pearce’s longstanding community support was eroded by backlash against SB 1070, which included a provision allowing law enforcement officers to ask for proof of citizenship status during traffic stops. Pearce’s position was further weakened when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – a powerful Mesa institution of which both Pearce and Lewis are members – criticized his immigration law as too hard-line, according to the Arizona Republic.
Vowing to bring “a fresh voice to Mesa and a civil tone to politics,” Lewis called his apparent victory a “historic upset,” the Republic reported. The upset marks the first time an Arizona legislator has been successfully recalled.
A controversy erupted in the final phase of the campaign, when Latino residents of Mesa began receiving robo-calls consisting of a Spanish-accented voice urging them to vote for write-in candidates to protest that the only options on the ballot were both Republicans. The calls were generated by Tea Party activist and Pearce supporter Ron Ludders.
One person who received the call, Gloria Chavez, told the Mesa ABC affiliate that it was an offensive tactic meant to confuse Latino voters who would be more likely to vote for Lewis than Pearce.