Pearce lost because he left present-day Mesa - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

Pearce lost because he left present-day Mesa

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Jim Ripley is the former executive editor of the East Valley Tribune. Contact him at

Posted: Tuesday, November 15, 2011 8:47 am

Six years ago Russell Pearce famously complained to a reporter, "It's not the Mesa I was raised in."

Last week's recall election proved him right.

In 1960 when Pearce reached the age of 13, Mesa had reached a population of 33,772.

For Pearce to take back the Mesa he was raised in, 400,000 of us would have to beat it out of town.

That wasn't going to happen, but sometime after that 2005 story on Pearce and what was called Mesaico, Pearce left Mesa.

Oh, his residence was still here, but he disconnected and rode to a bigger stage, leaving Mesa in his rearview mirror.

Never was that more apparent than in Pearce's guest commentary carried by the Tribune on Sunday.

Glaring in their absence in the commentary are references to his district and to Mesa.

In his 1,000-word commentary, Mesa is mentioned only once. And not by Pearce.

The reference to Mesa was contained in a quote made by what Pearce described as a "pro-amnesty lobbying organization."

He didn't talk about his city. He didn't mention service to his district or to his constituents. He didn't thank those who had put him in public office in the first place.

So what did he talk about?

You know the answer.

In contrast to the word "Mesa," the word "nation" pops up five times as Pearce lists his achievements in the Arizona Senate.

"We have changed the national debate," Pearce thumped.

"One state Senate race would not be national news were it not for the fact that for the last several years, I have led the successful battle against illegal immigration...."

His reach was to a national audience.

But it wasn't a national audience that sent him packing.

Only a Mesa audience could do that-a West Mesa audience.

Could it be that Pearce just didn't pay enough attention to Mesa and his constituents and that he tried to make their complex interests fit into a single, simple bucket-the illegal immigration bucket?

"The left" got its own paragraph and four mentions as Pearce once again tried to reduce his defeat to a simple paradigm: The evil left had done him in.

"The left have said terrible things," he wrote. "I proudly take the arrows of the left and consider it a badge of honor....

"Left-wing groups...all supported Lewis."

Here's the thing, you don't lose an election by nearly 12 points in a conservative, predominantly Republican district and blame it on the left.

You don't get beat by a conservative Republican with a phalanx of Republican supporters -- Mormon and non -- and blame it on the left. Unless, that is, you are in denial.

Pearce also repeated the argument that he would have won had he been running in a "normal election," not in a referendum.

In last year's "normal election," Pearce said he was elected with nearly two-thirds of the vote.

I'm not sure what makes one constitutionally authorized election normal and another not.

But a close look at last year's "normal election" hints at Pearce's vulnerability.

Among the 30 winning state senators in last year's state senate elections, Pearce was the 28th lowest vote getter. Only two winning senators had lower winning vote totals and they were unopposed.

Pearce also placed 28th in the percentage of his winning vote when measured against the most recent list of registered voters, according to my analysis of Secretary of State online records.

Pearce received 17,552 votes from a district with a registration of 71,168. He won with 24.663 percent of the registered vote to win.

In other words, more than 75 percent of the registered voters didn't participate in his election.

If that's what "normal" looks like, I wouldn't brag about it.

I've read thousands of words of analysis on the recall. Some of it tried to hang the outcome on the illegal immigration issue. But much of it acknowledged that a host of factors were at play.

Little of what I have read actually involved talking with real voters.

In an effort to make a connection with a few real voters, I tracked down five Lewis voters.

Among them were Debby and Mike Elliott who hosted a reception in September where I first met Pearce opponent Jerry Lewis.

Of the five, Debby Elliott is the least political. She's lived in Mesa all of her 60 years, graduated from Westwood High School, and has served her community through the arts.

"I was hoping people would rise up and make statement to the rest of Arizona and rest of country that we are thinking people," she said.

Senate Bill "1070 was well-intentioned at the beginning," she continued. But "with Russell enough was not enough."

"They (state politicians) need to find a way to build consensus instead of dynamiting everything. They have to get back to the greater good," she said.

Husband Mike Elliott had a similar assessment.

Elliott, who is a businessman, said he asked Pearce about his experience in the private sector.

"It was very limited," Elliott said. "Just about every paycheck he's ever gotten has been funded by the taxpayers."

"His single-issue focus and stridency was seen very badly around the country," Mike Elliott added. "We're not Alabama in the 60s, but that's the image we were projecting."

I also talked to Mesa City Councilman Dave Richins, whose district includes West Mesa.

Richins got my attention before the election when he told the Arizona Republic: "The attitude that Russell Pearce takes toward cities is absolutely one of confrontation, not one of working together."

Reflecting in the aftermath of the recall, Richins said, Pearce "got distracted from serving his constituents."

He didn't attend community events, church bazaars, park openings, neighborhood gatherings.

Rather, Richins said Pearce surrounded himself with like minded people in District 18.

"If you don't participate (in community life) anymore, if you are not around, you're just in an echo chamber," Richins said.

• Jim Ripley is the former executive editor of the East Valley Tribune. Contact him at


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