De la Isla: Dirty tricks in a recall election - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

De la Isla: Dirty tricks in a recall election

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Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. Email him at

Posted: Thursday, October 13, 2011 4:06 pm

HOUSTON - When The Arizona Republic asked state Senate President Russell Pearce in a questionnaire why he thought he was getting recalled, his answers was unequivocal.

He wrote that "liberal special-interest groups" from outside his district were using "still undisclosed sources" of funds and had "organized and purchased many signatures" to require the Nov. 8 recall election.

Pearce, the architect of Arizona's reprehensible anti-immigrant law, may just as easily have been talking about himself and his own tactics, except, of course, for the word "liberal."

His bill, now synonymous with his name, came about after he was elected to the state Senate and became president of that body in 2010. He ranked as one of the state's most influential political figures.

But on July 8 Secretary of State Ken Bennett certified a petition to recall Pearce, and the governor was notified to set an election date for the state Senate district east of Phoenix. The petition drive was spearheaded by Citizens for a Better Arizona, forcing Pearce to resign or become a candidate in the recall election. He chose to run again.

In its bill of particulars, the recall group ( claimed Pearce's illegal immigration proposals were conjoined with his advocacy for private prison companies. That special interest "has showered him with thousands of dollars in campaign contributions" in turn for millions of dollars in contracts by privatizing incarceration.

Citizens for a Better Arizona claimed that Pearce, since 2002, has introduced or has helped pass 13 bills favoring the private prison industry. The group won the issue by getting enough signatures on its recall petition to show there are widespread popular objections to Pearce's representation of the district. It also claims that the anti-immigration bill was drafted with the help of Corrections Corp. of America. The so-called "anti-immigration" law might in fact have been a pro-incarceration law.

Pearce is said to have unsuccessfully proposed three bills to entirely privatize the state prison system and he "directed" the state to contract 11,450 new private prison beds. He sponsored the FY 2012 budget, with a $10 million increase for the state prison system while cutting education and health care by $1 billion.

As Senate Appropriations Committee chairman in 2010 and Senate president in 2011, Pearce was willing to let Arizona become the first state to end its children's health insurance program and allow 36,000 poor children to lose coverage.

He helped lead an effort to balance the state's budget by ending Medicaid for 310,000 low-income adults and allowed Arizona to lose $7 billion annually in federal funding. The governor and the legislature rejected most of the cuts Pearce supported. But the 2012 Medicaid enrollment freeze Pearce sponsored will keep health-care coverage from hundreds of thousands of poor Arizonans for years.

It was only natural that two candidates like Republican Jerry Lewis and Olivia Cortes would arise to challenge Pearce in the recall election.

Cortes withdrew on Oct. 7 and the following day, Maricopa County Superior Court disclosed Cortes had been recruited by Pearce forces to spit the opposition. Pearce's relatives had been involved in the collection of signatures to get Cortes on the ballot.

Judge Edward Burke's court agreed with Lewis. Pearce had recruited Cortes "to siphon Hispanic votes from Lewis to advance Pearce's recall election bid."

In other words, it was a dirty trick. It was deceptive but the court didn't find it illegal.

Since the ballots for the election have already been printed, a notice will inform voters on Nov. 8 of Cortes' withdrawal from the race.

In a real sense, the dirty trick may stick. With Cortes' name still remaining on the ballot although she has withdrawn, the net effect may still be to siphon votes from Lewis.

Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. Email him at

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