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2011-11-10

Latino Voters Help Dethrone Anti-Immigrant Champion in Historic Arizona State Senate Recall Election

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The architect of Arizona’s controversial anti-immigration law, Russell Pearce, lost a major recall election Tuesday night, becoming the first Arizona state senator ever to do so. He is required to step down immediately and will be replaced by newly elected Republican Jerry Lewis. Pearce wrote Senate Bill 1070, which requires police to investigate the immigration status of people they have lawfully detained. He was also behind an effort to pass legislation aiming to give the state discretion to deny citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants. For immigrant rights activists, the recall marked the success of a new political organizing strategy that brought together a diverse array of voters representing various religious and political affiliations. We go to Phoenix to talk to Petra Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona. "People had a choice. They had a choice between someone who demonized immigrants, somebody who divided our state, somebody who cast distrust in democracy, over somebody who was talking about bringing the community together, living his values, as he had been a resident in Mesa for over 30 years," Falcon says. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to Arizona, where the architect of the state’s controversial anti-immigration law lost a major recall election Tuesday night. State Senator Russell Pearce was challenged by fellow Republican Jerry Lewis. Pearce wrote Senate Bill 1070, which requires police to investigate the immigration status of people they have lawfully detained. He was also behind an effort to pass legislation aiming to give the state discretion to deny citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants. Pearce is the first Arizona legislator ever to lose a recall election. He’ll be required to step down immediately.

Pearce conceded defeat in a brief press conference in the city of Mesa, surrounded by politicians, friends and controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

STATE SEN. RUSSELL PEARCE: I intend to spend a little time with my god, my wife, my family, and reassess where we need to go. But I want to make something very clear: if being recalled is the price for keeping one’s promises, then so be it. I have always kept my promises. I have always put my loyalty to this republic, to the rule of law, and the moral principles that folks have died for from the beginning of this great republic ahead of any personal interest. I will continue to do that. I will always keep my promises. I will always keep my oath of office. I will always defend this republic and the rule of law. And with that, thank you very much. God bless.

AMY GOODMAN: Recalled Arizona state senator Russell Pearce, the first Arizona legislator ever to lose a recall election. Pearce’s supporters mostly criticized the recall, saying opponents should have waited until the regular primary election.

For immigrant rights activists, the recall marked the success of a new political organizing strategy that brought together a diverse array of voters representing various religious and political affiliations. While the immigration law SB 1070 wasn’t the main focus of the recall, it did much to motivate voters to join the movement, especially Latino voters, who make up about 13,000 of the district’s 70,000 registered voters.

We’re going to Phoenix now to speak with Petra Falcon. She is the executive director of Promise Arizona, an immigrant rights organization.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Petra. How did this recall take place? How significant is it to you?

PETRA FALCON: Good morning, Amy. And thank you for inviting me to Democracy Now!

This recall has taken place over the course of this year, but Citizens for a Better Arizona took out petitions, they collected over 10,000 verified voters in the district, to place him on the ballot on November 8th. And what it took was the community to come together in Mesa, Arizona. The district has over 100,000 residents. And the voters spoke on Tuesday. They spoke that—about values.

This was a contest over two high-profile Republican Mormon members of that church, and people had a choice. They had a choice between someone who demonized immigrants, somebody who divided our state, somebody who cast distrust in democracy, over somebody who was talking about bringing the community together, living his values, as he had been a resident in Mesa for over 30 years.

And then, quite frankly, the voters, the voters themselves, 70 percent—over 70 percent of the voters voted early by mail. And on Election Day, over 6,000 people voted. So Mr. Lewis’ vote won the early ballot election, and he won the election on the day of the election. And the Latino community had a significant role. There’s 13,000, as you said, 13,000 registered voters. Over 4,000 requested an early ballot. We still don’t know the full analysis, but we know that over 2,000 Latinos voted early.

So, again, I think yesterday was an opportunity for people to speak of what they cared about. And Latinos care about everything that it sounds like all Americans do. They want to live in safe communities. They want to have aspirations for their children. And that’s what they said. And going door to door, people said, "We need to believe in democracy." And we had a representative that did not represent those values. And we now see a new day in Mesa, Arizona, and across the state and across this country. We do see this as an opportunity of understanding how to put the coalitions together that can fight back these bad legislations. Mr. Pearce was the harshest proponent of laws against immigrants. And we are very grateful for the voters in Mesa, Arizona, that spoke.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I’d like to ask you about what Pearce symbolized a little more, and also the fact that there was Joe Arpaio by his side on the night of his loss, and Joe Arpaio is still the sheriff of Maricopa County, another national figure almost, in terms of this draconian approach to the immigration problems in the country. Could you talk about the significance, nationally, of this?

PETRA FALCON: Well, I think it’s the—it talks about the division around, you know, how people want to approach immigration reform. They talk about the rule of law, which is great, and we all are about the rule of law, but we also need to talk about humane and just reform that keeps families apart, that hasn’t stopped deportation. And that’s one of the first things Mr. Lewis was recorded to saying: we have to—we have to stop these deportations, we have to think about civility, and we have to stop separating families. The district is 43 percent Latino, and there’s obviously a lot of immigration families all across our state. And we need to address that rather than always trying to keep dividing the state. And I think this is a wonderful step.

Yes, Joe Arpaio was by his side, but I think the message on Tuesday was, that’s not the kind of politics we want in Arizona. We want to think about the economy. We want to think about all families. We want to think about education. You know, Mr. Pearce cut back $450 million in education programs. And that is what we kept hearing at the door. We need solutions; we don’t need to have all this negativity and all this extremism. And that’s what I think, we think, Russell Pearce and Joe Arpaio represent, is extremism. And Tuesday, there was a clear message that that is not what we want our state to be about.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, the man who beat him, Jerry Lewis, is also a Republican.

PETRA FALCON: He’s a Republican. Yes, he is. And in fact, one of the things he’s doing today is actually having a—conversations with the National Immigration Forum, because that’s—again, that’s one of the things he had been using as his talking points. We have to address this broken system. And I’m really happy that he’s doing that as a first step. He has recognized that the Latino community had a lot to do with his election on Tuesday.

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