Russell Pearce stands by service record
Senate President Russell Pearce doesn't apologize for the controversial stands he has taken on key issues in Arizona.
He sponsored Senate Bill 1070 and has become a national symbol for illegal-immigration enforcement, pushing for "attrition by enforcement," or using laws to encourage illegal immigrants to self-deport. He has led successful efforts to loosen gun laws in Arizona, as well as increase restrictions for abortions.
He also has become the first sitting state Senate president in U.S. history and the first sitting state lawmaker in Arizona to face a recall. On Nov. 8, voters in west Mesa's Legislative District 18 will decide whether to allow Pearce to keep his Senate seat or to replace him with political newcomer Jerry Lewis.
Pearce bristles at accusations made during the effort to get the recall on the ballot that he has focused on his personal agenda as opposed to fighting for the needs of voters in District 18. In recent weeks, his campaign has reminded voters that Pearce, a Republican, helped push through a budget this year that cut $1.1 billion in state spending, as well as a job bill that contained about $538 million in tax cuts and incentives.
"I've kept every promise I ever made to LD 18," he said. "We have changed the course of America through LD 18 in the state Legislature of Arizona."
Pearce, 64, is a Mesa native.
"I've never abandoned where my mom chose to have me," he said. "I love Mesa."
He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Phoenix.
He and his wife, LuAnne, have five children and 13 grandchildren. They also have custody of three of their young grandchildren.
Pearce has no trouble admitting he often is called upon for baby-sitting duty and recently pushed his 10-month-old granddaughter along in her stroller while campaigning in the neighborhoods. He tears up when talking about them, describing his granddaughter's smile and how his grandson wakes him up each morning with kisses on his arm and news that the sun is up and they should be, too.
"My favorite job in town is to be a grandpa," he said. "That's what life's about."
Pearce has worked as a public servant almost all his adult life. He worked for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office for 21 years, starting as a deputy and moving up to chief deputy under Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He was shot in the line of duty in 1977.
"I love putting bad guys in jail," he said. "I loved my law-enforcement career."
He later worked as a justice of the peace, then director of the state Motor Vehicle Division for three years. He was fired by Gov. Jane Dee Hull in 1999, after he and two aides were accused of altering the drunken-driving records of a Tucson woman so she could keep her license. Pearce denied involvement. The Attorney General's Office investigated the incident but determined it was a personnel issue and not a criminal matter.
Pearce served in the Arizona House of Representatives from 2000 to 2008, then moved to the Senate in 2009. He was elected Senate president by his fellow Republican senators last year.
His tenure in leadership has been fraught with controversy, from limiting media access and allowing senators to carry firearms on the Senate floor to being named among the state lawmakers who took football tickets and trips from the Fiesta Bowl.
He defends the football trips.
"It brought us a national championship, and every time that game is played, it's a $250 million economic benefit to the state of Arizona," he said. "We did what we thought was the right thing to do for the state of Arizona."
Pearce has gone out of his way during the recall election to promote his positions on education, jobs and the economy. But when the subject comes up, Pearce doesn't hesitate to reiterate his view on immigration.
"I refuse to apologize for demanding our border be secured and our laws be enforced," Pearce said. "Citizens have a constitutional right to be protected from those who break our laws."
Pearce, a Mormon, denies that his stance on immigration conflicts with that of the Mormon Church, which supports immigration reform that includes programs that allow illegal immigrants to continue working in the U.S., as opposed to enforcement-focused measures like SB 1070.
"Any state legislation that only contains enforcement provisions is likely to fall short of the high moral standard of treating each other as children of God," reads an official church statement released in June.
"There is no conflict with what we're doing," Pearce said. "Their job is compassion; our job is enforcement."
He said the laws he supported have decreased violent crime, decreased the number of illegal immigrants in public schools and improved public safety. He said dozens of states are following Arizona's lead, which has helped Arizona's reputation, not hurt it.
"Arizona suffers from a great reputation, not a bad reputation," he said. "Arizona is to be proud."
Jobs and education
Pearce said two other important issues in District 18 are quality job creation and education.
"Increasing quality job creation is our Number 1 job," Pearce said.
He said to do that, government needs to provide a "business-friendly tax and regulatory environment." He cites the job bill as a major step in that direction.
"Is it enough? No. Does it kick in fast enough? No," Pearce said. "But it's a good start. If you want to get out of this recession, you've got to get Arizona back to work. Get government out of the way."
The budget Pearce supported this year cut $148 million from K-12 education. But he said he's proud of his record on education.
"We love education. We've done great things on accountability," he said. "We've pushed school choice to give parents the right to choose their children's education."
Pearce said he would support requiring more of every education dollar to be spent in the classroom and cutting administrative expenses. He supports accountability programs that financially reward the best teachers and principals. He would like to see failing public schools closed.
Revenue is up this year, and the state is supposed to have a surplus. Pearce said he hopes that means more drastic budget cuts won't be needed next year. He also said he hopes it will help the fight to continue lowering taxes.
Pearce said he will not support using that money to restore budget cuts to education or social programs.
"We can't spend that money," he said. "It's got to go into a lock box."
Pearce opposed the passage of the half-cent-per-dollar sales-tax hike Gov. Jan Brewer supported and voters passed in 2010. He said he will fight to make sure the tax is temporary, as promised, and ends in 2013.
"We are overtaxed and overregulated," he said. "We can get by without that tax increase."
Pearce reiterated that he is proud of his record of service and that he will continue the same work in the future.
"We're doing everything right, from jobs to safe neighborhoods," he said. "I don't know how much better it can get."
Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/2011/10/12/20111012mesa-russell-pearce-stands-by-service-record.html#ixzz1ae1f7fVm