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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Recalling Russell Pearce

    A special recall election held last week forced Russell Pearce, the controversial president of the Arizona Senate best known for engineering SB 1070, out of office. Pearce is the first legislator in state history to be recalled in this way. Much has been made since he was ousted, from pure elation among his biggest detractors to devastation within the ranks of his staunchest supporters. The removal of Pearce from office represents history in the making, and a victory for some fundamental aspects of the American system of government.

    In the nearly one hundred years since the Arizona Constitution was adopted, this is the first time a state legislator has lost a recall election. This is startling, considering that Arizona has some of the least restrictive rules regarding recall in the country. All elected officials are open for recall in the state, with only a quarter of the qualified voters in the official’s constituency required to demand the recall. Though Arizona has acquired a reputation as a very conservative state, its governing document was crafted largely by progressives at the height of the so called “Progressive Era.” By all accounts it is one of the most “people friendly” state constitutions in the nation.

    The recall of Pearce can be painted as either a victory or a defeat in the aggregate, but there is no denying that a victory for the ordinary citizens’ participation in democracy has been won. Enough of Pearce’s constituents viewed his record as their senator as unsatisfactory enough to declare him unworthy of representing them. A majority of those same constituents decided that he was less able to represent them than his opponent Jerry Lewis.

    If the aim of democracy is complete accountability to the people, then the ability to throw elected officials out of office at any time, as demonstrated by Mr. Pearce’s constituents, would of course be essential.

    If the recall election is a victory for “people power” in the democratic process, it is also surely at least a symbolic victory for civility in politics. Pearce has been maligned by his opponents as fiercely as he has been defended by his supporters. Along with the obvious policy disputes that Democrats and liberals might have with a Republican conservative, one complaint continually leveled at Pearce on both sides of the proverbial aisle was incivility.

    Whether he is in his private life or not, Pearce’s senatorial record has given him a reputation for extremism. Especially in the case of notorious SB 1070, the larger public view of Pearce is of an individual who does not compromise. Some can claim, and rightly so, that compromise sometimes takes a back seat to action, but the inability to compromise under any circumstances is certainly problematic.

    Given the nature of his opponent in the election, it appears that one major aspect of Pearce’s defeat was the perception that he lacked the capacity for civility.

    The new senator for Pearce’s former constituency, Lewis, is not the hard leftist opponent to Pearce’s hard rightist. He is another Republican from Pearce’s very Republican constituency. Though less than a week has gone by since Lewis was elected, the principal difference that commentators are already identifying between Pearce and Lewis has to do with his tone rather than his policies. Words along the lines of “kinder” and “gentler” are being used to describe the victor in relation to the vanquished.

    Are such analyses of Lewis accurate? Only the establishment of his own senatorial record will tell. But voters vote with their perception, and they voted for the man they perceived as more civil. Sweeping generalizations in politics are often used and even less often correct, but saying that Pearce’s recall represents a referendum on incivility in government is a fairly safe generalization to make. If that is indeed the case, every supporter of democracy can take at least some small solace in this historic recall, the first to unseat a state senate president in state history.

    Democracy works and ordinary people are the ultimate authority in that democracy. At least in Mr. Lewis’ new constituency, those people want a more civil democracy. In the days ahead, this declaration may be proven wrong, but at least on these points, the result of this election seems to be something all true democratic citizens can get behind.

    — Andrew Conlogue is a junior studying philosophy, politics, law and economics. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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