Originally Published: July 16, 2011 9:45 p.m.
PHOENIX - Arizona is entering unusual political territory with a scheduled recall election for Senate President Russell Pearce, the nationally known champion of legislation and ballot measures against illegal immigration.
The recall election to be held Nov. 8 in Legislative District 18 in west Mesa has unusual features compared with regular elections.
Pearce's name automatically goes on the ballot but any opponents have to collect voter signatures. And he gets to put a statement on his own behalf on the ballot.
And of course the election itself is unusual.
The Secretary of State's office says it believes the recall election of Pearce would be the first held for an Arizona legislator.
Here's a primer on how the recall came to be and how it will be conducted:
SETTING THE STAGE - Pearce's critics formally launched their recall campaign on Jan. 31, needing to submit 7,756 signatures of registered voters in Pearce's legislative district to force a recall election. Using both volunteers and paid petition circulators, they collected 18,086 signatures. Many of those proved to be duplicates or of people who are not registered votes in Pearce's district. State and county elections officials certified on July 8 that recall supporters had submitted 10,365 valid signatures, and Gov. Jan Brewer on Tuesday issued a proclamation calling the special election for Nov. 8.
THE TIMING - The election is being held on Nov. 8, the next consolidated election date available in Arizona for state or local elections. It would have been held in March if elections officials and Brewer didn't complete their preparations in time for November.
COURT CHALLENGE - Pearce has said he's considering a legal challenge to derail the recall election and he has until Monday to file one. Possible grounds include those used in previous legal challenges to candidates and ballot measures, such as whether petition circulators made required disclosures and whether there were enough valid signatures on the petitions.
ON THE BALLOT - Pearce didn't choose the option of resigning from office to avoid facing a recall election, so his name automatically goes on the ballot. He can submit a statement that also would appear on the ballot. He and any other candidates appear on the ballot without a listing of partisan affiliation. Any challenger or challengers must submit petition signatures from at least 621 voters registered in the legislative district. There is no primary, and the candidate winning the most votes wins. Charter-school executive Jerry Lewis has said he's been encouraged to run and that he'll make an announcement soon. The election is canceled if there's no opponent on the ballot to face Pearce.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE - Candidates can either run with traditional private fundraising or with public funding provided by the state. To qualify for public financing, a candidate would have to collect $5 contributions from at least 220 registered voters. The Attorney General's Office says corporations and labor unions cannot contribute to groups that coordinate with candidates, but that prohibition does not apply when there isn't coordination with candidates.
THE BATTLEGROUND - Only District 18 voters get to cast ballots, but the recall push included volunteers from other parts of the metropolitan area and Pearce is sure to get backing from outside the district. A former law enforcement officer and head of the state motor vehicle division, Pearce first won election to the Legislature in 2000 when he won one of the district's two House seats. He was re-elected to the House and then elected to the House or the Senate every two years since. In 2010, he had 17,552 votes in his Senate re-election race, compared with 10,663 for a Democratic challenger and 2,808 votes for a Libertarian. The state's latest count has 69,485 registered voters in the district. Republicans are the biggest bloc, with 26,857 registered voters, followed by 23,347 independents and 18,520 Democrats. There also are 626 Libertarians and 135 Green Party registrants.
MESSAGES - Active campaigning in the recall election hasn't begun yet, but look at early statements by Pearce's critics and the lawmaker himself for previews. Recall drive organizers said when they launched their drive that Pearce had failed to focus on important concerns such as protecting public education and ensure access to health care, and more recently they've been critical of his hard-edged stance on illegal immigration. Pearce's ballot statement says he strives to promote "freedom, excelling schools, vibrant economic growth, job creation, balanced budgets, strong law enforcement and secure borders."
THE COST - The state will pick up the estimated $154,000 cost of the election, which will be conducted by Maricopa County.
RECALL HISTORY - Arizona has long had the citizens' right to recall elected officials in the state Constitution but it's a power that's seldom used. The most prominent Arizona recall election in modern history was one never held. Critics of then-Gov. Evan Mecham collected more than 300,000 signatures on petitions that were certified for a recall election that was set for May 17, 1988. But Mecham also faced impeachment proceedings in the Legislature and he was removed from office on April 4 when the Senate convicted him of an impeachment charge of stopping the investigation of a death threat against a former Mecham lobbyist.