- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2012

Just months after falling victim to a recall effort, the author of Arizona’s immigration crackdown is weighing whether to jump back into another legislative race.

A leader of the movement against illegal immigration, Russell Pearce is slated to announce his plans Monday at a Red Mountain Tea Party meeting in Mesa. Other elected officials, including Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, are scheduled to attend, according to an email message sent to Pearce supporters.

Arizona political analyst Michael O’Neil said he expects Mr. Pearce to throw his hat back in the ring, even after losing a highly publicized recall effort to a fellow Republican in November.

“He’s giving every indication he will run,” Mr. O’Neil said. “He’s a man on a mission. He’s absolutely driven by this issue, and I think he wants to show people, ‘You can’t beat me, I’m coming back.’ “

The sponsor of Senate Bill 1070, Arizona’s landmark anti-illegal immigration bill, Mr. Pearce was state Senate president when he was ousted in the first recall election in state history. The effort was sponsored by Citizens for a Better Arizona, which opposes SB 1070 and campaigned in favor of Mr. Pearce’s opponent.

Shortly after the recall, Mr. Pearce was tapped to head Ban Amnesty Now and elected first vice chairman of the Arizona Republican Party. He also hosts a weekly talk-radio show on KFNX-AM in Phoenix.

If he decides to run, Mr. Pearce would likely touch off another battle royale between conservative and moderate Republicans in the GOP primary, with immigration playing a key role in the debate.

“There’s a huge rift right now in the Arizona Republican Party between Tea Party Republicans and regular Republicans,” said Randy Parraz, head of Citizens for a Better Arizona. “The question is, do the people in Legislative District 25 feel like he’s the type of person they want to represent them?”

The district isn’t the same one Mr. Pearce represented for years before his recall. The state’s newly redrawn lines place him in the same district as Republican state Sen. Rich Crandall, not state Sen. Jerry Lewis, who defeated Mr. Pearce in the recall election.

Still, the district encompasses most of Mesa and remains one of the most conservative in the state. Mr. Pearce would likely fare better in a Republican primary, in which only Republicans and independents may vote, than in a recall election, in which Democrats may also cast ballots.

“The new district is a more conservative, more Republican district than his old one. There are far fewer Hispanics,” Mr. O’Neil said. “Except for having an incumbent there, it’s a better district for him.”

Mr. Crandall has not yet said whether he will seek re-election, but he is viewed as more moderate than Mr. Pearce. In the 2011 legislative session, Mr. Crandall helped defeat a package of Pearce-sponsored immigration bills aimed at building on the success of SB 1070.

The law, which requires police to check the immigration status of suspected undocumented immigrants, is on hold pending a Supreme Court challenge. Other states have since adopted similar laws.

Mr. Pearce is also scheduled to reach the national stage in April by testifying on S.B. 1070 before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration, refugees and border security. The hearing, called by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, is slated for April 24, the day before the Supreme Court considers the Arizona law.

The hearing appears less than friendly — Mr. Schumer is a well-known critic of the law, and has criticized Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer for refusing to appear before the committee — leading to questions as to why Mr. Pearce would agree to testify.

Arizona Republic columnist Robert Robb said Mr. Pearce is “making a mistake” by agreeing to participate in the hearing.

“Schumer has no interest in the merits of SB 1070 or its constitutionality,” said Mr. Robb in a Thursday post. “He wants a show to influence the court and shape coverage of the real event. Pearce is playing the dupe.”

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