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Five takes on why Russell Pearce went down in Arizona, and what it means

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One could probably fill a small library by now with the many analyses of Arizona senate president Russell Pearce's defeat Tuesday in a historic recall election, Arizona's first recall of a state legislator.

There are different takes on why Pearce, best known for sponsoring last year's game-changing SB 1070 state anti-illegal immigration law, was ousted from his seat. He was a strident and popular voice within the immigration-restriction lobby, promoting not only a law that empowered local police to check for immigration status (a provision of SB 1070 that remains blocked), but pushing legislation earlier this year that would have kept U.S.-born children of undocumented parents from obtaining automatic U.S. citizenship. And in spite of being partly hung up in court, SB 1070 has inspired a series of imitations, including similar new laws Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia.

When Pearce fell in the recall, defeated by fellow Republican Jerry Lewis, he fell heavily. Below are five pieces exploring what brought down the most powerful individual in Arizona politics, and one of the most influential figures in immigration politics of recent years. The general consensus: While Pearce's hardline immigration stance played a prominent role in his defeat, it was a combination of problems that ultimately did him in.

The Mormon church has been trying to reach out to Hispanic voters, and Pearce’s virulent anti-immigrant rhetoric, along with his divisive law, was seen as hurting that effort. Pearce has condemned the church for its anti-SB1070 stance and angered leaders by falsely claiming that he had their support.

"The Mormon church clearly percolated below the surface to make sure that its members knew that Russell Pearce was making their missionary efforts in Central and South America more difficult,” said Nathan Sproul, Republican strategist

Recall supporters said the Utah Compact — a Mormon model for more comprehensive immigration reform signed about a year ago — helped spark their campaign.

“I've heard [Mormon conservatives] say, 'We need to love people,' and 'We shouldn't be doing this to people,” one source told Religion Dispatches.

But while it was on anti-immigrant fear mongering that Pearce made his name, it wasn’t necessarily a pro-migrant solidarity that pushed Arizona voters to choose Lewis over Pearce. According to experts and organizers, Pearce’s electorate was fed up with his myopic focus on immigration enforcement and anti-immigrant bills because they left little time to tackle the issues Arizona voters cared most about: jobs, education and healthcare.

“[People] saw it in the first month of his leadership [as Senate president],” said Parraz. “He was focused on nullifying federal law, changing the U.S. Constitution, putting guns on campuses, cutting education, cutting off people waiting for organ transplants, and instead of spending $1.3 million and allowing 98 Arizonans to live, he sent $5 million to an angry sheriff for immigration enforcement.”

“That kind of politics, people started getting fed up.”

Yes there was an overflow of reactive energy – starting with Latinos and spreading to citizens and voters of all races, cultures and ethnicities.

But it was also about politics, about pocketbook issues, standard of living concerns and political shenanigans. Pearce may have gotten a little too comfortable for his own skin. A year before  the recall he had won a landslide election. He was the architect of a law that seemed popular at the time; the law gave Pearce national notoriety. He managed to put together a law that served as a spark that began a blaze of anti-immigration laws that spread across dozens of states.

But while he was busy politicking the immigration law he was also busy politicking his funders. His opponents accuse him of accepting expensive college football tickets, paid trips, luxury hotel stays and a chauffeured car.

Organizers of the Pearce recall effort emphasized the importance in getting out the Latino vote to their success. Eliseo Medina, the international Secretary-Treasurer for the SEIU said that low-income and Latino voters were instrumental to ousting Pearce. “Those who show disrespect by the way they talk about immigrants, such as building border fences that would electrocute them, will have limited careers,” Medina said.

Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, said that though Pearce’s district is conservative, it is a “cautionary tale for right-wing extremists.”He added that in national races and even the presidential race, “you’re going to have a Latino vote that’s going to be incredibly decisive.”

The race, Sharry said, should “remind Democrats that immigration is a mobilizing issue for Latino voters and instead of running away from it they should lean into it.”

All the same, although recalling Pearce inflicts a measure of retribution for immigrants' rights activists in the state, much of Pearce's anti-immigrant agenda has already become mainstream in the Republican Party. When the Obama administration challenged SB 1070 in court, Republicans rallied around the state and blamed the president for failing to enforce laws against illegal immigration. Although most SB 1070 copycats failed, states like Alabama and Georgia have enacted similar laws. Of the two current Republican front-runners, Herman Cain likes to joke about killing unauthorized immigrants with an electrified death fence, and Mitt Romney smothered Texas Governor Rick Perry's primary run by slamming Perry for his decision to let unauthorized immigrant teenagers pay in-state tuition at Texas colleges.

Pearce's recall was a historic event. But Pearce had already made history by helping to make "attrition through enforcement" the primary approach to immigration policy in the Republican Party. The question now is whether anyone in the GOP is actually having second-thoughts about the party's anti-immigrant agenda after Pearce's loss.