Phoenix – The historic defeat of the state Senate president who authored Arizona's controversial SB 1070 immigration law sends a clear message to politicians nationwide, activists said Wednesday.
Turnout was high for Tuesday's recall election in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, where Sen. Russell Pearce faced a challenge from fellow Republican Jerry Lewis, a charter school executive with no previous political experience.
The newcomer prevailed by 53.4 percent to 45.3 percent, a difference of around 1,800 votes.
The voters in Mesa "sent a strong message to the Republican presidential candidates," according to Eliseo Medina, international secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union.
The U.S. electorate wants genuine solutions, "not an extremist anti-immigrant agenda," the SEIU official said Wednesday in a telephone press conference.
"A few years ago, Sen. Pearce called for the mass deportation of suspected undocumented immigrants in Arizona," Medina said. "More recently, he favored stripping away the constitutional rights of citizenship to children of immigrants. Last night, it was Pearce who was sent packing."
Enacted in April 2010, SB 1070 aims to criminalize the presence of undocumented immigrants in Arizona, chiefly by requiring state and local law enforcement officers to verify the immigration status of anyone they suspect is in the country illegally.
The U.S. Justice Department challenged the legislation and a federal court blocked enforcement of the "show me your papers" provision pending a final decision on the law's constitutionality.
SB 1070 has hurt the people of Arizona and the state's economy, the SEIU executive said.
"It is fair to say that the Latino voters made the difference in the outcome, in which Lewis, a moderate Republican on immigration issues, defeated Pearce's extremist agenda," Medina said.
Randy Parraz, co-founder of the Citizens for a Better Arizona group that organized the recall effort, said people from across the political spectrum came together to end "the reign of Sen. Pearce."
The result also shows that Arizona voters want their politicians to deal with issues such as the economy and unemployment, not just immigration, and should be a wake-up call for Gov. Jan Brewer and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who share Pearce's hostility to undocumented immigrants, Parraz said.
Medina, Parraz and other activists agreed that it was too soon to say what percentage of eligible Latino voters went to the polls on Tuesday, though they noted that some 4,000 Hispanics requested absentee ballots.
The district has around 70,000 registered voters.
"Latinos are no longer ready to tolerate candidates who have obtained, or try to attain, power by attacking the immigrant community," Rudy Lopez, political director at Center for Community Change, said during the session with reporters.