A Response to Senator Steve Smith
"We just witnessed how the radical left has used the recall system to defeat an opponent they could not and would not have been able to defeat in a standard election."
The publicly-funded, freshman Senator from Pinal County may have some useful ideas for reforming the recall process. (I feel we should get rid of paid petition circulators for recall elections!)
Lewis won by a 12-point margin. The financials, the polls, and the final vote tallies stubbornly support the case that Lewis would have won if this election had been a Republican primary.
Registered Democrats comprise only 26% of LD18; which means they can’t impose their will on anyone. They accounted for 28% of the vote total in the recall election, and of those, it is estimated that 36% of Democrats voted for Russell Pearce. Republicans have many more LD18 voters, who further amplify their influence with a tendency to vote at a much greater rate. Republicans formed 49% of the vote. Republicans and Independents did the heavy lifting to get to the 55%-43% final margin of victory.
The Arizona Capitol Times conducted a poll the week before the election and found that 36.4% of Democrats were planning to vote for Russell Pearce. If you start with that assumption, then assume Independents voted roughly in proportion to the final totals, Republicans ended up voting 51%-49% in favor of Lewis. The actual votes by party are not published, so we must use polling. The 36% Democratic vote for Pearce, and the slight Republican advantage for Lewis are both consistent with the Capitol Times poll and internal polling conducted by the Lewis campaign. It is possible that Lewis performed better than the polls said among Democrats or Independents, which would lower his percentage among Republicans. But one has to remember that Independents are allowed to vote in a primary of their choice, so Lewis would still win in a hypothetical "primary" vote created by removing all Democratic votes from the total.
It is impossible to know for certain how Lewis would have fared in a regular primary without the media attention, efforts by independent groups on either side, and without some of the trickery that ultimately backfired on Pearce. The recall scenario didn’t break all in Lewis’ favor. We know the special circumstances of the recall may have persuaded large numbers of Republicans to vote for Pearce, when they might have chosen another candidate in a normal primary. They bought into the Pearce Campaign’s relentless arguments that the recall was a left-wing attack against the Republican Party, and that it was time for people to choose teams rather than evaluate candidates on merit. It was a tactical error of the Lewis team to not counter by pointing out that Pearce himself had supported a recall effort against Sheriff Dupnik earlier in 2011 and said that the threshold for recalls was appropriately high. We also could have reminded people that Pearce ally, EV Tea Party Chairman Greg Western, initiated a recall against fellow Republican Rich Crandall the year before. Pearce’s hypocrisy, along with information like the ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court, which reaffirmed Constitutional language stating that recall elections do not require allegations of wrongdoing by elected officials, may have swayed some of those Republicans to drop their anti-recall-based support of Pearce.
So what does it mean?
Many lessons of this election are portable. The first point: Pay attention to your constituents. Pearce’s statewide and national list of endorsements was impressive, but Lewis lined up the majority of the leaders in Mesa, and voters trusted the people they know personally. If donations were an indication of support, Lewis did a good job getting people in his district to invest in his campaign, and a review of Lewis's donor list, debunks the "outside leftist radicals" story very nicely. Lewis got 67% of his money from Mesa, 43% came from LD18, and only 2% from outside the state. Even though he massively outspent Lewis, Pearce only got 4% of his money from LD18. It doesn’t matter as much how popular you are beyond your constituency—they can’t vote for you.
The second point: Priorities. Voters felt that more attention needed to go to the economy and jobs and education. Over and over again in meetings with small groups, voters said they felt like their priorities were taking a backseat to ideological hobbies.
A third point: Voters said yet again in this election that they do not like dirty campaigning or angry politics. The candidates at the top of the campaign can do a lot to set the tone, and can control their followers to a large degree. The well-documented language and tactics used in this election may have made the final difference in the outcome. You cannot take someone like Jerry Lewis, a highly respected, longstanding moral leader in the community, who as a seminary teacher had taught hundreds of students from hundreds of families throughout the district, and make scurrilous claims that "he steals from homeless children," without being punished by voters for such offensive, unfounded, and overreaching slander. Future candidates for office should look closely at this election and think long and hard about hiring consultants who promote such tactics.
Finally, any election involving Russell Pearce is also an election about immigration, and there are several things to learn here. First is that people who oppose illegal immigration and support SB1070 and other tough laws, are not a mutually exclusive group separate from those who want solutions that would keep families together and let people rectify themselves with the law without necessarily deporting them. There is significant overlap. Dr. Bruce Merrill and the Morrison Institute for Public Policy released a survey last month of Arizonans that indicated 78% of heads of households favored, "…legislation that would allow these people to be put on a path to becoming American citizens if they have no criminal record either where they came from or here in Arizona if they pay a fine for coming into the country illegally, get a taxpayer I.D. number and demonstrate they can speak English." Republicans favored such measures by 69%. Pearce and allies tout 70% support for SB1070, but then make the mistake of deriding those who oppose mass roundups or the equivalent of starve-outs as "open-border anarchists opposed to the rule of law." This alienates people, particularly those in the religious and business communities who feel we could tackle immigration problems in a way that solves the problem, helps the economy, and honors our Judeo-Christian values, without necessarily handing citizenship to millions who didn’t come here the right way.
Pearce’s tone on immigration alienates Hispanics. Latinos favored Lewis by more than 3:1 according to polls. That number alone should spark discussion about the way the Republican Party approaches the immigration issue. Anyone looking at projected growth rates from the U.S. Census will see Hispanics’ rapidly growing role in American politics. Many Hispanics are social conservatives with a tradition of working hard and wanting to keep the fruits of their labor—in other words, many Latinos should resonate to core messages of the Republican Party. Yet they are put off by the angry rhetoric surrounding the immigration debate. Arguments to secure the border and to deport felons or freeloaders make sense to most of us; but leaders who point to criminals as justification to round up farm workers and dishwashers present a non-sequitur that makes more sense to Hispanics when explained by xenophobia or racism. While some Latinos support the approach championed by Pearce, one out of four Hispanic votes will not win the elections of the future for the Republican Party. The approach championed by Pearce is politically short-sighted. The Republican Party needs better leadership on the issue of immigration.
Spending too much time fretting over the recall provision in the Arizona Constitution will prevent conservatives from making the adjustments the Pearce recall should catalyze.
Tyler Montague is a lifelong Mesa resident who helped recruit and campaign for Jerry Lewis. He currently serves as a vice-chair of the LD18 Republicans.