Taxpayers from throughout the state could end up underwriting a bid by ousted state Sen. Russell Pearce to get his seat back this year.
Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, said the Arizona Constitution requires the Legislature to reimburse the “reasonable special election campaign expenses” of any recalled public official. He said while there is not any money in the proposed budget at this point to deal with it, he does not want to set a bad precedent by ignoring what he sees as a mandate.
As it turns out, though, Pearce reported spending no money of his own on his unsuccessful race. Instead, the $260,000 came from not just individual donors but a host of political action committees representing special interests at the Capitol.
But Pearce, who was Senate president, said if he takes the money — something he has not yet decided — he does not intend to seek out those who gave him the cash in the first place to reimburse them.
“It would go to the campaign,” he said, referring to his ongoing campaign committee.
“They gave me money for a campaign,” Pearce said of his donors in last year’s recall. And he figures if the money is not needed for that race, his donors want him to have it for the next one.
That next one could prove expensive.
Because of redistricting, Pearce is no longer in the same district as fellow Republican Jerry Lewis, who ousted him in the recall. Instead he is set to face off in the Republican primary against entrepreneur Bob Worsley who made his fortune by founding and then selling in-flight catalog SkyMall.
Montenegro said it’s irrelevant where Pearce intends to spend the money if he’s reimbursed.
“There are things that the Constitution prescribes that you need to do,” he said, calling the reimbursement language “very clear.”
Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, acknowledged the constitutional language. He said, though, it is not as simple as Montenegro makes it out.
“If he had mortgaged his home, that’s a whole ‘nother discussion,” he said. But Gallardo said Pearce’s recall expenses came from others.
Gallardo said that means anything lawmakers give Pearce would wind up helping him win a totally different race.
Anyway, Gallardo pointed out, voters in Pearce’s Mesa district did remove him from office. He said having taxpayers foot the bill “is like rewarding bad behavior.”
What also is clear is that the funding is not automatic: The Secretary of State’s Office, which administers elections, says while there is that constitutional mandate, no money will be disbursed without specific legislative direction.
It was not always that way.
Until 1973, state law spelled out that statewide elected officials would get a flat $500 to cover their recall expenses; lawmakers were entitled to $200.
That law, never used, was repealed, leaving only the constitutional requirement for lawmakers to provide for “reasonable” expenses.
Nor is there any historical precedent: While a recall petition was filed against Evan Mecham after he became governor in 1987, there never was an election because the Legislature itself impeached him and removed him from office first.
Montenegro said he is not the architect of any plan to reimburse Pearce but simply the conduit.
“Members have come to me,” he said. “I want to make sure that we’re following the Constitution.”
Pearce said he has not been in contact with his former colleagues and remains divided about whether to accept the cash if it is offered. He said he does not relish the idea of forcing taxpayers to pick up the tab.
But things would be different, Pearce said, if the financial obligation fell elsewhere.
“Who ought to pay — and I’m very adamant about this — are Jerry Lewis, Randy Parraz and Rich Crandall who brought this election on,” he said. While Lewis was the candidate, Parraz was a recall organizer; Crandall is a state senator from an adjacent Mesa district who often found himself on the opposite side of issues with Pearce.
“They knew the cost to the taxpayers,” Pearce said. “They’re the ones who should have to pay for this.”
Gallardo said that regardless of what happens now, he hopes to give voters a chance to revisit that constitutional language and decide if they really want that mandate.