Here’s why recall elections seldom if ever work to remove someone from office:
Time is on the side of the officeholder, who gets to run out a good portion of the clock.
You could validly argue that it is only fair to make it tough on recallers, and you’d be right. They have to come up with a certain number of valid recall petition signatures in a very short time.
But of course, the recalled incumbent has on his or her side the benefit of name recognition among voters. (Note that I said, “among voters,” not “among most people.” Last week a local television station went to Mesa and asked passersby and drivers whether they had heard of someone named Russell Pearce. None had.)
And once the signatures are in and verified by elections officials, there’s an election, right?
Well, yes and no. Upon the validation of 10,365 signatures when only 7,756 were required to recall Pearce, the Mesa Republican state senator best known for immigration legislation, several days ago the governor indeed called an election for Nov. 8.
Yet in such a heavily Republican district it would be nearly impossible to unseat Pearce, who is Senate president, unless the victor was a fellow Republican. But stepping forward to run in a recall election — which tells the whole GOP world that you are crossing paths with the Republican establishment — means virtual political exile if you lose or if the election is called off for lack of valid signatures.
Which is why no one has yet formally stepped forward, and with each day that goes by without a recall campaign means one more day tipping the advantage to the incumbent.
Pearce told The Associated Press last week that his lawyers are, ahem, still reviewing the signature-validation process. (He had better hope they don’t charge by the hour.)
He has until Monday to decide whether to challenge the validity of the signatures, and it should come as no surprise that he is taking every possible day allowed him to decide whether to mount a legal challenge.
As reported in the Tribune, a 54-year-old charter school executive, Jerry Lewis of Mesa, has said he will formally announce next week whether he will run. But if Pearce announces he’s going to court, Lewis, a conservative Republican, could well be expected to decide to take a few more days to think things over.
Whoever runs against Pearce has only from the day he or she announces that fact until Sept. 9 to gather 621 valid signatures, which in this political climate means a total of more than 1,000 will need to be collected chiefly during, wow, August. Vacations plus sticky monsoon heat and dust equals a much tougher signature-gathering task than it would be in February.
If Pearce announces Monday he’s not going to court, if Lewis (or anyone else) announces his candidacy that same day he’ll have just 53 days to get those names on petitions and his name on voters’ minds.
You don’t have to agree with Pearce to have the view that, even though this is apparently the first time in nearly 100 years of statehood that Arizonans would have ever recalled a sitting legislators, Pearce’s conduct in office does not rise to the level of recall.
At least Pearce speaks in complete sentences, makes rational arguments and generally fulfills the duties of a state senator expected by citizens. In contrast, consider the most famous recall effort in state history, against Gov. Evan Mecham in 1987, which was based in rather significant part on Mecham’s repeated racist remarks — spoken without remorse — and accusations that the attorney general was spying on him using laser beams.
The recall effort against Mecham had gathered far more than the required number of valid signatures. The election was not held only because the Legislature had already impeached and removed him from office.
So many voters don’t like Pearce’s stands on immigration or that he accepted gifts from the Fiesta Bowl. While many disagree with these views, neither one rises to the laser-beam level.
So, mindful that the recall process is politically flawed and should only be used once every several decades, 2012, not 2011, should be the time to decide on Russell Pearce’s political future. As most politics-weary Arizonans know, 2012’s already much closer than you may think.
• Mark J. Scarp (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Tribune contributing columnist whose views are published here on Sundays.