Mesa Senate candidate Russell Pearce is backing away from an endorsement by a campaign supporter who is being prosecuted in connection with urinating in public.
The Pearce campaign removed "Buffalo" Rick Galeener's name after an independent expenditure group questioned the endorsement. Galeener, a vocal critic of illegal immigration, is facing charges linked to urinating in a bottle near his truck while he was parked near a day labor center in Phoenix. The incident occurred in March while Galeener was involved in a monthslong vigil being staged outside the center.
The group, Mesa Deserves Better, has been sending out mailers attacking Pearce about his alleged ties with neo-Nazi groups, including former Mesa council hopeful JT Ready.
On Thursday, the group sent a news release questioning Galeener's endorsement of Pearce. Galeener is a member of United for a Sovereign America, an anti-illegal immigration group.
Pearce did not return phone calls seeking comment. His campaign consultant, Doug Cole, said "when the campaign was made aware of Galeener's legal issues earlier in the week, we pulled his name off the Web site." He said he wasn't sure how the campaign was informed about Galeener's charges.
"We had not seen the press release," Cole said.
Galeener's name was on Pearce's Web site until late Thursday night, but was gone by Friday afternoon.
Pearce is vying for a Senate seat against immigration attorney Kevin Gibbons in the Sept. 2 Republican primary.
Vicki Hill, Phoenix's chief assistant city prosecutor, confirmed Galeener's misdemeanor case is set for a pretrial hearing on Sept. 26 in Phoenix Municipal Court.
Hill said Phoenix police had initially cited Galeener in connection with indecent exposure, but after reviewing the case, her office filed a charge of urinating in public.
Cole said people can endorse Pearce by filling out their information on his Web site and that's how Galeener's name got on his site in the first place. Cole added that Pearce has met Galeener "just as he's met thousands of other people."
He equated the situation to the presidential race, where candidates Barack Obama and John McCain have had similar issues.
"Just because someone endorses you, it doesn't mean you believe in everything that person says," Cole said.
Nathan Sproul, chairman of Mesa Deserves Better, says there is an "undeniable and disturbing trend" that Pearce has embraced "the most extreme elements of society and they have embraced him back."
Sproul also questioned why Pearce hasn't asked White Knights of America, a neo-Nazi group, to remove his picture from the group's Web site. Pearce has said it's hard to control what people put on their sites.
"If I was being promoted by white supremacists, I'd take it as an insult," Sproul said. "What's wrong with Pearce's politics that makes white supremacists embrace him? That tells us why he's not fit to be in the state Legislature."
"They can take all the names off but the most extreme elements view Russell Pearce as their champion. If that's not enough of a reason to vote him out, I don't know what is," Sproul added.
Galeener is an active voice in the illegal immigration debate. He said he has no problem with Pearce distancing himself.
"Pearce is a smart man," Galeener said. "If someone is going to drive him through the mud, it's time to remove his shoes."
Galeener calls the public urination charges "pumped up."
"I don't deny that I had a bottle in my truck but I never admitted to anything," Galeener said.