A political giant, a powerhouse among conservatives and a leader in the anti-immigration movement was removed from office. A mayoral candidate endorsed by the unions and openly opposed to SB1070 defeated an anti-union candidate backed by Arizona’s most influential Republicans.
Since Tuesday, the speculation has begun on what this election means for the state of Arizona and how it will shape the politics of future campaigns.
While deciphering the results of the Russell Pearce recall, many are claiming his ouster had everything to do with his extremist stance on immigration, while others believe it had more to do with his entanglements in the Fiesta Bowl scandal. No doubt both played a role in his defeat, but what’s most stunning about his loss is that it came at the hands of genuinely nice man, making for a modern-day David and Goliath comparison.
Jerry Lewis had plenty of ammunition to use against Pearce. He could have run attack ads highlighting Pearce’s dismissal from MVD or the accusations of domestic abuse by Mr. Pearce’s ex-wife. Lewis could have actively sought contributions from many out-of-state groups eager to defeat the man at the head of the anti-immigrant movement. He could have spent his days on the campaign trail speaking about Olivia Cortes and Pearce’s obvious connections to her campaign.
But he did not. Instead, he smiled and talked about compromise and the ability to listen to all sides of a debate. He even praised some of the work Pearce had done in the legislature, saying he agreed with Pearce on many policy issues just not with his style of politics. Lewis promised similar conservative values but with a twist, an additional promise of respect for those who disagreed with him.
On the other side of the spectrum stood Pearce, a candidate determined to win at whatever cost necessary. And that, I believe, is exactly why he lost.
If there is anything to be gleaned from this week’s election, it is this: politicians can run positive campaigns and win. Not long ago, I had my doubts, but I believe the tide is turning and not just in Arizona.
One of the newest and most effective tools Tea Party conservatives have used to bolster their ranks is the war against unions. They claim unions, and in particular, public-sector unions, are draining taxpayer’s wallets with lavish benefits and pay. Police officers, firefighters and teachers, once respected as hard-working civil servants, are suddenly at fault for sky-high pension costs resulting from the Great Recession. Working class Americans, the vast majority of union members, are targeted as the bad guys while wealthy corporations are heralded as victims.
For a time, it seemed as if Americans were buying it, but Tuesday’s election signaled many voters have started to question the logic behind the type of warfare that pits one set of middle class workers against another. This played out in Ohio where voters overwhelming decided to maintain the collective bargaining rights of unions, and in Phoenix where voters chose union-endorsed candidate Greg Stanton for mayor.
But perhaps the biggest surprise was that the issue of immigration took a back seat to the more pressing issues of jobs and the economy. In the last election cycle, Arizona politicians effectively used immigration as a tool to mold an entire debate, from poverty to education, around one single subject. They created a wedge issue, one that turned complex policy into a simple, black and white question that turned neighbor against neighbor and ended any hope of finding common ground or a workable solution.
And it worked. The ideologues won majorities in the House and Senate and swept state offices. They started a wave of anti-immigration sentiment that spread across the southern part of the country and inspired laws meant to challenge the Constitution and further divide the nation.
So what went wrong this time? My belief is that Americans are tired of the extremists, tired of the bickering and name-calling that has come to define our current Congress and tired of the scandalous and power-hungry politicians that have come to define Arizona’s legislature.
Enough is enough. It’s time to move away from the extremes and back to the middle. It’s time to stop believing any one party or any one person has all the answers and time to start working across party lines and for the good of all citizens.
If this election is a referendum on anything, let’s hope it’s a referendum on extremism. Let’s hope the middle has finally found its voice.