Russell Pearce

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Russell Pearce
Member of the Arizona Senate
from the 18th district
In office
January 12, 2006 – November 21, 2011
Preceded by Karen Johnson
Succeeded by Jerry Lewis
President of the Arizona State Senate
In office
January 10, 2011 – November 8, 2011
Preceded by Bob Burns
Succeeded by Steve Pierce
Personal details
Born Russell K. Pearce
(1947-06-23) June 23, 1947 (age 71)
Mesa, Arizona, U.S.
Nationality American
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) LuAnne K. Pearce
Relations Lester Pearce (brother)
Children Dodi, Sean, Colten, Justin, and Joshua Pearce
Military service
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1965–1972
Unit Seal of the United States Army National Guard.svg Arizona National Guard

Russell K. Pearce (born June 23, 1947) is an American politician and Republican former member of the Arizona State Senate. He rose to national prominence as the primary sponsor of Arizona SB1070, a controversial anti-undocumented immigrant measure that was signed into law in 2010. He was elected President of the Arizona Senate when the Senate began its current term in January 2011, but then suffered a dramatic reversal of fortune when he was ousted in a November 2011 recall election, the first legislator in Arizona history to be so removed from office.[1] He served as Vice-Chair of the Arizona GOP, but in September 2014, he resigned the position after controversy over a comment about forced sterilization of poor women on Medicaid.[2]

Prior to his election to the Arizona Senate in 2008, Pearce served in the Arizona House of Representatives from 2001 to 2009, and worked in law enforcement for more than twenty years.


  • BA in Management at the University of Phoenix
  • John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
  • Motor Vehicle Legal and Law College, University of Colorado
  • Advanced Executive Development, Arizona State University
  • Budget and Appropriations, University of Arizona
  • Arizona Judicial College, Supreme Court of Arizona


A fifth-generation Arizonan, Pearce[3] was born on June 23, 1947, to Hal Frost Pearce and Norma Crandell.[4] He grew up in a troubled and impoverished home with an alcoholic father; he recalled in past interviews that when he came home from school, he sometimes found that neighbors had left groceries for the family, but his mother would always put the food to the side, not wishing to accept charity.[3] [3] Pearce served with the National Guard in Arizona during the Vietnam War.[5]


Pearce wanted to attend medical school, but his family was unable to afford it, which led him to join the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office where he served as a sheriff's deputy for twenty-three years,[6] including a stint as Chief Deputy Sheriff under Joe Arpaio.[7] After an incident where he continued to pursue several gang members after being shot in the chest,[3] he received a Medal of Valor from the Department.[8] Pearce's son, Sean Pearce, has also been awarded the Medal of Valor for being shot in the line of duty while serving a homicide warrant.[9]

Pearce claims credit for one of Arpaio's more publicized and controversial actions, that of housing jail inmates in tents.[3][7] Following disagreements with Arpaio, Pearce moved to the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division.[7]

In 1995, Pearce became the Director of the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division. Two notable changes during his tenure were: 1) bringing in IBM to create the first version of, an online resource for Arizonans to update their Motor Vehicle Department information and 2) more controversially, Pearce enrolled Arizona in the then optional (at the federal level) National Drivers Registry program, making collection of social security numbers for drivers' licenses mandatory at the state level to comply with the (then optional) federal program. This caused a controversy at the time because he caused SSNs to be displayed on the face of the drivers license, causing the state legislature to have to later take up legislation to obfuscate the SSN, replacing it with a "D"# which is seen today. However, the SSN is still collected at the time of application or via SSOLV, and remains on the Arizona drivers license file. Pearce oversaw the implementation of a law requiring that applicants for drivers licenses provide either a birth certificate proving they are United States citizens, or documents proving they are in the United States legally.[10]

Pearce was discharged from the position of Director of the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division in August 1999 by Arizona Department of Transportation Director Mary Peters, after an investigation revealed that two of Pearce's subordinates had tampered with a Tucson woman's driving record.[11] Pearce later said he was cleared of wrongdoing, but Peters told the Arizona Republic: "There’s a big difference between being cleared and choosing not to file criminal charges".[12][13][14]

He was elected to the Arizona House in 2000, representing a district in the Mesa area.[3] He transferred to the state senate in 2006. During his tenure, Pearce authored legislation creating the Arizona Auto Theft Authority and served as its chairman. The Arizona Auto Theft Authority has been credited with a 60% decrease in statewide car thefts since its inception in 1992. [15]

Republican tax activist Grover Norquist's group, Americans for Tax Reform, named Pearce a "Hero of the Taxpayers" for 2003.[16]

Immigration policies[edit]

In 2004, Pearce supported Arizona's Proposition 200, which requires individuals to produce proof of citizenship before they may register to vote or apply for public benefits in Arizona. Prop 200 was approved by voters as a ballot initiative in 2004. Proof of citizenship includes an Arizona drivers license issued on or after October 1, 1996, the date from which AZ DLs were required to contain SSNs on the DL data file.

Pearce was a lead sponsor of Arizona SB1070, which passed into law in April 2010 as the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act.[17] The measure attracted national attention as the broadest and strictest anti-illegal immigration measure in decades within the United States.[18] After the Obama administration challenged the law, resulting in a federal court ruling that most of the law was unconstitutional, Pearce told a gathering of conservative activists, "When you talk about jihad, that is exactly what Obama has against America, specifically the state of Arizona."[3]

In a recent story on NPR, he was quoted as saying, "I believe in the rule of law ... I've always believed in the rule of law. We're a nation of laws."; and "I will not back off until we solve the problem of this illegal invasion. Invaders, that's what they are. Invaders on the American sovereignty and it can't be tolerated."[6] In reaction to the federal government's seeking of an injunction against enforcement of the law on constitutional grounds: "It's outrageous and it's clear they don't want (immigration) laws enforced. What they want is to continue their non-enforcement policy," Pearce said. "They ignore the damage to America, the cost to our citizens, the deaths" tied to border-related violence.[19]

He has also sponsored Arizona SB1097, also debated in the legislature during the 2010 term, which seeks to quantify the impact of illegal immigration on the state's K-12 education system.[20] The text of the bill states that:[21]

  • School districts would be required to identify and count all students who are in the U.S. illegally.
  • The state's Department of Education would be required to report annually on the impact and costs to state taxpayers of the enrollment of these students.
  • The state Superintendent of Public Instruction would be authorized to withhold state aid from districts that do not comply with the law.

CNN announced on June 15, 2010, that Senator Pearce is proposing a measure that would deny U.S. citizenship to children born in this country to illegal immigrants in an effort to thwart so-called "anchor babies". The vast majority of legal scholars have stated that such a measure would be unconstitutional as the 14th Amendment guarantees citizenship to anyone born in the United States.[22]

The endorsement of the Utah Compact by Pearce's church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), has resulted in accusations that Pearce opposes the social stance held by his own church on illegal immigration. Pearce addresses these accusations by reaffirming that he supports the principles in the Utah Compact such as the importance of the family and showing respect to immigrants. However he disagrees with what he considers to be a deceitful purpose of the Utah Compact being used as a political vehicle for pro-amnesty activists. He disagrees with the compact's failure to differentiate between legal and illegal immigration. The church's adoption of compassion-based approaches to immigration issues has sharply divided Mormons, with an increasing number being opposed to Pearce's immigration platform and desiring a solution more resembling the Compact.[23]

Another Pearce measure is the 2010 voter-approved law which denies bail to immigrants illegally in Arizona. In October 2014, an eleven-member panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the measure violates due process by imposing a punishment, denial of bail, before the holding of a trial. Pearce replied that he believes the Ninth Circuit decision oversteps federal authority and overrides the will of voters.[24]


Pearce faced criticism in 2006 after he called for the renewal of a 1950s immigration enforcement program, Operation Wetback, that deported or encouraged to deport 1.3 million illegal immigrants (and several hundred US citizens) in less than a year. Hispanic groups said the use of the word wetback was derogatory.[25]

In October 2006, Pearce included the text of an article by National Alliance, a white separatist group, in an email to a group of supporters. The article, titled "Who Rules America"[26] contained allegations of Jewish control of the media and of multiculturalism being a Jewish anti-White conspiracy, as well as Holocaust denialism.[27] He quickly apologized to supporters in an email, stating: "Ugly the words contained in it really are. They are not mine and I disavow them completely. Worse still, the website links to a group whose politics are the ugliest imaginable."[27] Pearce told reporters he did not agree with the antisemitic and racist statements in the article, and that he had copied it from an email forwarded to him by someone else after "the title and the first paragraphs about media bias appealed to him".[27]

Pearce was also criticized for his association with white supremacist J. T. Ready.[28] Pearce endorsed Ready for Mesa City Council in 2006[29] and appeared with him at several rallies. In 2004 Pearce was photographed attending Ready's baptism into the LDS Church. In addition, church documents reveal that Pearce ordained Ready into the LDS priesthood.[30] Pearce has since claimed he was unaware of Ready's neo-Nazi affiliations at the time he made the endorsement.[31]

In April 2008, Pearce sponsored a measure, Senate Bill 1108, that would bar Arizonan public schools from teaching that "denigrate[s] American values and the teachings of Western civilization", and prohibit the formation of groups "based in whole or part on the race of their membership". Pearce said he didn't want students indoctrinated with anti-American ideologies. The Arizona Republic noted the measure could ban groups such as the Black Business Students Association at Arizona State University or Native Americans United at Northern Arizona University. Critics of the bill called it vague and predicted its implementation would have chilling effects.[32]

As lead sponsor of Arizona SB 1070, Pearce received assistance from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in drafting the text for the legislation.[33] In December 2007, FAIR was identified as a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).[34] In the early 1990s FAIR received funding from the Pioneer Fund, a eugenics society established in 1937 "to advance the scientific study of heredity and human differences" that the SPLC has described as a neo-Nazi organization.[35]

In October 2010, the SB 1070 bill, which Pearce sponsored in the legislature, came under criticism for benefiting private prison companies. Most of the language of the bill had been written as model legislation at a December 2009 meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), where Pearce was joined as an attendee by officials of the company Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). CCA "executives believe immigrant detention is their next big market" according to NPR.[36]

In November 2010, Pearce launched a push to reject US$7 billion in federal funding for Arizona’s Medicaid program, which serves more than one million people. When asked what those who rely upon this program for health care would do if it no longer has the funds to operate, Pearce said "they'll probably be okay."[37]

2011 recall and 2012 primary defeat[edit]

On May 31, 2011, Citizens for a Better Arizona turned in 18,315 signatures to the Arizona Secretary of State's Office to recall Pearce.[38] On July 8, the Arizona Secretary of State's Office officially verified that the recall petitions had sufficient signatures. On July 12, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer issued an order calling a special recall election in November.[39] Pearce is the first state lawmaker in Arizona history to be recalled.[40][41]

Mesa Republican Jerry Lewis announced he would run against Senator Pearce. Independent Tommy Cattey also filed to become a candidate in the recall election.[42] Pearce's supporters recruited Republican Olivia Cortes to run in the recall election to split the anti-Pearce vote.[43] Cortes later dropped out of the race; as of October 2011, several members of Pearce's campaign effort are accused of Class 5 felonies for their role in the sham candidacy.[44]

On November 7, 2011, the night before his recall election, Mesa voters were flooded with robo-calls from Pearce's supporters, informing them that both Pearce and his challenger Jerry Lewis were Republicans.[45] The call then encouraged voters to protest this one-sided election by writing in their own candidate. Since the winner of an Arizona recall election is the candidate who receives a plurality of the votes cast, and the candidate whose recall is sought is also on the ballot, the effect of casting such a write-in vote is to decrease the chance that a single challenger will receive more votes than the candidate whose recall is sought.

A significant factor in Pearce's defeat were that his views on immigration and other matters are an embarrassment to the LDS Church, of which Pearce is a member,[46] leading Jerry Lewis, another member of the church, to seek to replace him.

On November 8, 2011, Pearce was defeated in the recall election by challenger, Republican Jerry Lewis.[47] Among reactions: Lewis said, "We now have an opportunity to heal the divide in Mesa"; and Pearce said, "If being recalled is the price for keeping one's promises, then so be it."[48]

On August 28, 2012, Pearce lost his comeback bid in the Republican primary for the nomination for a state senate seat to businessman Bob Worsley, by 56 to 44 percent.[49]

In September 2014, Pearce made comments on his radio show, stating that poor, unemployed women on Medicaid should receive forced sterilization, as well as other comments which were widely criticized in the media and by fellow GOP politicians. As a result of the controversy, he resigned his position as Vice-Chair of the Arizona GOP.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Pearce lives in Mesa, Arizona[50] with his wife, LuAnne and his three adopted grandchildren: Wyatt, Ethan, and Tatum Pearce. He has five children: Dodi, Sean, Colten, Justin and Joshua.[4]

In 1980, Mrs. Pearce filed a petition for dissolution of marriage which alleged that he "is possessed of a violent temper, and has from time to time hit and shoved the wife, when he grabbed the wife by the throat and threw her down." LuAnne was later reconciled with her husband. When asked many years later about the allegations, she acknowledged the 1980 petition but, despite having signed the document under oath, categorically denied ever having been struck, grabbed by the throat, thrown down, or threatened by her husband, adding that she did not know how the allegations came to be part of the court document signed by her under oath. Her husband likewise denied the allegations.[51]

Pearce's son Justin resigned from the Arizona Motor Vehicles Division in 1999, after he produced counterfeit driver's licenses for himself and four friends with false ages in an effort to avoid alcohol prohibition laws.[52][53] Justin Pearce subsequently pleaded guilty to tampering with a public record and received a suspended sentence.[53]

In February 2011, Mesa police arrested Pearce's son, Joshua Trent Pearce, on two outstanding arrest warrants tied to a probation violation and failing to appear in court.[53]

Pearce's nephew Talmage attended the 2016 Republican Convention as an anti-Trump delegate from Arizona's 5th District.[54]


  1. ^ Crawford, Amanda J. (November 9, 2011). "Arizona Immigration-Law Author Pearce Loses in Recall Election". Bloomberg. Retrieved November 9, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Lavender, Paige (September 15, 2014), After Saying Women On Medicaid Should Be Sterilized, Russell Pearce Resigns From Arizona GOP, The Huffington Post, retrieved September 15, 2014 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Riccardi, Nicholas (January 17, 2011). "Arizona's relentless conservative voice". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 19, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b Pearce, Russell. "Russell Pearce:Arizona State House of Representatives". Archived from the original on 2010-05-23. Retrieved March 12, 2008. 
  5. ^ Lemons, Stephen (February 17, 2011). "Why a Russell Pearce Run for Congress Would Be a Good Thing". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved July 7, 2011. 
  6. ^ a b Robbins, Ted (March 12, 2008). "The Man Behind Arizona's Toughest Immigrant Laws". NPR. Retrieved March 12, 2008. 
  7. ^ a b c Nelson, Gary (May 10, 2011). "Russell Pearce will likely face recall election". Retrieved July 7, 2011. 
  8. ^ Dougherty, John (February 10, 2005). "Recall Joe! – Page 1 – News – Phoenix". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved July 7, 2011. 
  9. ^ "Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce". Retrieved July 7, 2011. 
  10. ^ "License law said racist". The Sunday Courier. September 17, 1996. p. 1B. 
  11. ^ Don't count out Pearce, Arizona's political Rasputin
  12. ^ "Corrected driving record leads to firing of motor vehicle officials". Arizona Daily Star. August 19, 1999. 
  13. ^ Daily Kos: Senator Pearce: Please Go on Rachel Maddow
  14. ^ Russell Pearce's Problem with the Rule of Law; and Andrei Cherny Contends for Democratic Party Chair - Page 2 - News - Phoenix - Phoenix New Times
  15. ^ "AATA". Retrieved February 28, 2017. 
  16. ^ "Russell Pearce". Archived from the original on August 6, 2010. Retrieved September 4, 2010. 
  17. ^ "Ariz. Lawmakers Pass Controversial Illegal Immigration Bill". KPHO. Associated Press. April 20, 2010. Archived from the original on 2011-06-14. 
  18. ^ Archibold, Randal C. (April 24, 2010). "U.S.'s Toughest Immigration Law Is Signed in Arizona". The New York Times. 
  19. ^ [1] Archived July 10, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  20. ^ "Don't put kids at ground zero". The Arizona Republic. March 30, 2010. Retrieved April 30, 2010. 
  21. ^ "SB 1097" (PDF). Arizona Legislature. Second Regular Session, 2010. Retrieved April 30, 2010.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  22. ^ "Arizona bill would deny citizenship to children of illegal immigrants." CNN. N.p., n.d. Web. June 16, 2010.
  23. ^ Montero, David. "Salt Lake Tribune: Arizona immigration law: Buyer's remorse?". Retrieved July 7, 2011. 
  24. ^ "Court tosses out Arizona's no-bail law for immigrants", Laredo Morning Times, October 16, 2014, p. 11A
  25. ^ "'Wetback' remarks dog Rep. Pearce". Tucson Citizen. Mesa. Associated Press. September 30, 2006. 
  26. ^ "Who Rules America?". Retrieved September 4, 2010. 
  27. ^ a b c "Pearce e-mail draws apology". Arizona Central. October 11, 2006. Archived from the original on May 13, 2011. Retrieved May 12, 2011. 
  28. ^ Lemons, Stephen (September 22, 2007). "Russell Pearce's Willie Horton: White Supremacist J.T. Ready". Retrieved June 2010.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  29. ^ Juozapavicius, Justin (March 4, 2006). "Ready raises nearly $5,000". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved June 10, 2010. 
  30. ^ Lemons, Stephen (December 16, 2010). "When Valley Neo-Nazi J.T. Ready Converted to Mormonism, Guess Which Prominent Politico Ordained Him an "Elder"". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved July 7, 2011. 
  31. ^ Nelson, Gary (August 21, 2008). "Congressmen want J.T. Ready out of GOP post". Retrieved June 10, 2010. 
  32. ^ "Plan targets anti-Western lessons". The Arizona Republic. October 10, 2006. Retrieved April 17, 2007. 
  33. ^ "If Washington Won't, Arizona Will". April 14, 2010. Retrieved August 12, 2010. 
  34. ^ "FAIR: Crossing the Rubicon of Hate". December 11, 2007. Retrieved August 12, 2010. 
  35. ^ Waters, Rob (2009). "Funding FAIR: Key Philanthropist Supports Nativist Hate Group". Retrieved August 12, 2010. 
  36. ^ "Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law". National Public Radio. October 28, 2010. Retrieved January 21, 2011. 
  37. ^ Jilani, Zaid (November 8, 2010). "Opposing Health Funding for A Million Arizonans, Pearce Compares Health Care to High-Priced Fashion Items". Think Progress. 
  38. ^ Luige del Puerto (May 31, 2011). "Group submits 18,000 signatures to recall Pearce". Arizona Capital Times. 
  39. ^ Governor Jan Brewer Issues Order for November 8 Russell Pearce Recall Election (w/UPDATE) - Phoenix News - Feathered Bastard
  40. ^ Walsh, Jim (June 4, 2011). "Russell Pearce recall supporters face uphill battle". The Arizona Republic. 
  41. ^ Russell Pearce recall: Enough signatures to force election
  42. ^ Matt York (July 28, 2011). "Lewis makes run against Pearce in recall official". East Valley Tribune. 
  43. ^ Cortes circulator says campaign is pro-Pearce effort
  44. ^ Russell Pearce's Cortes Scandal: Tom Ryan Challenges the Media, Lester Pearce Flips Out - Phoenix News - Feathered Bastard
  45. ^ Robocalls target Pearce recall election voters - CBS 5 - KPHO
  46. ^
  47. ^ Russell Pearce ousted in historic recall election - CBS 5 - KPHO
  48. ^ Walsh, Jim; Thomason, Art; Nelson, Gary (November 8, 2011). "Reaction to Russell Pearce recall election vote". Arizona Republic. 
  49. ^ Nelson, Gary (29 Aug 2012). "Worsley beats Russell Pearce in Mesa Senate race". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved 3 July 2013. 
  50. ^ "Member Page: Russell K. Pearce". Arizona State Legislature. Retrieved March 13, 2008. 
  51. ^ "Did state Representative Russell Pearce ever beat his wife LuAnne?". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved April 26, 2010. 
  52. ^ "ADOT director puts agency chief on leave". The Daily Courier. August 18, 1999. p. 3A. 
  53. ^ a b c Gonzales, Nathan (February 17, 2010). "Sen. Russell Pearce's son arrested on outstanding warrants". 
  54. ^