Mormons in Politics Update: Arizona

November 9, 2011 | 23 comments
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00-lewisWhile off-year elections, like yesterday’s U.S. elections, are usually almost irrelevant, there was an interesting, if not important, race for those following Mormons in Politics—and the result appears to be the election of Jerry Lewis.

No, not that Jerry Lewis. The Jerry Lewis who is Mormon and who sought to dislodge perhaps the best-known Mormon state politician in the U.S.—Russell Pearce, current president of the Arizona State Senate. The current results of yesterday’s election, which are still shy of being official due to absenteee and early ballots, have Lewis defeating Pearce by a 53% to 45% margin.

Given that the two opponents in this Mormon v. Mormon race in a heavily Mormon district have nearly identical political positions (reports of their “debate” sound more like an “I agree” festival), this race was more about style and perception than substance. The Economist characterized the race as the Bully v. Mr. Nice Guy. Personally, I like the idea that among Mormons, at least in this case, nice guys don’t finish last.


Election day also gives me an excuse to review the other Mormons in politics—that is, outside of those in the presidential race, in which we are currently overloaded with Mormon candidates. Actually, we may be on the brink of having the first Mormon nominated by a major party. So, instead of looking at the presidential prospects, I hope, in a series of posts over a week or so, to look at the status of the Mormons in the U.S. Congress and, to a degree, in state government. I hope that you, like I, will be interested to know who is in office, who is running for what office, and something about their prospects.

Since I’m already on the subject, I’ll start with Arizona, which may also be the most complicated of situations.

Perhaps the biggest complication for members of the U.S. House of Representatives and for state legislators is the decennial redistricting process going on now. As a result, most, if not all, of these legislators face new district boundaries, sometimes radically different from what they have known for the past decade. 12 states either lost or gained one or more members of the U.S. House, making boundary changes there more radical and even occasionally leading to situations where two incumbents run for the same district.

Arizona’s growing population led to a gain of one member of the U.S. House of Representatives, giving the state a total of 9 following the 2012 elections. But drawing new boundary lines has not gone smoothly. After the state’s independent redistricting commission drew districts that gave Democrats somewhat better odds than they now have, the state’s Republican governor impeached the chair of the commission, throwing the redistricting effort into chaos and raising the possibility of a court-driven solution. As a result, who will run for what district, be it a U.S. Congressional district, a state senate district or state house district, is not at all clear.

Further complicating the picture is the retirement of U.S. Senator Jon Kyl and the subsequent announcement by Arizona’s lone Mormon congressman, Jeff Flake, that he will seek Kyl’s seat in the 2012 election. [If successful, Flake could increase the number of Mormons (and those of Mormon heritage) in the U. S. Senate to eight.]

Flake’s own seat in the U. S. House currently covers the heavily Mormon East Valley of the Phoenix metro area, which makes it possible, and perhaps even likely that Flake’s replacement may still be Mormon. Indeed, Flake’s predecessor in the seat, Matt Salmon, has indicated interest in running, as have several other Mormon politicians. From what I can tell, about half of those expressing interest in running for Flake’s seat are LDS.

Until the redistricting situation has been resolved, it isn’t possible to guess at whether the new U. S. House district might allow for another Mormon from Arizona in the House. Theoretically, the East Valley could be split into two separate districts, perhaps in an attempt to guarantee the new congressional seat to the Republicans. This perhaps unlikely scenario would make it more likely that a second Mormon could be elected. However, the plan prepared by the redistricting commission didn’t draw the boundaries that way.

Aside from the U. S. Senate and House seats in Arizona, there are a number of Mormons (or those who appear to be Mormon from the information available) in the current Arizona Senate and House. In the Senate, the Senate President was Russell Pearce, now apparently defeated. He could be replaced by the current Majority leader, Andy Biggs, who also appears to be Mormon. In addition, the 30 member Arizona Senate includes the following Mormons (or who appear to be Mormon):

  • Sylvia Allen
  • Rich Crandall
  • Adam Driggs
  • Jerry Lewis (who apparently has defeated Pearce)
  • and Kyrsten Sinema, a gay former Mormon.

In the 60 member Arizona house, I’ve identified the following Mormons (or who appear to be Mormon):

  • Cecil Ash
  • Eddie Farnsworth
  • Tom Forese
  • Peggy Judd
  • Justin Olson
  • Justin Pierce
  • Steve Urie

As always, I look forward to corrections and observations about this summary. I hope to have additional analysis in the next few days (but not every state will get its own post).

23 Responses to Mormons in Politics Update: Arizona

  1. Tim on November 10, 2011 at 7:02 am

    I should point out a few details of the Lewis v. Pearce race. The race only happened because enough citizens wanted Pearce recalled–apparently the first recall election of a state senator in Arizona (and the first successful one too). Pearce still had part of his term left, but got kicked out early.

    And their positions weren’t entirely identical–they differed greatly on the issue of immigration. Pearce sponsored SB 1070, the harshest anti-illegal-immigration bill at that time. The recall election was, at least in part, backlash for Pearce’s support of that bill (and, perhaps, backlash for his ridiculous public claim that the LDS church supported the bill).

  2. Kent Larsen on November 10, 2011 at 9:28 am

    Tim wrote: “they differed greatly on the issue of immigration”

    Thanks for your comments Tim. I do have to quibble about one thing, however. I’m not sure that they differ greatly in this case. While Lewis’ position is apparently less harsh, the news reports I’ve read seem to indicate that he still largely favors tougher enforcement of immigration. Perhaps that is “differ greatly” for many conservatives, but for those of us who see a need for radical immigration reform that allows many, many more immigrants to come legally, and who see much of current “enforcement” as almost sadistic beating up of the poor and disenfranchised, their positions seem rather similar.

    But, Lewis at least seems like someone willing to compromise and work with others, unlike Pearce’s rigid hard line.

  3. Tim on November 10, 2011 at 9:52 am

    I think on a scale from 1 to 10, a 1 being open borders and a 10 being the strictest immigration policies possible, Pearce is pretty much a 10 and Lewis is probably a 7 or 8. Lewis is still a conservative, and still has conservative views on immigration, but he’s not a radical extremist like Pearce.

    I don’t think the recall election would have occurred in the first place if Pearce had taken a more reasonable approach to immigration. I may be wrong–there were other issues too–but I think it revolved around the immigration issue.

  4. Starfoxy on November 10, 2011 at 9:59 am

    While I’d like to believe that it was SB1070 that got him recalled, I just don’t think that is the case. I think what really got him kicked out was the monies and such Pearce received in connection to the fiesta bowl.

  5. Last Lemming on November 10, 2011 at 10:02 am

    If it sends the messages that (1) civility is the road to success in politics, and (2) it is politically safe to show some compassion toward undocumented immigrants, then both the country and Arizona are better off as a result of this recall.

    But it could work to Mitt Romney’s detriment. If I were a Republican presidential candidate seeking the support of Evangelicals, I would point to the recall, cast it as a Mormon intramural squabble (see your sidebar article), and say “See, this is what the Mormon Church does to Mormon politicians who get on its bad side. I’m sure Mitt is paying close attention.” It’s probably too sophisticated an argument for anyone but Gingrich to make, however, and he doesn’t seem inclined to go that route (perhaps because he understands that it is nonsensical at the national level).

  6. Mark B. on November 10, 2011 at 10:25 am

    Almost all Republicans are claiming to be all in favor of stricter enforcement of something or other relating to immigration. Even Jeff Flake, one of the brighter lights in the party on the subject, has been banging that drum, albeit softly. But Lewis seems well down the scale from Pearce, who claimed he was at the “front of the parade” on the issue.

    I wonder if he meant this parade.

  7. Raymond Takashi Swenson on November 10, 2011 at 11:10 am

    I feel that Mark B’s labeling of Mr. Pearce as a Nazi is extreme and beyond the bounds of civilized debate that should prevail within a web page oriented toward LDS concerns and issues. It is the politucal equivalent of calling your religious adversaries a “cult”. It is labeling the advrtsary as an evil enemy who deserves no hearing or debate, but only demands for unconditional surrender and then trial for crimes against humanity.

    There is plenty of rational basis to disagree with Mr. Pearce’s promotion of state enforcement of immigration law, such as the fact that it attempts to convert a civil offense into criminal trespass, but calling your opponent Hitler is invective and not argument or debate, the equivalent of issuing a fatwah declaring it is open season on him. It is the irrational impulse that drives mobs like the one that murdered Joseph and Hyrum.

  8. AZ on November 10, 2011 at 11:20 am

    I live in Mesa, AZ and have strong opinions on this topic! Despite his claims and representations, Russell Pearce misused his membership in the church for political gain and was an embarrassment to the church and the community in Arizona. That is why the majority of people who voted against him are members of the church.

  9. Tim on November 10, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Raymond, I agree.

    However, if I had to pick one U.S. politician to compare to Hitler, and especially a U.S. LDS politician, it would be Pearce. He sponsored some radical and extremist bills, bills that created a great deal of real fear for many families in Arizona (including many LDS families).

    Additionally, he claimed publicly (and falsely) that the church’s leadership gave its blessing to Arizona’s immigration bills. He’s a total scumbag–and that’s a word I very rarely use, even when talking about politicians.

  10. Peter LLC on November 10, 2011 at 11:48 am

    It is the irrational impulse that drives mobs like the one that murdered Joseph and Hyrum.

    Comparing the posting of a link with a lynching, on the other hand, apparently qualifies as the epitome of decorum.

  11. Mark B. on November 10, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Actually, if you’d taken the time to check the date of that parade, you would have seen that it was taken in 1931, back when Hitler and the Nazis were just a rowdy bunch of troublemakers and fringe politicians, with relatively typical (for right-wing Europeans of that era) anti-Semitic rhetoric. In that context, Russell Pearce and his ilk fit right in.

    Besides, I never called Pearce Hitler. I sort of had him pegged as an Ernst Röhm-type guy.

  12. Ola Senor on November 10, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Raymond,

    Its not just that Pearce has extreme views on immigration, he has/had ties to white supremacacy groups, and at one time endorsed white supremacist J.T. Ready.

  13. Kent Larsen on November 10, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    Uh, guys lets tone this down a bit. Stop the comparisons and arguments about who is comparing whom to Hitler, etc.

    Personally, while I’m interested in the Pearce-Lewis election, I’m more interested in the other Arizona Mormon Politicians and their prospects.

    For those who live in Arizona, do you have any assessment of these other politicians? Any chance for an increase in the number of Mormon politicians in the state? Perhaps outside of the East Valley?

    Surely there is more to talk about than how bad Russell Pearce is!

  14. Mark B. on November 10, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Hey, at least you got the “whom” right, Kent. : )

    One minor note–redistricting will take effect for the 2012 elections, not after them.

    The Pearce-Lewis race suggests that politics in the overwhelmingly Republican Mormon areas in the west will look more and more like the old Solid South–all the action will take place in the primaries of the dominant party. Which suggests a strategy for trying to move against the incumbents on the extremes.

    Pearce seems to have won re-election previously because there were a lot of “yellow-dog” Republicans in the district who wouldn’t have voted for a Democrat if he were the reincarnation of Abraham Lincoln. (And there are some legitimate reasonsfor doing that–if you want your party to maintain a legislative majority, you hold your nose and vote for the guy in your district even if you disagree with his tactics or his extreme positions.) When Pearce ran against a more moderate Republican this year, though, all those nose-holders were happy to vote for the moderate, since they weren’t risking turning the Senate over to the other party.

  15. john willis on November 10, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    I agree that calling Russell Pearce a Nazi is out of line. However he did associate with a lot of white supremeacist types and included links to their web sites on his own website.

    Pearce claimed he didn’t know what these guys views were and didn’t associate himself with their extreme views. But that is in the past and irelevant now that he has been recalled.

    In regards to mormons and politics in Arizona what may be most interesting is the republican match up in the primary for Jon Kyl’s senate seat between Jeff Flake and Wil Cardon. Both are from well known mormon familes. Cardon seems to be more of a tea party type and Flake has the backing of the republican establishment in Arizona.

    I live in Garbrielle Giffords congressional district. I wish there would of been a senate race between Flake and Giffords. We might of had a rational discussion of the issues, what a crazy idea.

    When Giffords made her first appearance on the house floor earlier this year to cast a vote Flake went up and gave her a big hug. He earned some points with me for doing that even if I won’t be voting for him if he wins the primary and runs for the Senate

  16. Mark Brown on November 10, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    Kent, I don’t want to continue to beat the nazi drum unnecessarily, but in the case of Pearce, there is something to it.

    In 2006, Pearce endorsed J. T. Ready, an avowed white supremacist and leader of the AZ nazi party. Ready returned the love, and if you have the stomach for it, you can google around on youtube and find footage of Pearce, an LDS high priest, allowing nazis to goosestep around at his rallies. It is simply a factual statement to say that Pearce aligned himself with the official American nazi party.

  17. Mark Brown on November 10, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    It is highly embarrassing that the two of the most visible Mormons in Arizona politics in recent history have included Governor Meacham, who later got himself impeached on corruption charges, and Pearce.

    When Meacham cancelled MLK day, a group from the NAACP went to his office. With TV cameras rolling, Meacham said “”You people” don’t need another holiday. What “you people” need to do is get a job”.

    Coming from a member of a church with our very recent history of racial-based policies, it was a an incredibly stupid thing to say.

    I have high hopes for Lewis, and wish him well.

  18. Matt S. on November 11, 2011 at 12:21 am

    Wil Carson and Jeff Flake are in the SAME WARD.

  19. Mark B. on November 11, 2011 at 5:05 am

    I think the operative word there is “was”–a Daily Beast article by McKay Coppins says that the Cardon family moved from Mesa to Gilbert, so they’re now in different wards. Still, it would be a bit awkward.

  20. Kent Larsen on November 11, 2011 at 8:17 am

    Matt S. that is fascinating. While I suppose it would be awkward, I’d think it would also be quite a check on the namecalling we often see in politics.

    But, the Cardon family was probably wise to move from the ward. I’m not sure that anyone could maintain any harmony in such a situation.

  21. Adam Greenwood on November 11, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    Pearce sponsored SB 1070, the harshest anti-illegal-immigration bill at that time. The recall election was, at least in part, backlash for Pearce’s support of that bill (and, perhaps, backlash for his ridiculous public claim that the LDS church supported the bill).

    Lewis has also said he supported SB 1070.

    The Pearce-Lewis race suggests that politics in the overwhelmingly Republican Mormon areas in the west will look more and more like the old Solid South–all the action will take place in the primaries of the dominant party. Which suggests a strategy for trying to move against the incumbents on the extremes.

    Pearce seems to have won re-election previously because there were a lot of “yellow-dog” Republicans in the district who wouldn’t have voted for a Democrat if he were the reincarnation of Abraham Lincoln. (And there are some legitimate reasonsfor doing that–if you want your party to maintain a legislative majority, you hold your nose and vote for the guy in your district even if you disagree with his tactics or his extreme positions.) When Pearce ran against a more moderate Republican this year, though, all those nose-holders were happy to vote for the moderate, since they weren’t risking turning the Senate over to the other party.

    You may well be right, but this recall was an open election where Democrats could vote also.

  22. Tim on November 11, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    Let’s look at what Lewis said:

    Lewis “called the law ‘a good start’ but then repeatedly said he wanted Arizona to take a broader and more civil approach, with more emphasis on pushing for federal action.” So it sounds like Lewis may support part or maybe even all of SB 1070, but only if it’s balanced with a “more civil approach.”

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/news/ap/politics/2011/Nov/09/impact_of_ariz__lawmaker_s_recall_election_debated.html

  23. Saguaro on November 14, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    There were many factors that lead to Pearce’s demise, not just his immigration stance.

    http://www.azcentral.com/news/election/azelections/articles/2011/11/09/20111109mesa-how-russell-pearce-lost-race.html

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