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Russell Pearce, Ousted Arizona Immigration Law Architect, Elected To Republican Leadership Slot

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Russell Pearce, a controversial Arizona politician, is making a comeback as first vice chairman of the Arizona Republican Party.
Russell Pearce, a controversial Arizona politician, is making a comeback as first vice chairman of the Arizona Republican Party.

Russell Pearce, the Arizona state Senate president recalled by voters after writing the state's controversial immigration law, has made a political comeback in the upper levels of the state's Republican Party.

Over the weekend, Pearce was elected as the first vice chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, becoming the organization's No. 2 official. Pearce was elected to the post with 60 percent of the vote of those at the party meeting, the Arizona Daily Star reported.

Last November Pearce, a close ally of Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, became the first state legislator in Arizona history to be recalled from office when he lost a November recall election; voters ousted him from his Phoenix area Senate seat in favor of fellow Republican Jerry Lewis.

Republicans did not take the recall into account when electing Pearce to the party leadership position, party spokesman Shane Wikfors told the Daily Star.

"I will tell you that the two biggest generators of applause at today's meeting was Russell and Sheriff Joe (Arpaio)," Wikfors said. "You have to realize that the party faithful, they love these two guys."

The party's vote marks the second new career move for Pearce this month. Earlier in January, Pearce was appointed president of Bar Amnesty Now, a group that pushes immigration measures similar to the law Pearce wrote in Arizona.

Pearce became a lightening rod for controversy during his time in the state Senate, including his almost year-long term as the chamber's president in 2011. During his tenure as Senate president, he presided over passage of a variety of measures, including one to allow guns on college campuses. He also oversaw the passage of a measure to confirm Brewer's decision to fire the chairwoman of the state's independent redistricting commission following complaints from Arizona's congressional Republicans about a draft map. Brewer vetoed the campus gun measure and the state Supreme Court reinstated the redistricting chairwoman. The immigration law is now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Pearce has had a history of comebacks during his four-decade career in politics and government. He had served as Arpaio's chief deputy in the Maricopa County sheriff's office in the early 1990s. During his more than two-decade tenure in the sheriff's office, he worked with Arpaio in creating the tent-city jail concept, which has become a hallmark of Arpaio's tenure while being criticized by prisoner advocates. Pearce left the sheriff's office following disagreements with Arpaio.

He then moved into a post heading the state's Department of Motor Vehicles under former Gov. Fife Symingston, also a Republican. Symington's Republican successor, Gov. Jane Dee Hull, dismissed Pearce from the DMV post in 1999 following allegations that Pearce and aides altered state records to allow a woman accused of drunken driving to keep her driver's license. (An investigation by the state attorney general's office resulted in a finding that the case was a personnel rather than a criminal issue, according to the Arizona Republic's website.)

Pearce was elected to the state House of Representatives a year later, where he served until his 2008 election to the Senate.

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