Arizona state senator Russell Pearce (R-18), the lawmaker who crafted the state’s controversial anti-immigration law, SB 1070, also known as the “Papers, please” law, was thrice denied a venue for a fundraiser scheduled for Thursday afternoon, June 14. According to the Arizona Capital Times, the former legislator asked two Mexican restaurants and a public school library to host the event, only to be told to please campaign somewhere else.
Pearce was carried into office on the tide of Tea Party fervor that dominated the 2010 elections. In January of 2011, he was sworn in and held that office for nearly a full eleven months before he lost a recall election in November of 2011 and was ousted from the Arizona State Senate. That hasn’t stopped him, however, from running again to win back his seat as the representative of Arizona’s District 18. The Mesa area is currently represented by Republican businessman Jerry Lewis, who won against Pearce in the recall.
The fundraising event was originally planned to be held at Macayo’s restaurant in Phoenix, but the plan was scuttled by activist Dee Dee Garcia Blase of Arizona’s Tequila Party, a conservative Latino group formed in reaction to the deportation-happy Tea Party. Garcia Blase organized a protest to be held outside the restaurant during the event and contacted Macayo’s corporate offices, which led the restaurant to cancel the event on Thursday morning.
By midday Thursday, Pearce’s campaign had emailed supporters announcing a second location, Oaxaca Restorante Y Cantina in downtown Phoenix. However, when Garcia Blase contacted Oaxaca’s management, the event was canceled within hours.
Oaxaca manager Joseph Aguayo told the Capital Times that Pearce’s campaign had booked the event under a false name. When Garcia Blase told him who the event was for, Aguayo barred the group from the restaurant. “We don’t need that,” he said, “We want to keep the support of our Latino community.”
Finally, Pearce attempted to gain access to the library of Phoenix’s Central High School, a request that was denied 30 minutes before Pearce’s guests and supporters were due to arrive. Phoenix Union High School District Superintendent Kent Scribner said that the event, with the added concerns of protesters and security, posed a logistical nightmare for school officials.
“Given the late notice of this request and the anticipated turnout, we are unable to host it,” Scribner said.
Late Thursday, Pearce issued an angrily worded statement decrying the situation and those people “who would like to stifle my candidacy.”
“Make no mistake,” he wrote, “I am undeterred by a few individuals who are motivated by hatred in lieu of discussing the issues.”
Eyebrows shot up throughout the Arizona political world even as Pearce announced the June 14 fundraising event last month. Not only did the invitation not include the intended location for the party, but, as AZcentral.com blogger Laurie Roberts noted, “invitations of this sort usually include a list of ‘hosts,’ basically community members and lobbyists who can raise money for the candidate’s campaign.” Pearce’s invitation displayed only the names of Pearce-loyal loegislators still working in the state house, which, Roberts said, conveyed a threat to lobbyists and other Arizona politicos.
In the words of one lobbyist, “What this list says is that it doesn’t matter if Russell wins or loses, we’re watching you.”
Garcia Blase told the Times that Pearce’s decision to try to hold a fund raiser at a Mexican restaurant was purely cynical, “They’re doing it to make a mockery of Latinos. It’s to make them appear Latino-friendly,” she said, “This would be like Hitler trying to dine at a Jewish restaurant when he’s trying to create this mass exodus or extermination of them.”
Pearce’s campaign spokesperson, lobbyist Gretchen Jacobs, insisted that the campaign had made the decision to move the event from the restaurant to a third venue, not the restaurant’s managers. Pearce chose to move it to a school, she said, because he is such a strong supporter of education and intends to make it a platform of his candidacy this year.
Oaxaca’s Aguayo laughed off the claim. “They can say what they want,” he said, “We’re not in it for the argument. This is so crazy.”
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