Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce (R-Mesa), left, prepares to address… (Matt York / Associated Press )
Russell Pearce, the controversial president of the Arizona state Senate, conceded to Republican challenger Jerry Lewis late Tuesday in the first recall of a sitting lawmaker in state history.
Lewis had a 53% to 46% lead over Pearce, with all precincts reporting in their suburban Phoenix district. There were about 1,600 votes separating the two.
“It doesn’t look like the numbers are going in my direction on this, and I’m OK with that,” Pearce said during a televised speech in Mesa.
Lewis, an assistant superintendent of an Arizona charter school chain and a former accountant, entered the race after Citizens for a Better Arizona, led by Democratic labor organizer Randy Parraz, turned in about 17,000 signatures in May to recall Pearce, arguably the state's most powerful politician. More than 10,000 were validated by county election officials. The group needed at least 7,756 to qualify for the ballot.
Recall backers argued that Pearce's focus on illegal immigration — he wrote the state's controversial immigration law known as SB 1070 and a host of others — has distracted him from the needs of his district and damaged the image of the state.
"We pulled off a historic upset," Lewis said, according to the Associated Press. "We ran a clean and civil campaign."