By Brent Ellsworth
In an article ominously, but I’m sure inaccurately, titled, “Senator Russell Pearce: Final Remarks,” posted November 10 on a local political blog, Senator Pearce provided his explanation of why he was soundly defeated two days earlier by his Republican challenger, Jerry Lewis.
Among other things, the Senator confidently stated: “Pretty much all political observers acknowledge that I would have not lost the race in a normal election. . . In a recall election, there is no primary. . . In a normal election, he [Lewis] would have had no chance [against me] in the primary . . .”
Senator Pearce is still trying to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the recent special election because he is annoyed that every registered voter was eligible to vote. In a closed Republican primary, where all prior Pearce victories have been determined, only Republican voters are allowed to vote.
This is a classic example of “Denial,” the first of several predictable steps grief counselors tell us are common in the grieving process after a severe personal loss.
There are a couple of ways you can tell Russell Pearce is stuck in the Denial phase.
Pearce’s claim regarding a hypothetical primary election is contrary to the hard data. A recent independent poll and the double-digit margin of victory by Jerry Lewis raise doubts that a victory by Senator Pearce in a primary election would be a slam dunk. An ABC15 / Arizona Capitol Times poll taken just prior to the election showed that among Republican voters in LD 18, Jerry Lewis had a slight advantage over Senator Pearce. Combine that with the embarrassingly small amount of money raised by Pearce from within his own district, and it doesn’t take a Carville or a Rove to conclude that Senator Pearce may overestimate his current level of support among Republican voters in LD 18.
The conduct of Senator Pearce since the election has been disappointingly unpatriotic and boorish. Our society rightfully expects a minimum standard of decorum and respect for the political process from those who lose elections. Granted, this is unfamiliar territory for Pearce, who is not experienced in the awkward etiquette of political defeat, including the obligatory phone call to congratulate the victor and the graceful but painful concession speech.
We all watched Senator Pearce give his defiant “non-concession” concession speech on election night after the outcome was certain. The press was so confused by the speech they had to ask Pearce’s media spokesman, former TV meteorologist, Ed Phillips, if Pearce’s remarks were, in fact, a concession. Having placed his wet finger to the wind, the dutiful Phillips covered for his boss, and explained that no matter how the speech sounded, it was intended to be a concession speech, and they should take it as such. In other words, “This is as much of a concession as you’re going to get from the Senator, who is not real happy right now.”
Compare the concession speech of Senator Pearce with that of Al Gore in 2000, who arguably had much more reason to be bitter in defeat than does Senator Pearce.
Here are a few quotes from Mr. Gore, whose comments transcend political party and ideology: “Just moments ago, I spoke with George W. Bush and congratulated him on becoming the 43rd president of the United States. . . Tonight, for the sake of our unity of the people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession. . . History gives us many examples of contests as hotly debated, as fiercely fought . . . Each time, both the victor and the vanquished have accepted the result peacefully and in the spirit of reconciliation. So let it be with us. I know that many of my supporters are disappointed. I am too. But our disappointment must be overcome by our love of country. . . While we yet hold and do not yield our opposing beliefs, there is a higher duty than the one we owe to political party. This is America and we put country before party. We will stand together behind our new president.”
Somewhere along his political path, Senator Pearce lost his vision of the “higher duty” described by Mr. Gore. Pearce wasted a golden opportunity on November 8th to recapture that vision and behave like a true statesman by gracefully congratulating Senator Lewis, accepting the clear voice of the voters of his district, and calling on his “Patriots for Pearce” to join him in moving forward in a spirit of reconciliation and healing, rather than one of continuing rancor and division.
Once Senator Pearce gets through this first step of Denial, perhaps he will allow others to help him navigate the remaining four stages of grief, which are: Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and, finally, Acceptance.
Brent Ellsworth, a Mesa attorney, resides in Legislative District 18.