State Senate Recall Election: The Candidates, Jerry Lewis

More from this show

Arizona’s first-ever recall election for a state legislator takes place Tuesday, November 8th. Senate President Russell Pearce talks about why he should keep his office, and challenger Jerry Lewis explains why he thinks the voters of Mesa’s Legislative District 18 should select him as their new state senator.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. Arizona's historic first-ever recall election for a state legislator is one week away. On November 8th voters of Mesa's legislative district 18 will decide if they want to keep Senate President Russell Pearce in office or if they want to replace him with challenger Jerry Lewis. I spoke with both candidates last week. Tonight we bring you those interviews, starting with Jerry Lewis. Thank you for joining us tonight on "Horizon."

Jerry Lewis: Thank you for having me.

Ted Simons: Why are you running? Why are you doing this?

Jerry Lewis: I'm doing this because some great people who I have known for 30 years asked me to enter this race, a race that I had thought about for about five years as I've watched what's happened to the image of Mesa, the image of Arizona, and I felt something needed to be done to change the tone in the political scene and bring back a fresh voice to Mesa. I thought about it for five years, but never seriously, I didn't want to be a politician. But we felt that we needed to do so.

Ted Simons: Was there one incident that pushed you to run?

Jerry Lewis: I think no incidents in general, but it's just like I say, three or four years of just seeing the same thing, and seeing our economy continuing to tumble, seeing the lack of representation that the voters wanted. Sitting on the sidelines saying, "Someone's got to do something, someone's got to stand up and run" And when my schedule freed up a little bit that became me.

Ted Simons: Talk about the lack of representation that the voters wanted. Give us an example of something Senator Pearce has done that the voters you think didn't necessarily want being done.

Jerry Lewis: I think the ignoring of the other key issues, education and the economy, while focusing on other immigration issues, and other things totally outside the realm of Arizona and the city of Mesa. People saw that and said, "Hey, we're still here, we're the ones who put you in office. So we'd like you to pay attention to what our concerns and our needs are."

Ted Simons: And you thought that reached a level that deserved basically a do-over on the Russell Pearce election?

Jerry Lewis: In terms of the recall or the election itself?

Ted Simons: Well, basically it's a do-over as far as Russell Pearce is concerned. He was voted in and you're saying this has reached a point to where we need to vote on this again?

Jerry Lewis: Yes, I believe, along with many other citizens of Mesa that we need to have better representation, a more civil tone brought back in the state and in our city.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about a variety of issues. Let's start with SB 1070 that's a major issue as far as your opponent is concerned and something major as far as the race is concerned. You initially said you thought SB 1070 was a good start in terms of immigration and enforcement. Do you still feel that way?

Jerry Lewis: I meant by that comment, it is a piece of the overall picture that has to be addressed. We can solve the issue in a way where we can all be happy with and proud of. There's a lot more than just the rule of law, which is vitally important to this discussion. We have to consider national security, and what our current existing immigration laws do to splitting up families. We have to look at the economic impact, schools, and our welfare systems. Most of all, we have to look at the federal government's role in there, and we can't let the federal government be advocated from their responsibility. I believe we have an issue of securing the border we have to address. We have 12.5 million people in this country that are undocumented. We have to find a way to do so. I believe there are great solutions out there. We just need to create an environment where those solutions can be debated in a civil tone and implemented.

Ted Simons: Would you have voted for SB 1070?

Jerry Lewis: That's a hypothetical question. I wasn't there, so it would be hard foe me to answer that. If I were a part of that, I would have been looking for a complete solution rather than just one aspect of it. And I would have spent a lot more time, I think, trying to figure out ways to get the federal government to perform their duties.

Ted Simons: Your opponent has pushed for proof of citizenship in order to be able to vote. Pushing for identification for public benefits. A variety of immigration orientated goals and plans and laws, and he's pushed many of these through the legislature. Again, is that something that is wrong? Is that malfeasance? Why should he be voted on again after doing these particular things?

Jerry Lewis: It's not malfeasance, however, I think it's focusing on those issues while other issues that are very important to Mesa voters are left to dwindle. I think people were tired of it. People want a change. I've not met anybody that doesn't want to secure the border or doesn't want to have a real reform package in immigration that will work. The problem is that the environment that exists today, if you come up with any sense I believe or reasonable solution, you're called a traitor or an open-border radical. That's not the case. People want reform but they want reform that will work, that will not be debated in the courts for the next five or 10 years.

Ted Simons: You said in the debate Arizona was akin to 1964 Alabama. What do you mean by that?

Jerry Lewis: Okay, what I said was people outside of Arizona look at us if we are akin to 1964 Alabama. I did not say that myself.

Ted Simons: Sure, but what did you mean by that?

Jerry Lewis: What I meant, from the people I've spoken to in and out of state, in and out of the country, they are looking at us and saying, "Wow, you guys are really mean people you're really tough on those people from the outside, you look kind of like Alabama did in the 1960s." Thankfully Alabama has changed a great deal. No disparagement on Alabama or my city or my state. I love Mesa, I love Arizona. I'm just saying people outside don't see us as we see ourselves or as we truly are. I'm very proud to be a Mesa resident and a resident of this great state.

Ted Simons: Your opponent says he promised and delivered a truly balanced budget. He led the way on this and he says it is truly balanced. Some disagree on the truly part. He says he did it. Do you agree with him?

Jerry Lewis: Actually okay. Did the debits equal the credits? I suppose they do. With my accounting background, I can say he has. The idea of no gimmicks, when you have to sell your capitol and lease it back, is that a gimmick? Maybe it is. If you have to push all of those unfunded mandates onto the cities and counties, is that a gimmick? Okay. I think we have to look at the whole state. Is the whole state in a balanced budget? We need to look at the whole state and make sure that we're all understanding what the balanced budget really means.

Ted Simons: So again, I'll ask you again in a different form. Would you have voted for those budget first you were in the legislature?

Jerry Lewis: I would like to think we could have gone to the educational institutions, who we had to cut. Everybody understands, no one's wanting a free lunch here. I would like to have thought we would have consulted with the larger school districts and other charter organizations to say, "Hey, we've got to cut you, where would be the least painful for you?" Rather than saying we're going cut you here, cut you there. I've talked with school officials and city officials. That's all they want, they want to be listened to and understood. Business people the same. They want to know their voice counts and that when they tell you something, they are not just saying it for some kind of a political favor over whatever. They really mean what they say and they want a voice in the political process.

Ted Simons: As far as cuts to the medical program, again, pushed to the legislature, signed by the governor. Your opponent a major factor in these laws and in this legislation. How do you feel bit?

Jerry Lewis: We have to look at all revenue and expenses and determine what extent do we want to be involved in, as a government, what role should government play in any aspect that we're currently funding? We have to then prioritize those particular items that we deem appropriate for government to be involved with. And if education and Medicare are those items we feel are the most important, and that's what the voters agree with, okay, we need to figure out ways to implement that which is affordable. We can't continue to go into debt to fund programs that we can't afford.

Ted Simons: The mayor of Mesa is very outspoken on the legislature meddling in Municipal affairs. Again, your opponent has helped push through legislation that does just that, according to a lot of municipal leaders. How do you feel about the state telling cities, like on impact fees, for example, and other aspects of municipal life and governance. What do you feel about the state pushing its will in that direction?

Jerry Lewis: I just had a meeting with one of the city councilmen this morning. You know and it's interesting. He said, "You're the first person from the state to come and ask me what can we do as a state to help you as a city." He says, "What a novel idea." I've done that with several other businesses leaders and council leaders and education leaders, as well. All they are asking is, I think, is, "Can we have a voice? Would you please listen to us and discuss with us first." With my experience and leadership in accounting, education, business background, you have got to listen to people and take what they say to heart and act thereon.

Ted Simons: Your opponent has passed jobs bills, he's passed pro-life bills, gun laws, parental choice in education. On any of those issues do you differ from him significantly?

Jerry Lewis: No, no.

Ted Simons: If you don't, are you different from Russell Pearce simply because you're not Russell Pearce?

Jerry Lewis: No. That would be an easy assumption to make and that's certainly not the case. I believe with my experience in the real world, business, education, accounting, and leadership experience, I bring a tone of leadership that really wants to solve problems. I don't care who gets the credit for it. I really believe that we need to focus on what the voters want. Okay, and listen to what they have to say. They are the ones that put us in office. They expect us to legislate in their behalf and their best interests in this great republic that we have. What I bring is someone that will listen and has listened to employees, to people on various sides of issues, to solve problems, tough problems that you just can't sound bite away. You have to dig into the details to fully understand it and make sure approximate people are represented by that discussion.

Ted Simons: People in Mesa want to know whoever is representing them has enough where with all, power, whatever you want to talk about, he is the president of the senate, he has a lot of power at the legislature. Some call him the de facto governor, if you will. Why should Mesa voters decide you would be better in that position, at least representing them, than him?

Jerry Lewis: Several reasons. There's a lot more support at the capitol than I think people are aware of. A lot of people are silently supporting in very, very many ways through emails through talking with friends. I've spoken with a lot of legislators who are definitely supporting me. They say, "Don't worry you hear that from some of the people, that's not the case. You will fit in here and you're not going to be a pariah" as I've been called in the Republican Party."You will fit in here, and we will be able to work together to move forward on those issues which are important to Mesa and Arizona at this time."

Ted Simons: Last question: Your critics say you're being used by the open border and amnesty crowds, by Democrats, by union proponents, all sorts of folks that are not necessarily from Mesa, not necessarily from your district. You're being used to get at Russell Pearce. How do you respond?

Jerry Lewis: Absolutely not true. It's interesting. Look at my support in this election, 68% of it has come right from Mesa. We already filed our support, we filed our candidate's report the day after it was due. People that support me are from Mesa. I've never met Randy Perez, I don't plan on that. I've never met Chaz, no I don't plan on it. I'm nobody's puppet. I've been accused of a lot of these things. I ran because it is something that I felt deeply for some time. Good people asked me to run. I considered it, prayed a lot about it and made a decision and here I am.

Ted Simons: All right. Good to have you on the show. Thank you for joining us we appreciate it.

Jerry Lewis: Thank you very much.

Jerry Lewis:State Senate Recall Candidate;

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 26

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

Rachel Khong
May 29

Join us for PBS Books Readers Club!

Super Why characters

Join a Super Why Reading Camp to play, learn and grow

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: