PHOENIX - There seems to be only one topic of conversation at the Capitol right now: Is Russell Pearce already breaking the promise he made to win the contest for Senate president last week?
There seem to be differing opinions on what, exactly, Pearce vowed, which in turn colors the debate on whether he is going back on his word.
The biggest fear some Republican lawmakers had about a Pearce-led Senate was that he would use the powers of the office to push controversial anti-illegal-immigration measures through the Legislature in the upcoming term, rather than focus his efforts on legislation aimed at turning the state’s ailing economy around.
When Pearce held a press conference only two weeks before Election Day and announced he was working on a bill that would end the practice of birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants, it underscored the concerns of some senators and seemed to knock the immigration hawk out of contention for the presidency.
But then, in a last-ditch effort to secure the votes he needed, Pearce capitulated to the demands of some senators and pledged that the 14th Amendment legislation would be put off until 2012, while 2011 would be centered on jump-starting the Arizona economy by working on an economic stimulus package consisting of tax cuts and incentives to create jobs.
The move worked, and Pearce won over three senators and became president-elect last Wednesday.
Almost immediately, however, it became clear Pearce had no intention of ignoring the illegal immigration legislation he has built his career on.
He is now telling reporters that he never promised the 14th Amendment bills wouldn’t be heard, only that he wouldn’t sponsor it. Instead, Rep. John Kavanagh will take the lead on the measure when the legislative session begins in January, and Pearce says he will do everything in his power to make sure it passes.
That is causing angst among many Republicans in the Senate, including some who clearly took his pledge to heart.
"What he's committed to me was [the "anchor baby" legislation] wasn't going to be dealt with in the first session and that we're going to focus on the economy and jobs," Sen. Frank Antenori, a Tucson Republican, told one of my colleagues this week. "That was the deal. I'd hate to be disappointed by Russell if he gets behind an effort to push that bill through without doing the reforms we have to do on the economy and creating jobs."
Antenori and others fear that any attempt to deny citizenship to children of illegal immigrants will suck the air out of any effort to jump-start the economy. They’re probably right.
With all the attention already on Arizona because of SB1070, the rest of the nation has already trained its eyes on our state. As soon as Kavanagh’s bill is introduced, Arizona will once again be in national headlines and, if the bill advances in the Legislature, a tremendous amount of energy will be spent both pushing the bill and trying to kill it. That means less attention will be paid to a jobs bill.
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