PHOENIX — Charter school executive Jerry Lewis was sworn in Tuesday as Arizona's newest state senator, replacing fellow Republican Russell Pearce after he became the first Arizona legislator to be recalled by voters.
Lewis took the oath of office a day after state officials approved election results showing Lewis collected 12,812 votes and Pearce 10,121 in the Nov. 8 recall election in a Mesa legislative district.
A third Republican, Olivia Cortes, received 277 votes though she had withdrawn her candidacy.
The loss not only cost Pearce his Senate seat but also forced a change in the state Senate's top leadership post. Majority Republicans, nearly all of whom backed Pearce in the recall contest, have chosen Prescott Republican Steve Pierce as the new Senate president.
Lewis was given the oath by Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch during a brief ceremony in the Senate chamber. About a third of the 30-member Senate and a handful of state representatives attended along with numerous Lewis family members.
Lewis later told reporters he's in a learning phase but thinks the Legislature needs to focus on improving the economy and education, not illegal immigration, a key issue for Pearce.
"We have to get people back to work," Lewis said. "The voters have spoken loud and clear."
Pearce is nationally known for championing legislation against illegal immigration, including the 2010 enforcement bill known as SB1070. Key provisions of the bill have been put on hold by a federal judge, but Gov. Jan Brewer is appealing that order to the U.S. Supreme Court.
As a candidate, Lewis said Arizona should take a more civil tone in addressing immigration issues and that the state needs to address its negative image held by some people because of Pearce-led efforts to crack down on illegal immigration.
Pearce has said he didn't know whether he'd run for office again but pledged to keep working on the immigration issue.
Lewis supporter Dea Montague said Pearce was perceived as a one-issue politician "and he moved beyond the comfort level and concerns of enough of the district that we no longer supported him."
Pre-election campaign finance reports indicated that Pearce led Lewis in fundraising by more than 3-1. However, most of Pearce's donations came from outside Mesa, while Lewis drew nearly all of his from inside the district.