SALT LAKE CITY — The outcome of Tuesday's historic recall election in Arizona should help embolden conservative Republicans who champion pragmatic solutions to the nation's immigration problems, says Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
Shurtleff, taking part in a telephone press conference Thursday hosted by the National Immigration Forum, said the recall of Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce should "give courage and support to those speaking up and being challenged by members of the far right wing of the party."
Shurtleff, a Republican, is Utah's longest serving attorney general.
Jerry Lewis, who defeated Pearce in the recall election, said the outcome validated a public opinion poll that said 78 percent of Arizonans are "looking for real solutions. They want something done to solve the problem once and for all and not just focus on law enforcement only."
Pearce, president of the Arizona Senate, was the chief architect behind Arizona's tough enforcement law, SB1070. Lewis noted the Utah Compact had had a "tremendous impact" on events the state of Arizona.
Friday marks the one-year anniversary of signing of the compact, which outlined five principles to guide Utah's immigration debate in the 2011 legislative session. The compact acknowledges that immigration is primarily a federal responsibility but policymaking should take into consideration families, the economy, requirements of a free society and the role of law enforcement.
Paul Bridges, the Republican mayor of Uvalda, Ga., and a vocal critic of Georgia's so-called "papers please" enforcement measure, HB87, heralded Lewis' victory over Pearce.
"I'm hopeful this recall is the turning point for us conservative Republicans," he said Thursday.
Meanwhile, former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said he hopes that the nation will "take another look at Arizona" following Tuesday's recall election. The state's immigration debate and passage of SB1070 resulted in Arizona being painted as a "backwater of racial extremism."
"That's not our history. That's not our tradition. It's a much different place," Goddard said.
Moving forward, a number of participants of the press conference said they hope that the Arizona recall election and the first anniversary of the Utah Compact, which has been replicated in varying degrees in Arizona and Indiana, will encourage thoughtful dialogue on the state and federal levels.
Jason Mathis, executive vice president of the Salt Lake City Chamber, said Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, both R-Utah, are each working on legislation to refine specific aspects of the nation's immigration laws.
"(They've) picked up the ball and started to run with it," Mathis said. "We clearly have their attention and they're looking for solutions."
Shurtleff said Utahns, too, can expect in the upcoming legislative session to see some amendments to the package of immigration bills Gov. Gary Herbert signed into law in March. Shurtleff said he hopes the events of the past week will foster civil debate on the issues, noting that "the right thing to do is sometimes not what they (lawmakers) thought was the political thing to do."
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company