Comments from an Arizona Republican Party official, Russell Pearce — best known for his role in passing the state’s hard-line immigration law — that women on public assistance should be forced to go on birth control caused a backlash in the state.
The remarks by Russell Pearce, a former state senator and first vice chairman of the state party, were quickly condemned by Republican candidates for Congress, governor, attorney general and secretary of state.
Pearce made the remarks Sept. 6 on his radio program: “You put me in charge of Medicaid, the first thing I’d do is get a woman Norplant, birth-control implants or tubal ligations. Then, we’ll test recipients for drugs and alcohol and nicotine. If you want to (reproduce) or use drugs or alcohol, then get a job,” he said.
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Political analysts said Republicans’ rapid response signaled concern that opponents could use the issue to score points with voters in the weeks before the general election and fear Democrats in Arizona could claim the party is waging a “war on women” as they have elsewhere.
In a statement issued by the Republican Party late Sunday, Pearce said he would step down as the party’s vice chairman because he did not want his remarks to overshadow GOP candidates’ campaigns. Pearce added that the controversial comments were “written by someone else” and that he had “failed to attribute them to the author.” He blamed the media for using his remarks to “hurt our Republican candidates.”
Pearce served as Arizona Senate president before he was removed in a recall election in 2011. He remains an influential figure among conservative Republicans.
You put me in charge of Medicaid, the first thing I’d do is get a woman Norplant, birth-control implants or tubal ligations.
Former Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce, on his radio show
GOP political consultant Stan Barnes said Republicans moved quickly to address the controversy because Pearce’s remarks could lead some to believe Republicans are “anti-women.”
“No candidate, no party wants to be associated with extremism politics a few weeks before general elections day,” said Barnes. “It’s one thing to be controversial on immigration or on the proper role of government, or any other item that Russell Pearce has been controversial on. But it feels scary to the average voter to hear discussions of support for sterilization in exchange for government services.”
The remarks were first reported by Phoenix New Times columnist Stephen Lemons.
The Republican Party announced Pearce’s resignation late Sunday night — hours after GOP candidates expressed their displeasure.
Michele Reagan, who is running for secretary of state, called for Pearce to resign via Twitter: “The obnoxious comments made by Russell Pearce were both disgusting and offensive. Let it be known, he is NOT the voice of my GOP. #Resign!”
A day earlier, Arizona Democratic Party Executive Director DJ Quinlan had highlighted Pearce’s comments in a news release, saying the “silence” of GOP leaders “indicates that they have made a cynical calculation that Russell Pearce and his brand of politics appeals to the most extreme elements of their electoral base.”
Democrats seized on Pearce’s remarks to raise money, and Maricopa County supervisor candidate Steve Gallardo demanded that Pearce resign or be fired from his position at the Maricopa County Treasurer’s office.
Pearce began his job with the treasurer Aug. 4, a county spokeswoman said. He is paid $41 an hour.
Pearce’s remarks appear to trace back to a letter published in the Nov. 18, 2010, opinion section of the Waco Tribune-Herald. That letter was submitted by Alfred W. Evans of Gatesville, Texas. The letter read, in part: “Put me in charge of food stamps. I’d get rid of Lone Star cards; no cash for Ding Dongs or Ho Ho’s, just money for 50-pound bags of rice and beans, blocks of cheese and all the powdered milk you can haul away. If you want steak and frozen pizza, then get a job.
“Put me in charge of Medicaid. The first thing I’d do is to get women Norplant birth-control implants or tubal ligations. Then, we’ll test recipients for drugs, alcohol and nicotine and document all tattoos and piercings. If you want to reproduce or use drugs, alcohol, smoke or get tats and piercings, then get a job.”
Pearce issued his resignation to party Chairman Robert Graham. Pearce wrote “that hosting a radio show and the nature of the debates that we have had and will continue to have are incompatible with what our Party needs from its leadership team.”
Graham declined to comment.