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Author of tough Arizona immigration law loses recall election

By the CNN Wire Staff
November 9, 2011 -- Updated 0652 GMT (1452 HKT)
Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce is known for his tough stance against illegal immigration and a state law to prevent it.
Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce is known for his tough stance against illegal immigration and a state law to prevent it.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A petition drive forced the recall election for Russell Pearce
  • Jerry Lewis led with 53.4% of the vote with all precincts reporting
  • Pearce got 45.3% of the vote, election officials say
  • Pearce wrote Arizona's controversial immigration law

(CNN) -- The state senator who wrote Arizona's controversial immigration law conceded defeat Tuesday night in a recall election widely seen as a referendum on tough measures against illegal immigrants.

"I want to thank those people who have stood by me," said Russell Pearce, who represented a suburban Phoenix district. "It doesn't look like the numbers are going my direction ... and I'm OK with that."

The recall petition pitted him against fellow Republican Jerry Lewis, who led with 53.4% of the vote with all precincts reporting. Pearce got 45.3%, election officials said.

"If being recalled is the price for keeping my promises, then so be it," Pearce said surrounded by supporters.

The heated campaign has included accusations of dirty tricks, with Lewis supporters saying a third candidate who later dropped out but remains on the ballot -- Olivia Cortes -- was intended to siphon votes from him.

Pearce, a former Phoenix-area sheriff's deputy known for his tough stance against illegal immigration, sponsored the state immigration law that became the focus of national media and legal attention.

"With Sen. Russell Pearce's defeat in this recall election, everyone who practices the politics of fear and division was put on notice," said Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona.

"It's not a substantive platform, and his own constituents clearly said they demand more from their elected officials. It's a game-changer for the state of Arizona that's going to have serious, and I think very positive, ripple effects all across this country."

Passed in 2010, the Arizona law aimed to "discourage and deter the unlawful entry and presence of aliens and economic activity by persons unlawfully present in the United States."

Among other provisions, it would require that local police, during the enforcement of other laws, check the immigration status of anyone they suspected of being undocumented.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said the measure overstepped Arizona's authority, and the state is seeking a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to settle the issue.

Pearce contends dozens of other states are trying to pass similar legislation, showing the popular support and need for such measures.

Lewis, who says the controversial law has made Arizona a national pariah, said he ran out of dissatisfaction with how Pearce has represented the 18th District.

Lewis has called for what he characterizes as a more cooperative stance against illegal immigration, one that seeks solutions in concert with the federal government and other players.

The recall petition drive against Pearce collected more than 10,000 signatures.

CNN's Tom Cohen and Thelma Gutierrez contributed to this report.

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