"At the end of the day, it didn't fare well for the state, for economic development," says current Mesa Council member David Luna. "And when the governor signed that bill, she certainly created an environment that said, 'You're not welcome here if you're different.' "
Then, several events collided to check Pearce's upward trajectory. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon church), of which Pearce is a member and which has a large representation in Mesa, came out in support of a softer stance on immigration. At the same time, the national spotlight on Pearce and his law fed a local backlash.
"People banded together, Democrats and Republicans, and said, 'Enough is enough. Russell Pearce is not the face of Mesa,' " Kavanaugh says.
In May 2011, a nonprofit organization submitted about 17,000 signatures and recalled Pearce. His opponent in the recall election was political first-timer Jerry Lewis, who was a Republican and a Mormon, like Pearce. The recall election was a mess, with Pearce's supporters accusing Lewis, who was superintendent of a charter school chain, of stealing backpacks from homeless children, and Pearce dealing with disclosures that he had accepted multiple free out-of-state trips from Fiesta Bowl organizers. Pearce supporters also drafted a "sham candidate," a Latino woman who was intended to siphon votes from Lewis.
Pearce lost the election and became the first Arizona politician ever to be recalled. He ran again the next year in a retooled legislative district against another political newbie, Bob Worsley, founder of SkyMall magazine. Worsley was another Republican moderate, a Mormon who served a mission in South America, where he learned Spanish.
In June 2012, the Supreme Court struck down most of S.B. 1070. Two months later Pearce lost to Worsley in the Republican Senate primary election. And in 2014, voters proved the outcome was more than just displeasure with Pearce when Worsley beat another far-right conservative Republican.
Moderatism and a conciliatory approach to immigration seemed to have won out in Mesa.
"We just became a majority-minority school system," Worsley says. "And those kids are going to graduate, and they will become the majority of this town. The future belongs the them, and I'm trying to be one of the gringos who sees this demographic shift and teaches them to register to vote, teaches them how to be successful in industry."
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This is the future of Phoenix—and also its dilemma. For years, the immigration debate largely sucked up all the political air in the room. Now the future Latino majority may be unprepared to take over.
The Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University recently released a report outlining the education gap among Latino youth. It noted that Latino students score lower than their white counterparts in all areas on the SAT. It also found that Latino students are scoring lower today on AP exams than they were a decade ago.