Russell Pearce endorsed by potential phantom group

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Sen. Russell Pearce By Catherine Holland Sen. Russell Pearce By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- The simplest way to put it is this: former Senate President Russell Pearce is having a bad week.

Over the past couple of days Pearce has taken a beating in the press for everything from spelling errors to his comments on the Colorado killings.

And now he might have to explain how he got the endorsement of a group that doesn't appear to exist.

The Arizona Teacher's Association (sic) has apparently thrown its support behind the Pearce campaign.

But information on the group has been impossible to come by. It isn't registered with the state and longtime education officials said they've never heard of it.

One of those officials is Sam Politio, who has lobbied on education issues at the state Capitol for nearly 30 years.

He said he has no idea what the group is, but fears it’s a political ploy by Pearce to win votes in next month's primary election.

"It's deplorable to give the impression that the state's 100,000 teachers are supporting him," Polito said in a telephone interview.

He added that he thinks this is a “bogus” group set up by Pearce and his political cronies. "If I'm wrong, I'll apologize to him."

Politio is a supporter of Pearce's Republican primary opponent Bob Worsley. The two candidates are fighting for the GOP nomination in the state's 25th Legislative District.

It's not a surprise that Politio and other supporters of public education would fight tooth-and-nail to stop Pearce from returning to the Capitol.

During his political career, Pearce fought for and won deep cuts to education programs. He also opposed a temporary one-cent sales tax increase to support public schools.

Neither Pearce nor his campaign manager, Constantine Querard, returned calls seeking information on the organization and the endorsement.

The group doesn't turn up in any searchable statewide databases like the Arizona Corporation Commission or the Secretary of State's office.

Most organizations, like the well-known Arizona Education Association, have to register on these sites.

It doesn't appear that this is a political organization, either. A search of local and national campaign finance websites like the Federal Election Commission and the Center for Responsive Politics turned up nothing.

Representatives with Worsley's campaign said they're not surprised and accused the former state lawmaker of using deceptive tactics throughout the entire campaign.

"It's not shocking that Mr. Pearce might be fabricating endorsements from what appears to be a phantom teachers organization," said Ryan Anderson, the campaign manager for Worsley.

Pearce's rough week started Monday when he apologized for remarks he posted about the Colorado shootings on his Facebook page.

In his original post he said lives were lost because no one in the movie theater stopped the shooter, who killed 12 and injured dozens more.

After several attempts to explain the comments that many took as a criticism of the victims, Pearce wrote, "there comes a time when explaining stops making sense and you are better off simply apologizing."

Then on Wednesday, his campaign became the butt of grammar jokes when his campaign signs bragged about getting an award for, "Eduction."