PHOENIX, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - Maricopa County Treasurer Royce Flora stands firmly behind his controversial chief deputy, Russell Pearce, who appeared to advocate for political violence at a rally in Gilbert this month.
On Monday Flora rejected calls to fire Pearce, the former senate president and immigration hawk, who now makes $157,000 a year at the county.
"What Mr. Pearce says on his own time is up to him," said Flora, who hired Pearce to serve as his second in command.
The treasurer, who rarely speaks to the media, then accused the press of disrespecting Pearce's right to free speech.
"I know you don't want him to have First Amendment rights, but he still does. It doesn't concern our office," Flores said.
Last week, Pearce, who wrote one of the toughest immigration laws in the country in 2010, attended a right-wing gathering called, "Patriotism over Socialism."
After railing against politicians who go light on illegal immigration and state lawmakers for repealing a decades-old homophobic law this month, Pearce raised the specter of violence.
"It may take the shedding of blood to keep this Republic. And I, for one, am willing to do whatever it takes," Pearce said.
But Flora, a Republican who was elected to run the treasurer's office in 2016, dismissed accusations that Pearce advocated violence.
"He didn't incite violence. I know you guys want to spin it that way, but he still has First Amendment Rights and that's OK," Flora said.
Pearce's comments at the rally did not sit well with at least one member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
Although the five-member board has no power over personnel decisions at the Treasurer's office, Supervisor Steve Gallardo demanded Flora immediately fire Pearce.
"I would only hope that the treasurer takes care of Russell Pearce, and removes him from office. Let’s not have this type of person who does not reflect the values of Maricopa County make these off-the-wall comments that [are] inciting violence," Gallardo said last week.