Jerry Pollock, Cesar Chavez, and the Recall Election Which Never Came

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By Barry Kirschner

Long time political activist and Phoenix lawyer Gerry Pollock died July 29, 2019 at age 87. Pollock was a man of conviction, willing to challenge the establishment in spite of long odds. He is most well known for being a candidate for Governor of Arizona in a petitioned for recall of Jack Williams beginning in 1972.

Pollock was asked to make the race by United Farm Workers leader Cesar Chavez after Arizona’s legislature passed the Agricultural Employment Relations Act in 1972, signed in an insulting manner by Williams who ignored Chavez’ request to discuss the bill with him before signing it into law. The anti-labor law inspired Chavez to begin what would be a 24 day fast which helped mobilize the Hispanic and progressive political community into action which included gathering 176,152 signatures on recall petitions, and registering what is believed to be well over 10,000 new voters. The recall theme was Si se puede (Yes we can).

Pollock’s campaign also called for Arizona to join the national Medicaid program. He estimated that Arizona was passing up $20-50 million in federal dollars to help provide medical assistance to the poor while being the only state in the nation not to join the program. Pollock was an advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment, a strong ally of environmentalists, labor, and in general the financial underdog. He was the walking candidate, walking into communities in each what was then Arizona’s 14 counties.

The recall petitions were submitted  March 26, 1973 with more than enough valid signatures to force what would have been the second recall election of a state governor in United States history. But the Republican establishment, with the aid of (Democrat) Secretary of State Wesley Bolin delayed the counting of the petition signatures for many months. After learning that there were a sufficient number, Republican Attorney General Gary Nelson declared July 27, 1973 (without legal authority) that petitions passed by a deputy registrars would not be counted, disqualifying enough signatures to halt a recall election from going forward.

Eventually Nelson’s decision was declared wrong by a federal court in Pena v. Nelson, 400 F. Supp 493 (D. Ariz. 1075). By that time, the next general election  had already occurred and Williams was out of office.  The election which had been petitioned for was never held. In 1974 Arizona Democrats nominated Raul Castro, who successfully ran and became Arizona’s first (and only) Hispanic governor. Castro had opposed the recall election, but benefited from the voter registration and renewed political interest infused into the state with the help of Cesar Chavez and the farm worker movement.

Pollock was a longtime trial lawyer who championed many progressive causes. Among his successful outcomes was keeping a nuclear safeguards petition on the Arizona ballot in 1976, a time when Arizona Public Service was about to build the Palo Verde nuclear plant in the Harquahala Valley near Buckeye, Arizona. Pollock was co-counsel with Mike McCrory and Shery Teachnor representing the United Steelworkers and associated unions against Phelps Dodge and the Pima County Sheriff’s Office for civil rights violations arising out of the 1983 mining strike. That case resulted, long after the strike, in a monetary settlement from Phelps Didge and a jury verdict against Pima County.

Jerry Pollock was the guy willing to advocate to advance a cause which would be unlikely to advance himself, but would move the community in a better direction. The recall committee was called Citizens For a Better Arizona. Pollock’s willingness to fight the powerful foe against overwhelming odds was eulogized at a celebration of his life August 4 by former Arizona Democratic Party Chair Herb Ely, former Corporation Commissioner Renz  Jennings, widow Jo Ellen Pollock and many family members. Jerry Pollock, R.I.P.