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The Republican Speaker of the state Legislature is getting heat for reappointing Russell Pearce to chair the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

Hispanics, Democrats and religious leaders are criticizing House Speaker Jim Weiers, asking him to appoint someone who wouldn’t be as “heavy-handed” and “racially biased” as Pearce.

Phil Austin, a Republican attorney from Mesa, says Pearce’s divisive statements during his re-election campaign worry some in the Latino community.

“It’s one of the most powerful committees in the Legislature. It decides funding for state agencies that provide services to the Hispanic community,” Austin said at a press conference at the Capitol in December. These agencies include the Department of Economic Security and the Department of Education.

“Our concern is that Legislator Pearce, with his statements and his record regarding the undocumented and the Hispanic community, raises concern when he’s the head of that committee.”

Pearce was criticized for calling for the reinstatement of a 1950s era immigration program, “Operation Wetback.”

Pearce won re-election in his heavily GOP Mesa district, although other anti-immigrant hardliners like J.D. Hayworth and Randy Graf lost their elections.

Barrett Marson, a spokesman for Weiers and House Republicans, says Pearce has worked with a number of lawmakers and the governor on key budget issues as appropriations chairman in the past, and could be fair.

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