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Issue: "Boston Terrorthon," May 4, 2013

But Pearce did not just throw money at the problem. He started volunteering at the center. Pearce would come to the center unannounced. Tellez would find the congressman on his knees measuring children’s feet before selecting the right fit among the center’s piles of donated shoes. Pearce talked to the children about school, never announcing his status as a congressman. “And these people were not voters,” Tellez said. “They are immigrants who don’t have two cents to rub together and are not here legally. He treated people who don’t even know English like they are the most important people on Earth.”

Pearce is comfortable with the poor Hispanics in his district because he grew up as poor as they are. His father worked in the New Mexico oil fields as a roustabout, spending decades toiling in maintenance and earning few promotions. The family of six children first owned a home with no indoor plumbing. At 9, Pearce began working on the small family farm where they grew vegetables to sell at a roadside stand.

When Pearce owned a small oilfield services company as an adult, he was more comfortable walking through the muck of a job site than sitting behind his desk. It’s a philosophy that is rooted in his Christian faith. “Jesus was out there talking to people,” Pearce said. “I think we have gotten away from real representation when we start running based on our ads on radio and television. There is something fundamentally flawed with that.”

A Southern Baptist who was baptized at age 10, Pearce’s faith grew through Bible studies and prayer groups he attended while serving as a pilot during the Vietnam War. In an 18-month combat tour in the early 1970s, Pearce logged in 518 hours of flying missions in Southeast Asia, sometimes landing with bullet holes in his C-130 transport plane.

Applying his faith today, Pearce helped start the Congressional Prayer Caucus on Capitol Hill and helped form a Hispanic youth group in Anthony, N.M. The youth group conducts trash pickup days, and Pearce is planning a financial literacy class: “What I want the kids to see is that help comes not in the form of dollars from Washington but from their desire to make the community better.”

Soto said Pearce has never tried to change his conservative views to get the Hispanic vote: “He’s the same man he’s always been.” Pearce talks about respecting the law when he explains to Hispanics why he doesn’t support giving broad amnesty to those in the country illegally. They should not be given an advantage over the people who stayed home and followed the law, he argues.

Pearce believes the border should be secured and the legal immigration process streamlined before lawmakers consider the status of immigrants already in the country illegally. Most of the illegal immigrants Pearce talks to admit they would have waited to come here legally if they could have received an answer to their formal request within a year.

“I love the infusion of new ideas and new energy that comes from people coming here hungry for their chance at success,” he said. “As Christians we should embrace immigration, but I also think there should be a process.”

Pearce said Republicans are “sadly mistaken” if they hope rushing to pass a complex, comprehensive immigration law will lead to more Hispanic support. “If we give up our fundamental values it is going to be a major catastrophe,” he said. “We will lose our core supporters, and we won’t win anybody either. We should be more about understanding who these people are that we represent by seeing them on their turf.” Mitt Romney’s reluctance to visit more Hispanic communities was a main failure of his campaign, according to Pearce. “I think he could have bumped up his performance by 10 points,” Pearce said.

Since opposing the reelection of John Boehner as House speaker, Pearce has been excluded from the internal debates of establishment Republicans. But individual members of Congress have asked Pearce to hold seminars for their offices about the secret behind his success with Hispanics. He tells them it should be less about what Washington wants to accomplish and more about helping others. “They say, ‘Well, it sounds like we just need to get out among the people.’ And I say, ‘That’s basically it.’ It’s pretty easy stuff.”

Last year Tellez, whose parents cast their first ever Republican votes when they supported Pearce, talked to some Hispanics about Republicans running for local office. “We are not voting for them because they are Republicans,” somebody in the group said.


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