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Press secretary for Rep. Pearce quits

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WASHINGTON – A new press secretary for Rep. Steve Pearce resigned Friday, three days after the announcement of her hiring sparked an uproar about her previous role as a blogger for the controversial PolitixFireball website.

In a statement, Pearce, R-N.M., suggested that Rebekah Stevens’ online past, which included making inflammatory remarks about Jews, Muslims, Democrats and others, had become a distraction that could hinder his effectiveness in office.

PEARCE: Said hiring had become a distraction

PEARCE: Said hiring had become a distraction

“When I hired Miss Stevens, I hoped she could transition from activist to become an asset to the people of New Mexico,” Pearce said Friday. “It is now clear that major obstacles will prevent this. I asked for and accepted her resignation this morning. I hold myself and my staff to the highest level of accountability, and any distractions that hinder my service to New Mexicans must always be addressed.”

Todd Willens, Pearce’s chief of staff, told the Journal on Friday that the congressman wasn’t fully aware of the extent of Stevens’ social media past, which included blogging, as well as posts to Twitter and Facebook. But he also stressed that Stevens did not hide anything during her interview process.

“I didn’t vet it as properly as I needed to,” Willens said. “I certainly have learned from this.”

Willens also said after Stevens’ hiring was announced, Pearce learned she had been sent a cease-and-desist letter by Anissa Ford, who served as a personal assistant to Gov. Susana Martinez during the 2010 campaign. The potential for litigation involving a staffer was yet another distraction the congressman wasn’t willing to endure, Willens said.

Ford’s attorney, Todd Wertheim of Albuquerque, confirmed the letter on Friday.

“She (Stevens) had made some statements about Anissa on PolitixFireball that were defamatory in our view,” Wertheim said, adding that Stevens had not responded to the letter as of Friday.

Stevens did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment.

The PolitixFireball blog and related social media accounts were focused on conservative issues and are well-known in New Mexico for confronting Democrats, journalists and others in sometimes inflammatory ways. PolitixFireball’s Twitter account boasted more than 40,000 followers.

Pearce, asked about controversial comments on PolitixFireball in a Journal interview earlier this week, disavowed them.

“They are not things I would have said,” Pearce said. “She’s very aware she doesn’t speak for herself anymore. … She’s working in a bigger system, and we all work together here.”

Roxanne “Rocky” Lara, a Carlsbad Democrat who is challenging Pearce in the November general election, sent out a fundraising letter Thursday that drew attention to Pearce’s decision to hire Stevens.

But it wasn’t only Democrats who had a problem with the hire, Willens said. Some New Mexico Republicans also were critical of the decision to give Stevens a communications role, which was another factor in Pearce’s requesting her resignation.

“We need our friends,” Willens said.

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