The Legend of Bill Pierce: Arizona's newest political outsider

The candidate for state mine inspector is drawing ASU students to politics

What started off as a joke could go down as the most remembered election for Arizona State Mine Inspector in history. 

William "Bill" Pierce, a 70-year-old retired engineer, was browsing Facebook when he decided to run for the office.

"Well it started off as a joke," Pierce said. "One of my friends, Joe Downs, said that if a Democrat ran for Arizona State Mine Inspector there would be a Democrat in every spot on the ballot." 

Pierce asked his partner, Mary ann, and the next day he filed the paperwork.

Arizona is the only state in the country that elects its mine inspector, who is responsible for enforcing federal and state safety laws ensuring Mine Safety Health Administration compliance and inspecting the state’s active and inactive mines. 

Arizona State Mine Inspector Candidate William "Bill" Pierce poses for a photo at the Goldfield Mine outside Apache Junction in September, 2018.

Pierce's resume is lengthy, with a wide variety of certifications and training ranging from a Occupational Safety and Health certification, to a Mining Safety and Health Administrations certification and more. 

Additionally, he holds certifications issued by the National Institute for the Certification of Engineering Technologies after taking the necessary exams through ASU’s engineering department.

As mine inspector, Pierce wants to replace funding to the state mine inspector's office, which has been cut immensely over the past several years, close and secure the thousands of abandoned mines across the state and ensure a safe working environment for workers in mines around the state. 

The candidate quickly gained notoriety online, with the #thelegendofbillpierce being shared on Facebook and Twitter, with much of the online buzz deriving from the candidates' Western garb. 

"When we first started events, I trimmed the beard a little bit shorter, I wore a suit and a necktie ... and a nice dress hat," Pierce said. 

But one night Pierce ran out of clean dress shirts.

"I glanced over, threw on a western shirt, a pair of black jeans, put my bolo tie on, got my black sport coat and threw it on and had a black stetson and headed to the event," he said. "A couple days later I was at an event in a suit and tie, and I had about four people come up to me and ask 'Where’s the stetson, where’s the bolo tie?'"

"I haven't worn anything else since," he added.

But the look was not the origin of the legend, which Pierce said is intertwined with his commitment to safety. 

“When I first came to Arizona, I was working at a job in an unrelated industry while I waited to find a job in engineering," Pierce said. 

Weeks after he began, a fire broke out at the cotton gin he was working at, and due to the gin's location on a ‘county island’ that had no assigned fire department, he had to fight the fire himself.

In the midst of the commotion he fell backwards into the seed pit, cracking his head open and breaking more than a dozen bones on the left side of his body.

“They called my (then) wife and told her I was dead — she was searching for the insurance paperwork to see how much money she could get.” Pierce said. “Turns out I wasn’t dead, so they pulled me out of there.”

After a lengthy recovery process that involved a weighted cast and a heavy amount of pain killers, Pierce said he emerged more cognizant than ever about the importance of workplace safety.

"I learned the hard way that a safe work environment has to be a priority, so that’s why I am running," he said. "For the people that are working in those mines I want to make sure that they go home in at least nearly as good a condition as when they arrived at work — not going home in a body bag or heading to a hospital in an ambulance."

However, the meme status has had another effect as well, catching the interest of a demographic that tends to be immune to politics: young people. 

Justin Remelius, a political science and philosophy sophomore and Young Democratic Socialists of America at ASU vice chair, said that Pierce's meme-status made him more palatable for younger voters and had the potential to pull them into the political process at large. 

"Politics can sometimes be hard to follow, especially with these down-ballot races," Remelius said. "So I think him somewhat turning himself into a meme to spread attention to his race so people can learn more about these down ballot races is a good thing."

As for his support for the candidate, Remelius said Pierce's signature look was only part of his appeal. 

"The reason I personally support him is because he is qualified, if not overqualified for the position," he said. "All of his certifications, there are just so many."

Jake Phillip Morris, a member of YDSA and sophomore studying urban environmental studies, said Pierce had grown beyond just a simple political candidate. 

"He’s a bit of a sensation," Morris said. "I mean mostly it’s because of how he was dressed; he was very akin to the idea of what you would think an Arizona state mine inspector would look like."

ASU Sophomore Jake Morris poses for a picture outside of the Starbucks on the Tempe Campus on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. 

He said that it could have the impact of pulling young people into the process and hopefully looking at other items on the ballot.

"Something as sensational as Bill Pierce, people say ‘oh look, something that is funny but it also has to do with politics, that’s something I can be about; which isn’t a bad thing, it’s young people getting involved in politics," Morris said. "It’s pretty bogus if a young person is going to vote for Bill Pierce wholeheartedly but doesn’t know what Prop 305 is. If you know about this, why not everything else?"

Pierce said he could only hope that his campaign would bring more young people together and that they should be more like he was when he was a kid. 

"Be vocal, make your voices heard, get out — do something, don’t sit on your tails, do something — make a change, make it better," Pierce said. "You may not get it overnight, but if you work for it hard enough you will. We’ve been there, we’ve done that, we’ve got the t-shirt, now it’s your turn, run with it." 

Pierce's opponent Joe Hart was unable to be reached at the time of publication.

Correction: In an earlier version of this article, Bill Pierce’s current partner was misidentified as his wife. The article has been updated to reflect this change.

Reach the reporter at or follow @isaacdwindes on Twitter.

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