Russell Pearce in 2011. (Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo)

Former Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce resigned as first vice chairman of the state Republican Party Sunday after controversial comments about Medicaid and contraception were widely criticized by people in both parties.

In a statement, Pearce said he was stepping down to avoid being a distraction from Republican candidates this fall.

"Recently on my radio show there was a discussion about the abuses to our welfare system," he said. "I shared comments written by someone else and failed to attribute them to the author. This was a mistake. This mistake has been taken by the media and the left and used to hurt our Republican candidates."

He added, "I do not want the progressive left and the media to try and take a misstatement from my show and use it to attack our candidates. I care about the Republican party and its conservative platform too much to let them do that. Yet I have to recognize that hosting a radio show and the nature of the debates that we have had and will continue to have are incompatible with what our Party needs from its leadership team."

According to the Phoenix New Times, Pearce said on a recent radio show, "You put me in charge of Medicaid, the first thing I'd do is get [female recipients] Norplant, birth-control implants, or tubal ligations. Then, we'll test recipients for drugs and alcohol, and if you want to [reproduce] or use drugs or alcohol, then get a job."

Republicans distanced themselves from Pearce on Sunday before his resignation.

"I couldn't disagree more with Russell Pearce's deplorable comments. They have no place in our discourse," tweeted Arizona Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Ducey.

Martha McSally, the Republican nominee in the 2nd congressional district, tweeted, "Russell Pearce’s ignorant, hateful comments are insulting to women everywhere. He needs to resign or be removed from office immediately."

On Saturday, the state Democratic Party sharply criticized Russell's reported remarks and slammed Republican leaders for their "silence."

“For the first vice chair of the Arizona Republican Party to advocate for forced sterilization is unacceptable,” said Arizona Democratic Party executive director DJ Quinlan in a statement.