Twelve Gen-X Republicans Who Will Have Some Explaining To Do Some Day Soon

Dirty_DozenThe worst day of my six years in the legislature was also the last day of my last session: June 27, 2008.

This was the day that the Senate passed SCR 1042, which referred to the ballot a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The change was unnecessary and strictly political. Arizona law already forbade such marriages, so the referendum ultimately had little practical effect other than to poison the public dialogue to advance the agenda of some sick and cynical people.

I could go on for a while about the ugliness that led up to 1042’s passage, like the promises that leadership and rank-and-file Republicans broke with the legislation’s opponents so that the bill could advance, the bizarre glee of the measure’s supporters (this did not include lobbyist Cathi Herrod, who continually bore her permanently sour countenance as she watched from her command post in the gallery), and the overall bigotry behind the whole thing. Suffice it to say, supporters of the bill went through a lot of trouble to get this passed. One could admire the parliamentary skill at play here if only it was about something useful like fixing potholes or building a hospital.

The bill got the votes of every single Republican present save two: Representatives Jennifer Burns and Pete Hershberger, both of Tucson. Burns had already announced that she was not running for reelection. Hershberger went on to lose a Republican Senate primary to the famously grumpy Al Melvin. If this issue was a factor, it was only one of many as Melvin had beaten another well-regarded moderate Republican in a primary for the same seat 2 years before. Based on my subsequent conversations with him, I think I can safely say that Pete has few if any regrets about any of this.

It would be easy to dismiss the passage of this as the act of a bunch of frightened old people who were intimidated by a modern world that they no longer understood were it not for the fact that twelve legislators under the age of 40, all Republicans, three in the Senate and nine in the House, enough to change the final outcome, were among those who voted for this. In other words, people who should have had an eye to the future rather than the past supported this even though they knew better.

At the time, I remember saying that the folks under 40 who voted for 1042 were all going to live to feel foolish about their vote. Society was moving in the opposite direction, and the future would not look kindly upon those who stood in the way of progress. We were people who all grew up around folks of our parents and grandparents’ generation who lived through the days of legal segregation. We would hear the lame excuses of older people who told us that while they all knew that the way that African-Americans were treated was wrong, they just had to go along with it in the name of expedience. As usual, evil triumphed because so many ostensibly good people found excuses to do nothing. The fact that the older generation was still (and is still) making excuses many years later indicates that they were embarrassed by their part in allowing it to continue.

Despite the court decision, the debate over same sex-marriage in Arizona is by no means over. Opponents have made it clear that they will continue to fight, but they are rapidly looking more like the Japanese holdouts who were still waging war from caves in the Marianas years after the surrender. It is clear where the issue is going, and it is happening much faster than even the most hopeful among us ever thought it would.

This was a very different issue than most of what we dealt with in the legislature. Unlike our arguments about taxation or whatever, this was one where, as what happened with SB1070 two years later, the legislature singled out one constituency for stigmatization, as the folks to blame for the problems the rest of us were having. They targeted our fellow human beings for crass, cynical and craven reasons. They all knew exactly what they were doing.

This is the part where someone says “Hey Tom, that was 6 years ago. Why still hold a grudge?” The reason is simple. I have seen nothing in the intervening time that shows that any of these folks have regret over their vote in 2008. Based on the fact that three of these individuals: Senators Adam Driggs, Rick Murphy and Michele Reagan, recently voted for the clearly anti-gay SB1062, it is safe to say that they still think that political considerations trump the dignity of our neighbors. So far, none of these individuals has had a George Wallace moment where they admit that they were wrong.

Now that it is clear that they are on the wrong side of history, they all better start thinking up what lame excuses they are going to be making. Their grand-children’s generation is sure to ask questions.

Three Sonorans Might Actually Have A Point Here

So, anyway, last week, David “Three Sonorans” Morales posted this on his Facebook page:


At first, I saw this and wanted to respond by pointing out that David’s memory seems to be too short for him to recall the Democratic opposition to SB1070 and HB2281. But then, I realized that, though his comments about Democrats are unfair and not based in historical fact, he may have stumbled upon an ugly truth regarding the outrage over SB1062, the latest manifestation of ugly bigotry from the legislature.

First, we have to realize that, though bigotry is inherently evil, the way that this evil manifests itself against any given community is unique and rooted in a particular history. The bigotry against Mexicans and Mexican-Americans that drove SB1070 has its roots in, among other things, economic anxiety, misconceptions about this region’s history, a fear of the loss of political power and concerns about crime. The “facts” upon which these are based are often spurious, exaggerated or out of context, but at least there is some sort of negligible substance there to argue.

Bigotry against homosexuals, which is what is behind SB1062, is different. It is largely about squeamishness over what other people might be doing. There can be no pretense that this is about anything as important as preserving jobs for good Americans or combating brutal gangs because it clearly is not.

Anti-gay rhetoric is obsessed with sex. Though we certainly hear this less often than we did in the 1980s and 90s, conservatives still have a habit of making graphic, sometimes scatological references to what they imagine gays might be doing in the privacy of their bedrooms. During my time in the legislature, one Mesa Republican notoriously kept a stash of gay porn in her desk, ready to deploy as props during floor debate as an illustration of what she viewed as the depravity of homosexuality. Notwithstanding the number of ostensibly tough, macho dudes who live in fear of being buggered, its called homophobia for a reason, after all, even the most eloquent anti-gay activist is basically arguing, in the words of political philosopher Joe Bob Briggs, “we heard what you gays are doing, and we don’t like it.”

In other words, while the bigotry behind SB1070 was ignorant, the bigotry behind SB1062 is irrational. It can be argued that this is a distinction without a difference, and that it is not simply coincidental that movement conservatives embrace both, but it does begin to explain why the reaction to the two bills has been different.

Anti-gay bigotry is largely about what other people are doing, so it is easy to argue against legislation like SB1062 from a live and let live perspective, particularly in an age when gay culture is being mainstreamed and the case for legalized discrimination starts looking a little silly. In contrast, the case against sB1070 is in some ways harder to make. Anglo suburban anxiety about immigration is reenforced by largely stereotypical and negative portrayals of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in the media, and cross-border crime is a very real problem, so the hate behind legislation like SB1070 becomes all too easy to rationalize.

Of course, this does not fully explain the differences between the reactions to the two bills. In 2010, the organized business community expressed misgivings about the substance of SB1070 and the bill’s possible negative effects on the political debate and Arizona’s image as a state, but were unwilling to press the issue any further. In contrast, most business organizations (with the notable exception, as of this writing, of The Tucson Metro Chamber) as well as many prominent Republicans, are calling for a veto of SB1062, and this seems an active possibility. Four years ago, Governor Brewer was facing what seemed to be a tough re-election fight, and the possibility that the Executive Tower would again be occupied by a Democrat seemed too much for the chambers and the Republican establishment to stomach, and dabbling in apartheid was seen as an acceptable price to keep her in office. Now, Brewer is not up for re-election, and everybody, still smarting from the bad press that SB1070 brought us, is concerned about the damage to Arizona’s image and the Republican “brand” that such clearly bigoted legislation will bring. Or perhaps, they have finally decided that this has all gone too far, in which case, this seems too little, too late.

But then again, if this were truly driven by a desire to turn the corner and shake our image as a haven for bigotry, one would suspect that they would be willing to do something to reverse the damage that SB1070 did to our state, but we have no such luck. An effort by Senator Steve Gallardo (D-Phoenix) to repeal SB1070 has received no support from Republicans or the business community, and has been met with the same dismissive ridicule from the press that the law’s opponents were subjected to four years ago, when the state’s major newspapers were more willing to rail against 1070’s critics than the bill itself. By the same token, the silence from these quarters regarding efforts to require taxpayers to pay the legal bills of SB1070’s sponsors seems to imply that they are still okay with the law.

There are welcome signs that SB1062 will vetoed. The widespread public outrage over this evil bill is heartening, and gives great hope to those of us who have been fighting for change for years. Unfortunately, there remain troublesome signs that some bigotry remains acceptable.

What Stephen Lemons Missed About the 17th Amendment

Henry Fountain AshurstFor Arizonans, the rise of the TEA Party nationally has only meant that we now have a convenient name for a strain of Republicans who have always menaced the political scene and been, to at least some extent, an obstacle to our progress as a state. Back in the 80s and early 90s, we called them Mechamites, after our not-so-esteemed Governor Evan Mecham. This particular breed was already decades old by this time, as even Arizona’s first Governor, George W.P. Hunt referred to the “standpat reactionary furies” in what we now call The East Valley as the chief obstacle to his progressive agenda.

These days, there is little question that this crowd is driving the Republican agenda, and they made a spectacularly successful effort to embarrass us as a state this week. The thing that got most of the attention was a resolution by the Arizona Republican Party condemning Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) for attempting to be an effective legislator. The author of the resolution, a failed candidate for legislature and noticeably less than telegenic fellow, stumbled through an interview with Chris Matthews, refusing to admit that the President was lawfully elected and lecturing the former chief of staff to House Speaker Tip O’Neill about Ronald Reagan. Apparently he was unaware that Matthews worked with and personally knew President Reagan, and if you wait long enough, he will even tell you about the book he wrote about him.

All of this begs the question: given that the Republican Party runs the state, shouldn’t they be able to find a more effective spokesman than this guy?

What got a little less attention was a resolution calling for the repeal of the 17th Amendment, the 1913 revision to the United States Constitution that calls for the direct election of Senators rather than having them elected by the state legislatures. Stephen Lemons at the New Times was one of the few reporters who gave this more than passing mention, but he failed to give it the proper context.

Lemons jokes that this resolution was being pushed by disgraced former State Senator Russell Pearce (R-Mesa) as a means to get himself back in politics. While such a thing would certainly be in character for the former Senator, the truth is that this has been a cause celebre for Pearce and the right wing for quite a long time. Supporters of repeal argue that the 17th Amendment, a progressive era reform intended to address the cesspool of bribery and corruption that the appointment process had become and to generally make government more responsible to the people, was what began the precipitous slide away from “states rights,” though the failure of General John Bell Hood to take a hill in Pennsylvania some 50 years before might have had something to do with it as well. A cursory Google search will yield a catalog of alleged ills that activists blame on the fact that the United States Senate is a popularly elected body.

Marcus_A_SmithWhat largely has not been discussed (except on this blog) is that there is potentially some question about what repeal of the 17th Amendment would do in Arizona. The State Constitution calls for an “advisory vote” for the United States Senate. In December, 1911, candidates for Senate appeared on the primary and general election ballots along with candidates for U.S. House, Governor and legislature. After a spirited and hard-fought campaign, Democrats Henry Fountain Ashurst and Marcus Aurelius Smith came out on top. The following March, the legislature ratified the results unanimously and without debate. It is clear that the framers of the Arizona Constitution intended that Senators be elected and that legislative action was to be merely a formality.

The strange obsession with this issue shows a certain contempt for popular sovereignty among movement conservatives. This also manifested itself this week in the legislature with regard to voting rights. It is also shown in their passion for a wonky issue that has almost no popular support, despite the fact that these folks consistently claim that they are speaking for the majority of Americans, an arrogant assertion that can only be made by an insular group of like-minded obsessives who talk to no one but each other.

Moreover, it shows that folks who claim to be committed to the original intent of the framers of the United States Constitution are largely ignorant and unconcerned about their own state’s constitution and the intent of its framers. Perhaps none of this is really about constitutional principles at all, but merely about the oddball obsessions of some truly strange and narrow-minded people.

Not Racist at All, Of Course

Here’s a follow up to the kerfuffle over Shane Wikfors’s use of the term “bitch session” to refer to a meeting between a female Republican activist and a female reporter. And don’t worry, Shane, I’m giving you a wee bit of credit on this one.

Not that I am entirely buying Wikfors’s use of the phase as a mere colloquialism. Even if it was a slip, a person involved in public relations should understand the implications of the language that gets used.

I turn, instead, to one of Wikfors’s critics. Barbara Espinosa is a Republican activist in the Valley of the Yakes that has a podcast with former Republican Party chairman Randy Pullen. Espinosa posted a criticism of Wikfors, and Wikfors responded by calling out Espinosa for racism on her podcast.

In it Espinosa calls Barack Obama a monkey. I am not making this up. I am not over interpreting. She says it, and does so with great glee several times.

I can’t tell from the clip if Pullen is on the show. How does he feel about this?

Espinosa claims that the clip is out of context. Apparently a fan sent her a cartoon of Obama as a monkey, so she just repeated it throughout the show. That makes it all okay.

Oh, and here is her best dodge:

With a last name of Espinosa I’m anything but racist.

Yes, you’re right. Because you’re got a Spanish last name, it would be impossible for you to call a black man a monkey with any racist context. We are deeply sorry for even suggesting such a thing.

Because There Are So Many Possible Gaffes Left Unsaid

The buzz (but not Buzz Thomas) out there on the street is that Bruce Ash is running for Chairman of the Arizona Republican Party.

We here at R-Cubed are for this. You know, I think we’ll actually go ahead and officially endorse him. Heck, this is a guy that compared a city council member to Hezbollah for being opposed to a new WalMart, says patronizing things about Hispanics, called Gabrielle Giffords a bad Jew, and claimed partial credit for sinking the strongest Republican contender in CD 8. Give this guy more of a platform and forever bury any notion that Arizona Republicans are for civil discussion or reaching out to minorities.

Republicans Acknowledge a Startling Centuries Old Fact About Arizona

Randy Pullen has made a discovery: there are people in this state who are a bit darker than the others with dark hair and brown eyes and their names often end in vowels. Yes, and they aren’t even Italian!

That’s right: they are Hispanic. Believe it or not, some of their families have been here for generations.

Of course, some don’t realize that. A quick check on the Republic’s story about the Arizona Republicans starting a Hispanic themed website shows several comments in which the writers can’t tell the difference between the word “Hispanic” and “Illegal.” You reap what you sow, Mr. Pullen.