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.

Recommended Reading For The Bundy Thing

The cameras have largely left, but this week, we were reminded that the story of our Little Ukraine On The Virgin River continues. First, there were reports that militiamen (largely from other states), having stayed behind after the standoff and apparently lacking anything else to do, have been harassing the locals and demanding their papers. There also came word of infighting among the various militia groups camped out at the Bundy Ranch, a predictable result considering that we are talking about a movement where every man fancies himself a colonel.

To the media’s credit, reporting on this story has largely made it clear that this insurrection was not an isolated incident, but merely a fairly extreme manifestation of a long-standing conflict between rural westerners and a Federal government which they simultaneously depend upon and rail against. While most would trace this back to the Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s, those more familiar with the history of the western states see this current running back into the 19th century. Folks who want insight into the roots of this might do well to check out two books, one a scholarly history and the other fiction, about a spectacular crime that occurred in Arizona in 1889.

AmbushAmbush at Bloody Run: The Wham Paymaster Robbery of 1889- A Story of Politics, Religion, Race and Banditry in Arizona Territory by Larry D. Ball (2000) tells of an incident when a gang of Mormons in Graham County held up a U.S. Army pay wagon bound for Fort Thomas with twenty-eight thousand dollars. As implied by the title of the book, the crime, investigation, and subsequent trial provide an excellent window into many of the conflicts that came to shape our state. Coming at a time when an ascendant progressive movement was becoming more prominent, the events pitted figures from the two emerging factions of Arizona’s Democratic Party against each other: on one side progressives like former Representative Selim Franklin and Arizona Star editor (as well as future Governor) Louis Hughes versus conservatives like Territorial Delegate (and future U.S. Senator) Marcus A. Smith, who neglected his duties in Washington D.C. to defend the gang when they went on trial in Tucson.

One of the things that becomes clear in this book is that that, unlike today, the military was not spared from the anti-government rhetoric of the era. The peacetime Army was regarded as a nuisance, and soldiers were regarded as freeloaders. Because the soldiers at Fort Thomas were largely African-American “Buffalo Soldiers” of the 24th Infantry, racism was a factor as well. It is only in this context that it starts to make sense that a significant number of Arizona residents regarded the theft of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money to be no big deal, even if 8 men were wounded in the process. Of course, then as now, these attitudes were tainted by hypocrisy. In this case, the gang’s ringleader Gilbert Webb had a contract to provide grain to the Army. In other words, he was financially dependent on the same soldiers that he robbed.

This episode of the Old West is largely forgotten in the popular imagination. I think this may be because it is messy and unromantic, and it cannot easily be made to fit cinematic tropes that we have come to accept whether we like it or not. The good guys, to the extent that they exist, do not fare well, while the bad guys largely get away with something close to murder. The subsequent career of bandit Wilfred Webb will make Arizona readers nod and say “Yep. Sounds like our state ain’t changed much.”

The novella “A Pilgrim on the Gila” by Owen Wister (1895), a political satire inspired by the same incident, similarly rings true today. Except for two uncomfortable passages, where a character based on African-American woman gambler Frankie Campbell (who Ball’s narrative shows as one of the most fascinating characters to emerge from the incident) is reduced to a dated, panicky mammy stereotype, the sophisticated, cynical humor mostly still works after all these years.

The author, who was visiting Fort Thomas when all this happened, is someone whose name may not be familiar, but we have all been affected by his influence on popular culture. Wister’s novel The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains, is widely regarded one of the first westerns, and he is credited with creating many of the conventions of the genre. Wister’s own politics, which come through in his writing, were considered conservative even in his own time, and today he would probably be a Republican in the snobbish authoritarian mold of Michael Bloomberg. But whether you not come away agreeing with the politics behind them, “Pilgrim” and his other works show that the rugged individualism of the west always inspired controversy.

Particularly appropriate to the issues in Nevada, is a passage that comes near the end of the story:

I supposed it something local then, but have since observed it to be a prevailing Western antipathy. The ill thinking sons of the sage-brush ill tolerate a thing which stands for discipline, good order and obedience, and the man who lets another command him they despise. I can think of no threat more evil to our democracy, for it is a fine thing diseased and perverted–namely, independence gone drunk.

“Pilgrim” goes in and out of print, though it is often anthologized. One such collection be found for free here.

While there are few similarities or outright parallels between what is going on in Nevada today and what happened in Southern Arizona in 1889, anyone who checks out these books will find sentiments and conflicts that still sound strangely familiar.

“Hey, Conservative Trolls, Its More Complicated Than That!”

Michael Nowakowski and Cesar ChavezWe have been hearing about a forthcoming Cesar Chavez biopic since at least the 1990s, when an El Vez lyric plugged a rumored project by Moctezuma Esparza which never materialized. Today, a mainstream feature film about the legendary Arizonan finally opens nationwide.

Predictably, this has brought out the trolls, the same trolls who tell us that Martin Luther King Jr. would support the TEA Party if he were alive today and that Ronald Reagan was the real hero of the civil rights movement. This time, the claim is that Chavez was a registered Republican and a vocal and dedicated opponent of immigration.

First, his one-time voter registration is irrelevant. The Republican party of the 1950s and 60s was a very different animal than the one which is familiar to us today, and his political loyalties have to be considered in the context of his contentious relationship with some prominent Democrats like California Governor Pat Brown. His well-recorded support of Democrats like Bobby Kennedy and lifelong work for causes like civil rights and organized labor, however, would seem to imply that his Republican registration was nominal at best.

As for his immigration stand, I first heard this one from some of my Republican colleagues as a member of the legislature. As strange as it seems, despite the fact that many people at and around the capitol had actually worked with Chavez, not one of the folks telling me these things bothered to ask around before repeating the talking points.

In keeping with my biblical namesake, I would not take their word for it. I called up my former colleague, Representative John Loredo, who had worked with Chavez as a young man, and he helped me get in touch with some folks familiar with the issue. It was no surprise that Chavez’ position on immigration was more nuanced and complicated than my anti-immigrant colleagues would have been willing to concede.

Chavez was first and foremost a labor organizer, and anyone familiar with history knows that organized labor in the West has a problematic history with regard to immigration. In Arizona, for example, in the name of protecting unionized workers, nativist elements within organized labor successfully pushed legislation during the early days of statehood that effectively disenfranchised the state’s Mexican-American population for decades. Chavez, at one point in his career, campaigned against illegal immigration, even as his union welcomed the undocumented in its hiring halls. This needs to be considered in context.

Chavez’ own organizing efforts, both with the Community Service Organization (CSO) during the 1950s and the United Farm Workers (UFW) from the 1960s onward, included undocumented immigrants, so he clearly did not take issue with immigration in and of itself. His issue was with undocumented immigrants being brought over the border in an effort to break strikes, and with the fact that federal law enforcement turned a blind eye to this even as they targeted other folks who crossed the border illegally. His grievance was with the inconsistency of immigration enforcement, particularly because this hypocrisy conveniently tended to favor the growers who opposed him, and undermined his fight for the dignity of the farmworkers his union represented, including those who were here without papers.

Chavez’ stand, and the UFW’s tactics and rhetoric in this regard were, as eloquently reported by former Arizona State Senate Majority Leader Alfredo Gutierrez, controversial among Mexican-American political leaders at the time. Chavez eventually moved on from this crusade, and by the 1980s, his organization, which had already long advocated for the inclusion of the undocumented in the labor movement well before other unions did so, actively supported progressive immigration reforms. The amnesty provision of the Immigration Reform Act of 1986 was passed due in large part to the UFW’s efforts.

The film has also been attacked by conservatives for failing to portray Chavez’ activities against illegal immigration. This is about as silly as attacking Moctezuma Esparza’s Gettysburg for failing to show General Hancock’s mediocre performance during Reconstruction. It is beyond the scope of the movie, which takes place before this issue emerged.

I guess we can concede one thing to the trolls: the life, work and legacy of Cesar Chavez are much bigger than can be portrayed in any one movie. On the other hand, the dismissive conservative talking points in this regard fail in a much bigger way. The historical facts, as usual, tell a far more complicated story.

The Annual Statehood Day Post: Ten Great Arizonans You Have Never Heard Of

It is statehood day, so I wanted to write something special. This was written a few years ago and posted in a few different places. I was going to re-visit this list, but I decided that I still like my choices, since you still have not heard of most of these. My call to the reader to feel free to take issue with this list still stands.

February 14th is, among other things, Statehood Day in Arizona. This means that someone, somewhere, will publish the inevitable “greatest Arizonans who ever lived” or “people/events that changed Arizona” lists in newspapers or blogs. The results of these lists are predictable. They nearly always, for instance, include Barry Goldwater. I have nothing against Goldwater’s inclusion, but the late Senator is a little like the Beatles; yeah they were great; yes, things are different because of what they did, but that does not mean that they are not over-rated.

So I am making my own list. This list will not include easy choices like Goldwater, Kino and Poston, names which should already be familiar to most readers. Instead, I take this opportunity to highlight some of the individuals whose names should be familiar, but have instead slipped into relative obscurity despite their role in shaping the Arizona we all know and love.

My standards in making this list are fairly simple. First, the named individual must no longer be alive and must have no institutions, streets, towns, parks, or substantial monuments named for them. Naturally, the individual must have made a lasting, positive contribution to Arizona during their lifetime regardless of the length of their residency in the state. This last one is, of course, highly subjective, and I will have to admit not only to my geographic bias as a Tucsonan but also my political bias as a Democrat. Anyone who has an issue with one of my choices, or someone I did not choose, should feel free to make these views known.

flag_of_the_yaqui_tribe1. Antonio Siraumea (~1686-?): A Yaqui Indian who worked as a laborer in the mines of Sonora, in 1736, Siraumea stumbled upon a remarkably rich silver vein while prospecting in a remote canyon near what is now the international border west of Nogales. The subsequent rush of miners to the site, and Siraumea’s ultimately successful fight to retain his rights to his discovery, led to a long and complex legal battle, assuring the region’s lasting reputation for mineral wealth which would forever be associated with the name of an otherwise obscure ranch at the mouth of the canyon, a place called Arizona.

General Urrea2. General José Cosme Urrea (1797-1849): Born in Tucson to a prominent military family, Urrea rose to fame in the Mexican Army. Commanding a brigade during the war against rebelling Tejanos and Texan colonists, Urrea scored a string of impressive victories and emerged as the most respected Mexican general in the war. An advocate of democracy and reform, Urrea became a leader in the opposition to the dictatorship of Antonio López de Santa Anna. During his service as Governor of Sonora (which included a substantial portion of what is now Arizona), Urrea negotiated a peaceful settlement to an unnecessary war with the Tohono O’odham, ushering in an era of friendly relations that continues in Southern Arizona today.

great_western3. The Great Western (1812-1866): A “camp follower” who attached herself to General Zachary Taylor’s army during the war with Mexico, the woman named Sarah was dubbed The Great Western after a famous steamship for her six foot tall “Amazon” frame. A shrewd businesswoman, she made successful investments in real estate, livestock, and other ventures, as she continued to follow the Army. Now named Sarah Bowman, she arrived at Fort Yuma in 1852, where she worked as a laundress and hospital matron at the post even as she ran businesses that catered to the soldiers. In 1854, she acquired land on the opposite bank of the Colorado River where she established a restaurant, boarding-house, bar, and brothel. The civilian settlement that rose up around these businesses eventually became the city of Yuma. When she died, she was buried at Fort Yuma with full military honors in recognition of her long and dedicated service to the Army.

Manuelito4. Manuelito (1818-1893): Manuelito had already risen to a position of leadership among the Navajo by the time New Mexico (which then included Arizona) was conquered by the United States in 1846. He relentlessly defended Navajo lands from incursions by these newcomers even as he had from the Mexicans, Pueblos, and Utes before them, through war and, when possible, negotiation. In 1865, his band was among the last to be deported to Bosque Redondo after General Carleton’s extensive and brutal campaign. When the reservation there proved a failure, Manuelito was among the Navajo leaders to successfully argue with General Sherman for a return of their former homeland. The Navajo emerged from their captivity with an unprecedented sense of solidarity as a people, and Manuelito stood prepared to argue for their sovereignty and their rights. In 1876, he travelled with a delegation to meet with President Ulysses S. Grant in Washington D.C. and got an expansion to the Reservation, his first of four successful efforts to secure more land for the Navajo, creating what would become the largest Reservation in the United States.

Edward Cross5. Colonel Edward Ephraim Cross (1832-1863): Cross already had extensive experience as a journalist before he arrived in Tubac, in what was to become Arizona, in 1857. He invested in area mines, and reported on the region as a correspondent to newspapers Back East. In 1859, he and other local investors had a printing press, the first one in what would become Arizona, shipped from Ohio via Cape Horn and Cross became editor of The Weekly Arizonian, the area’s first newspaper. Cross’ strident editorial policy made a few powerful enemies and he sold his interest within a few months. In 1860, he went to Sonora to take a commission in the insurgent forces of Benito Juarez until returning to the States with the outbreak of the Civil War. Commissioned a Colonel in the New Hampshire Volunteers, he received a reputation as a colorful and fearless officer before being killed at Gettysburg. His press remained in Arizona and was used for some of the earliest government printing after Arizona became a territory in 1864, as well as, at various times, newspapers like the Tucson Citizen and Tombstone Epitaph. The press remained in operation intermittently at various locations in Arizona until well into the 20th Century.

Josephine Hughes6. Elizabeth Josephine Brawley Hughes (1839-1926): Josephine Hughes came to Arizona to join her husband (see #7) in 1871. She became a crusader for numerous causes for social improvement, helping to organize the first protestant Church in Arizona (1876) and advocating for public schools. At various times, she assumed many editorial and management duties at the Arizona Star, particularly during her husband’s absences as he pursued politics. In 1880, she organized the Arizona chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and became involved both locally and nationally in the women’s movement, particularly in promoting the cause of suffrage. Her son, State Senator John T. Hughes, worked for suffrage in the First State Legislature, but, after he was stifled, the two organized a successful initiative effort to secure the vote for women in Arizona in 1912, eight years before the passage of the 19th Amendment. For her lifelong work, Governor George W.P. Hunt dubbed her “The Mother of Arizona.”

L. C. Hughes7. Governor Louis Cameron Hughes (1842-1915): A Union Army veteran who worked his way through college as a machinist, Hughes arrived in Arizona in 1871. A Democrat, he quickly entered politics, serving on the Tucson City Council and as Pima County Attorney. After serving a brief and stormy tenure as Territorial Attorney General under Republican Governor A.P.K. Safford (1873-1874), Hughes founded the Arizona Star as a platform to promote his political views. He was an early leader in the progressive movement, promoting radical ideas such as women’s suffrage, organized labor, and election reform. Appointed Territorial Governor by President Grover Cleveland in 1893, he was able to restore reason and fiscal restraint to Arizona’s government, but his term was cut short by the machinations of the numerous enemies he had earned due to his liberal views. He retained a substantial following, however, and the progressivism that he promoted eventually came to dominate the Democratic Party and guided the drafting of the Arizona State Constitution.

Morenci Strike8. Wenceslao “Three-Fingered Jack” Loustaunau (1869-1906): A humble blacksmith who worked for the Arizona Copper Company at Metcalf, Loustanau rallied fellow mine workers to protest a cut in wages for Mexican-American employees instituted as a cynical reaction to new labor laws passed by the Territorial Legislature in 1903. With stirring rhetoric, Loustanau inspired a strike that quickly spread to nearby Clifton and Morenci and involved as many as 5000 people. The Arizona Rangers and the National Guard were sent in to break the strike and Loustanau was arrested and eventually sent to Yuma Territorial Prison where he died a few years later. Though the strike was ultimately a failure, Loustanau, with no help from established labor unions or anyone else, was successful at drawing nationwide attention to labor conditions in western mines. He also succeeded, even if briefly, at organizing working people, and Mexican-Americans in particular, around a common cause to an extent that had never before been seen in Arizona.

Bonaventura Oblasser9. Father Bonaventure Oblasser, O.F.M. (1885-1967): Father Bonaventure was sent to Arizona in 1910 as a part of renewed Franciscan missionary efforts among the Tohono O’odham. During his three decades in the region, he built over a dozen churches in the remote villages of the Papagueria. Believing that the boarding school system was harmful to the culture, Oblasser created a system of day schools so that children could be educated in or near their own communities. He came to be an advocate for the Tohono O’odham, organizing the successful lobbying effort that created the Reservation in 1915 and helping the Tribe fight an old lawsuit that sought to take title to their lands. With the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, Oblasser participated in the drafting of the Tribe’s first constitution, striving to make a document that codified the O’odham’s traditions.

sam_goddard10. Governor Samuel Pearson “Sam” Goddard Jr. (1919-2006): Goddard came to Arizona after serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II to attend the University of Arizona Law School. Establishing himself as a lawyer in Tucson, his civic involvement led him to pursue politics and he was elected Governor of Arizona as a Democrat in 1964. Recognizing that Arizona was changing rapidly, he pursued a bold agenda as Governor, which did not endear him to a legislature dominated by a coalition of Republicans and conservative rural “Pinto” Democrats. Nevertheless, he accomplished much in his single term, including the establishment of a state budget office, an Arts Commission, and, most importantly, the passage of a sweeping civil rights law. He was actively involved in the fight for Arizona’s share of Colorado River water at a critical time in the development of the Central Arizona Project, and strengthened ties with his counterpart in Sonora. After his term, he remained active as Chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party and as a member of the Central Arizona Project board.

The NFL Sanitizes The Declaration of Independence

I suppose that I could go on and on about how high-handed, pretentious, manipulative and ultimately hollow the annoying Super Bowl tribute to the troops was (someone else already did that here). Instead, I will point out a glaring omission in their reading of the Declaration of Independence.

As every schoolboy knows, the Declaration features a list of grievances against the Crown, among which is this one, condemning His Majesty for being insufficiently committed to exterminating the natives:

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

The item referred to the alliances that the British and the Loyalists had entered into with many of the tribes on the frontier. Leery of the intentions of the Patriots, many native leaders had thrown in their lot with the Crown. Their weariness was understandable. Britain’s agreements with tribes had long been controversial among colonists eager to expand into the frontier, so joining the effort against the rebellion was a matter of survival.

When war came, tribal allies joined British forces in the brutal irregular fighting on the fringes of the wilderness, and the reports of atrocities by Indians, some exaggerated, some wholly fictional, rallied support for the Patriot’s cause. Of course, the Patriots were hardly blameless in this violence. After all, it was not without cause that the Iroquois called George Washington “Town Destroyer.”

In fairness, the reading omitted the entire list of grievances from the  Declaration, including this one, which attacked the Quebec Act of 1774, which was considered offensive by the colonists for, among other things, recognizing the rights of Catholics:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

I know that it is absurd to expect a history lesson at the Super Bowl, and that we as a country have largely gotten past the worst of the bigotry exemplified by these passages. However, it does not seem that our understanding of our past, or, for that matter, our present, is well served by ignoring the complexity of American history, even the parts that make us a bit uncomfortable.

It should be pointed out that this sort of thing has been done right. About 10 years ago, Norman Lear and Rob Reiner put together this short film with famous actors reading the unabridged Declaration of Independence. Graham Greene’s reading of the passage about “savages” at 10:58 is particularly powerful in its irony.

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.

Senator, You Are No Five Syllable Henry.

I was going to write a snarky piece which said that Senator John McCain’s takedown of Ted Cruz, while effective, was nowhere nearly as awesome as what his predecessor, Senator Henry Fountain Ashurst, did to Huey Long in 1935, but my brother beat me to it in the Tucson Sentinel.

Ashurst, a Shakespeare-quoting cowboy turned lawyer, was elected to the Territorial House of Representatives in 1897 where he became Speaker at the age of 23, the youngest legislative leader in Arizona’s history. There, the Coconino County Democrat was credited with the legislation that created the normal school that eventually became Northern Arizona University.

Upon statehood, Ashurst was one of Arizona’s two new United States Senators. While never known as a particularly effective legislator, his unparalleled skill as an orator made him well loved in the halls of Congress and the ideal man to put the self-aggrandizing Senator from Louisiana in his place.

As I said, go check out Ted’s piece in the Sentinel.

Governor Brewer Proves My Point

Yesterday, I wrote here about how the Martin Luther King Jr. of the public imagination has been reduced into a cuddly Care Bear to make him palatable to the picket fence crowd, enabling movement conservatives claim his legacy by forgetting nearly everything he stood for. In fairness, I was not the only one who did so, Salon’s Joan Walsh said more or less the same thing, in a beautiful case of great minds thinking alike.

It was only later that day that I read that Governor Jan Brewer had issued a call for Arizonans to ring bells in honor of the 50th anniversary of The March on Washington.

Old timers may remember that this is the same Jan Brewer who, as a State Senator, supported the notorious Governor Evan Mecham and voted against the MLK holiday twice.

Perhaps it is unfair to hold something that happened so long ago against her, but there is little evidence that the Governor has learned anything in the intervening time. This is someone who, after all, gained a national profile by targeting the Mexican-American community for police harassment with SB1070. More recently, she supported and signed legislation intended to suppress minority voting rights, then invoked the Neoconfederate canard of “State’s Rights” as she praised the Supreme Court for gutting the Voting Rights Act, a law which King called for in his “I Have A Dream” speech. Far from being ancient history, this has happened over the last few months.

So the question is, beyond empty platitudes about “freedom” and “the dream,” which part of Dr. King’s agenda does the Governor believe in?

The Governor’s call is a nice gesture and I am sure that it makes somebody feel better about themselves, but without substance, the bells ultimately ring hollow.

Ignorance of History

In retrospect, inducting Martin Luther King Jr. into the Pantheon of American Heroes may have been a mistake and a disservice to what he fought for.

Back during the late 1980s and early 1990s, one of the big arguments here in Arizona was about the Martin Luther King Holiday. It was debated on the floor of the legislature, was an issue in political campaigns, and prompted marches and public demonstrations across the state. Everybody in public life, even Alice Cooper, was asked their opinion about the issue.

Opposition to the holiday was an article of faith on the right. Their argument was that King was a radical left winger, perhaps even a socialist, and a figure this controversial was not the sort of person who should be honored with a holiday.

The response of holiday supporters was to say that this was laughable bunk. King was no radical, they said, just a very nice man who wanted everyone to hold hands and sing, or something like that.

The trouble is that this was a lie. King was a radical, and much of what he stood for is still controversial decades after his death. He was defanged to make him acceptable to frightened suburbanites. This process of canonization reduced him to one pretty line from a much longer speech, and this has not only cheapened his cause, but has enabled conservatives to dishonestly embrace his legacy.

Anniversaries like today and the Martin Luther King holiday are occasions for conservatives to demonstrate their aggressively willful cluelessness in this regard. Years ago, then-Senate President Ken Bennett commemorated MLK Day by making a speech during a joint session of the Arizona Legislature in which he honored King and Ronald Reagan as great heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, an assessment that conveniently ignored the fact that Reagan actively opposed key civil rights legislation and even wrote an editorial which seemed an attempt to justify King’s assassination. A few days back, a FOX News  commentator echoed the similarly predictable canard that King would be at home in today’s Republican Party and in the most tasteless way possible accused modern Democrats of “co-opting” King’s cause to promote their agenda.

Lets be serious, would a guy who laid down his life to intervene on behalf of striking union municipal workers be comfortable in today’s Republican party?

Nonetheless, conservative Republicans are constantly damning their opponents for invoking a memory of an historical MLK which is inconsistent with the coloring book version. They say that Democrats and progressives have “co-opted” King’s cause to support a left-of-center economic agenda, while ignoring that most of his speeches dealt with poverty and economic injustice. They have argued that Mexican-Americans have “co-opted” his movement even though King praised his contemporary Cesar Chavez for his “indefatigable work against poverty” and as “one of the outstanding men of America.” There are even those who have complained that liberals have been shamelessly exploiting this anniversary to promote a renewal of the Voting Rights Act, even though voting rights were specifically mentioned in Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, just not the part they remember.

Here in Arizona, disgraced Attorney General Tom Horne often cites the fact that he participated in civil rights marches in the 1960s when he is criticized for his blatant race-baiting, but he has built his career around legislation that effectively forbids schools from discussing why these marches were necessary. This might, more than anything, speak to the revisionism that is at work here. Conservatism is, at its heart, based on the idea that everything was hunky-dory until a bunch of liberals ruined everything. Remembering the real Martin Luther King Jr. and what he fought for means admitting that the America’s past was less than perfect, that there was always controversy and that there were always those who fought the conservative status quo, whether it was King or A. Philip Randolph or Francisco P. Ramirez or Lucretia Mott. This reality shatters the central narrative of their political philosophy.

Unfortunately, to make King an icon, we have had to make him non-controversial. We had to hollow him out, enabling anyone to fill that vessel with whatever supports their agenda. This is unfortunate, because his struggle continues.

Its All Fun And Games Until One of Your Deputies Gets His Eye Put Out

Folks who claim that our modern border militiamen are part of a proud Arizona tradition would do well to read what Captain John G. Bourke, an officer who accompanied General George R. Crook during the pursuit of Geronimo, had to say about their 19th century antecedents. Bourke characterized them as “rum-poisoned bummers” and “senseless cowards who sought to kill a few peaceable Indians and gain a little cheap notoriety.” The captain went on to describe how their gun-happy amateurishness did nothing but make a bad situation on the frontier even worse.

The latest manifestation of the worst of the wild west spirit comes, of course, from Maricopa County, where a member of one such band of self-styled “militia minutemen” is in serious trouble for having pointed a rifle at a uniformed Sheriff’s deputy in the desert near Gila Bend.

Predictably, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio reacted with characteristically macho swagger in a statement to the fawning press, warning that such civilian patrolmen risk getting “30 rounds fired into” them if they cross paths with his deputies this way in the future. What America’s Toughest SheriffTM failed to do was recognize his own complicity in what occurred.

Though Arpaio is best known these days for his tough-guy bloviation about immigration issues and his television friendly “sweeps” in which heavily armed deputies make a show of arresting dangerous housekeepers and kitchen workers, one does not have to be a geezer to remember when his attitude was different. Back in 2005, Arpaio publicly feuded with Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas over his refusal to prosecute a vigilante who “arrested” several immigrants, also near Gila Bend. Arpaio seemed to lack enthusiasm for the cause around which rivals like Thomas and Senator Russell Pearce built their careers. It was only later, after the attention-hungry sheriff discovered that appealing to bigots was a winning political formula, that he joined Pearce and Thomas at the podium with overheated rhetoric denouncing the Brown Peril.

Some stories about this latest incident claim that Arpaio has always been less-than-supportive of the Minuteman Movement, but this is not entirely the case. Arpaio himself has proposed raising an armed posse of “citizen volunteers” to enforce immigration laws, and he has welcomed the support of leading militia-types and nativists in the past. If Arpaio had any problem with their activities or rhetoric, he has certainly been unwilling to expend even a scintilla of his considerable political capital to express his misgivings.

Beyond this, Arpaio’s rhetoric, tactics, and consistent targeting of the Mexican-American community have contributed to a political environment where something like this could happen.

Of course, the sheriff’s indignation is not really about public safety or curbing the excesses of the anti-immigration movement. This is, as always, about Arpaio himself. Other incidents, including the murder of a family in Arivaca at the hands of militia activists, passed without comment from the usually talkative sheriff. Arpaio’s affected righteous anger is largely about the fact that one of his deputies was threatened. If only he showed the same concern for the other victims of the poisoned atmosphere that he himself helped to create.