Arizona On My Mind… Or, Immigration, Abortion, Gun Rights, Gun Violence, Birtherism, Religious Liberty, and Labor Union Controversies Concentrated in One State
April 27, 2011 7 Comments
I have a course curriculum in mind called Fractures in American Politics: Arizona 2010-2011. How does Arizona telescope so many national tensions at once, and in such interesting ways? Immigration, abortion, gun rights, gun violence, Birtherism, religious liberties, labor unions, even tax policy — Governor Jan Brewer just signed a business tax hike, backed by the business community for fear of potentially stiffer tax burdens without it.
It’s too easy to dismiss Arizona’s surge of national profile controversies as the cranky legislative gush of a very conservative state. Those who take this tack betray simplistic ideological “gotcha’ politics” at its worst — as MSNBC commentator Donnie Deutsch and Al Sharpton illustrated back on Martin Luther King Day, when they accused Arizona, utterly falsely, of refusing to recognize MLK Day, and bizarrely, questioning whether Arizona should secede from the union.
That facile dismissal of Arizona, because it is a conservative state, also gave rise at the beginning of 2011 to some truly shameful behavior in the teeth of a tragedy. On Saturday, January 8th, Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in Tucson, killing six, and wounding many others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Az). Tucson Sheriff Dupnik immediately blamed the toxic political environment in Arizona. Multiple Democrats denounced the fierce political atmosphere in Rep. Giffords’ district. Paul Krugman, the same day, linked the tragedy to Republicans, the Tea Party, and “scary” opposition to health care reform. The “odds are,” he wrote, “this was political,” and “violent acts are what happen when you create a climate of hate.” Yet he still writes for the New York Times.
Loughner, as it develops, wasn’t Republican, conservative, Tea Party, or even particularly political. We are a better nation, I believe, because we endured that toxic blame-game nonsense and learned some valuable lessons.
Something peculiarly conservative is going on in Arizona — but it’s not simple. Governor Brewer is no liberal — she signed and celebrated S.B. 1070, the controversial Arizona immigration law now winding its way toward the Supreme Court. She also signed late last month the strange but fascinating abortion law that criminalizes abortion when the decision is based upon the race or gender of the fetus or the parent.
Yet Governor Brewer has vetoed three bills recently that some might characterize as core red-meat conservative enactments:
- Most recently, she vetoed H.B. 2177, the “Birther bill,” which would have required presidential (and other) candidates to prove their citizenship before appearing on Arizona ballots. On CNN, she ups the ante and says the Birther issue is leading America “down the path of destruction.” She also explains that vesting that much power in a potentially partisan state official “could lead to arbitrary or politically motivated decisions.”
- The same day — though vastly overshadowed (and I shake my head in dismay) by the Birther veto — she vetoed S.B. 1467, a gun rights bill which would have permitted concealed weapons on college campuses. Her veto letter pointedly criticizes the bill for being “poorly written,” and creating potentially dangerous ambiguities (including the possibility of application to K-12 educational institutions).
- A week earlier, she vetoed S.B. 1288, an absolute religious exemption bill, which would have affirmed the right to government appointment or government-controlled license without regard to religious belief — but would also have affirmed that a person’s exercise of religious belief cannot be unprofessional conduct and cannot be the basis of denying, suspending, or revoking a professional or occupational license. Her veto letter noted that the “bill could protect conduct that harms the public but cannot be readily addressed if a person claims that the conduct is based on religious beliefs.”
Now that is a remarkable — and admirable — veto record for a week. Arizona gives us, I believe, a most interesting glimpse into the fight for the soul of conservatism. Count me among Governor Brewer’s supporters.
The rush to convert partisan talking points into legislation — whether from the right or the left — demands a sober assessment from mature party elders, the people schooled in the mischief that happens when sound-bites are hastily written into law. Governor Brewer has proven herself one of those mature party elders.
With these three vetoes, Governor Brewer sends this critical message to conservatives: Birtherism is nonsense, get beyond it, expanding gun rights is laudable, but not with careless legislation that conservatives would come to regret, and religious liberty is a sacred American tradition, but not a juggernaut that protects any conduct in the name of religion. Conservatives need to get precisely that sober.
As Paul Krugman illustrated, liberals love the symbolic value of Arizona. The Obama administration has made a frankly shrewd sport of attacking Arizona, beginning with its decision to forego “post-racial” (whatever that might have meant in the early days of promise) immigration policy, and instead file a duplicative lawsuit against Arizona’s S.B. 1070, the immigration law that mirrored federal immigration law, and added state enforcement capabilities.
Not a syllable in S.B. 1070 enacted any provision that was inconsistent with, or not already part of, federal immigration law. Yet there were wild protests and organized boycotts of Arizona for — what? passing a state law fully consistent with federal law that essentially called the federal government to task for abject failure to enforce existing federal immigration law?
Governor Brewer rightly signed that bill, if only to highlight the federal government’s failure. A federal district court let S.B. 1070 stand, but enjoined its most controversial provisions, and the Ninth Circuit recently affirmed in a 2-1 decision (Judge Carlos Bea dissenting).
More recently, the National Labor Relations Board confirmed its intention to sue Arizona and South Dakota over constitutional amendments requiring secret ballots to establish a union. Back in January, when the NLRB first started saber-rattling about suing Arizona, South Dakota, South Carolina, and Utah over this issue, I cautioned that the NLRB position was probably technically correct.
Federal law probably does protect an employer’s theoretical — never-actually-exercised — right to recognize a union even in the absence of a secret ballot. But is this theoretical, never-actually-exercised right really worth a federal government lawsuit? And if so, why sue only Arizona and South Dakota?
The NLRB says it declines to sue South Carolina and Utah “to conserve limited federal and state agency resources and taxpayer funds.” NLRB spokeswoman Nancy Cleeland said the agency “doesn’t have enough staff to handle four lawsuits at the same time.”
Pure unadulterated nonsense. If conserving “limited” resources were truly a motivation, the federal government wouldn’t commence any lawsuits to enforce an abstract right that no one exercises. This is about handing Arizona a loss, because Arizona matters in the political calculation of 2012, and how conservatives are viewed nationwide.
That is what Arizona has bizarrely become, a microcosm of some conservative passions and a political target for some cynical liberals. Thankfully, Governor Brewer has stepped up to say, we’re not so simple.