MSNBC Uses MLK Day to Slander Arizona
January 18, 2011 6 Comments
Yesterday I commented on the NLRB’s threat to sue Arizona, and wondered what it is about Arizona that seems to concentrate so many of our national political tensions. That was Martin Luther King Day, and one MSNBC commentator seized the solemn occasion to slander the State of Arizona.
Donnie Deutsch, responding to Al Sharpton’s comments on gun control and gangsta culture, said, “we’re in the year 2011, we’re coming off the horrific horrific event in Tucson, yet as we celebrate Dr. King’s Day, there’s still this very strange state, Arizona, that does not recognize it. Maybe is it time for a shift here? Should they secede from the nation? With all that’s going on, it’s just almost bizarre at this point.” (To which Al Sharpton, one of our national paragons of reconciliation, responded, “well, I think on today, I think they have seceded.”)
This is a fat fail on so many levels.
First, and most embarrassingly for Deutsch and Sharpton, they’re simply wrong. Arizona recognizes Martin Luther King Day, as a paid state holiday, and has since 1992, when voters approved a resolution enacted by the Arizona legislature in 1991. More on that history in a moment.
Second, it’s obvious from the clip that Deutsch wasn’t responding to anything Al Sharpton had just said. He simply wanted to make a frankly sleazy point as soon as he had an opportunity to make it. Call it red vegetables for liberals. He had his incendiary sound bite in his head, and that’s all that mattered to him. And that is sad. Most especially on Martin Luther King Day.
Third, “secede”? Really? You make a false and slanderous point about the State of Arizona, and then suggest the preposterous notion of secession? That’s taking hateful politics a step further. That tells me that, indeed, Arizona has acquired a metaphorical status in our political dialogue, that attacking Arizona has become, for some liberal commentators, a cheap route for self-adoring gotcha’ punditry.
Fourth, this is brazen race-baiting — that thing that isn’t supposed to exist, much less enjoy a national spotlight, in our post-racial America. I won’t speculate about whether Deutsch knew he was speaking falsely. If he didn’t, he was mind-bogglingly ignorant, and surely MSNBC can do better. If he did, he was contemptibly cynical. I won’t make that call. Either way, though, using Martin Luther King Day to attack Arizona for allegedly not recognizing Martin Luther King Day, and asking whether maybe they should secede from the union — because, presumably, they’re too backward and racist to be part of America — is just vile race-baiting, a trope with which Al Sharpton is familiar.
It’s a mystery to me where Deutsch got his incendiary false factoid, unless he just made it up. But there is a complicated history — there is always a complicated history — to Arizona’s relationship with Martin Luther King Day. Let’s break it down now.
Representative John Conyers (D-Michigan) pressed for a federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King for many years after Dr. King’s death. There was resistance to the creation of yet another federal holiday, for reasons of cost and vile condemnation of King. Jesse Helms strenuously objected in the Senate, citing King’s alleged Communist links and sexual dalliances. That was disgusting. But the campaign finally succeeded, and in 1983 President Reagan signed the bill establishing the third Monday of every January as the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday for federal employees (Public Law 98-144).
States, enjoying a few attributes of sovereignty, are not compelled to recognize federal holidays. Some states recognized MLK Day sooner than the federal government. others later (Illinois was the first in 1973, New Hampshire was the last in 1999). Eventually, all states did so, to our national credit.
Arizona got in the act relatively early. In 1986, a bill to create a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and combine the state holidays for Washington and Lincoln into a Presidents’ Day was defeated by a single vote in the Arizona House of Representatives.
Nine days later, Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt opted for executive fiat. He signed Executive Order 86-5, designating “the third Monday of each January as a holiday honoring the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for all employees of Agencies, Boards and Commissions within the purview of the Executive Branch of the State of Arizona.”
Arizona thus was an early adopter of Martin Luther King Day.
But there was a separation of powers problem — and if that sounds familiar, it just gets better.
Two weeks later, Arizona’s Attorney General issued Opinion 86-032 (R86-071) concluding that “the Governor has no constitutional or statutory authority to declare a legal holiday that would be observed by closing state offices and giving state employees a paid day off.”
On January 12, 1987, Arizona’s in-coming Republican governor, Evan Mecham, making true on one of his campaign promises, signed Executive Order 87-3, rescinding Governor Babbitt’s Executive Order 86-5, “since authority to declare state holidays lies with the Legislature and not with the Governor.”
On June 18, 1987, Governor Mecham issued a proclamation declaring “the third Sunday in January, commencing in 1988 and every year thereafter to be Martin Luther King, Jr. – Civil Rights Day in the State of Arizona.” In other words, the State of Arizona recognized and honored MLK Day, but not as a paid state holiday.
After several narrowly failed attempts to create an MLK Day (i.e., a paid state holiday) in the Arizona legislature, that body finally succeeded, on September 21, 1989, in creating a paid Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and eliminating Columbus Day as a paid holiday.
So, wow, Arizona created MLK Day as a paid state holiday, and eliminated Columbus Day as a paid holiday — and liberals really hate Columbus Day. What an amazing achievement for the progressive state of Arizona.
But the plot thickens in such an American way. Italian-Americans were outraged. Cancel Columbus Day? Are you kidding? Tempe architect Julian Sanders and Italian-American groups launched a successful petition to force the MLK/Columbus Day issue to a state ballot.
In November 1990, Arizona voters, perhaps weary of politicized racial politics and wishing simply that state workers work, pretty much rejected everything, by narrow margins. They said no to Proposition 301 which would have established the third Monday in January as Martin Luther King, Jr./Civil Rights Day, a paid holiday for state employees and would have made Columbus Day an unpaid observance on the second Sunday in October. And they said no to Proposition 302 which would have established the third Monday in January as Martin Luther King, Jr./Civil Rights Day, a paid holiday for state employees and retained Columbus Day as a paid holiday on the second Monday of October.
By now, the “Arizona boycott” was on. Sounding familiar? With a vengeance. The Dallas Cowboys whacked the Buffalo Bills, 52-17, in Super Bowl XXVII on January 31, 1993. They would have done so in Tempe, Arizona — the intended site of Super Bowl XXVII — but the NFL balked and opted to take Super Bowl XXVII to California because of Arizona’s MLK stance.
The Cowboys came to Super Bowl XXX in January 1996, and beat the Pittsburg Steelers 27-17 — in Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona — because Arizona had redeemed itself, and passed legislation creating Martin Luther King Day as a paid state holiday.
History is always tricky.
Personal note: there is no orator and statesman in American history that moves me more than Martin Luther King, Jr. I spent MLK Day listening to some of his speeches, and being slammed in the gut by his eloquence. He shouldn’t have had to argue what he argued so late. It should have been obvious. He spoke the self-evident truth. He dreamed so beautifully what should already have been reality. God bless Martin Luther King, Jr., and his memory.