Hear Me Out: Is Arizona, US seeing a change in politics?

PHOENIX - Each Sunday, ABC15.com debuts an Arizona issue - along with two opposing sides on the topic.

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This week we're tackling the debate on whether or not Arizona, and possibly the country, is experiencing a change in the political climate.

Joel Olson, an associate professor of politics and international affairs at Northern Arizona University, says political attitudes are determined by organizing, not demographics. He says Arizonans who want to see an end to this state's anti-immigrant, anti-public education madness need to actively fight for such a future, not smugly assume it is inevitable.

Suman Raghunathan, director of policy and strategic partnerships with Progressive States Network, says over a year after the passage of SB 1070, what happened at the ballot box in Arizona this November was indicative a national backlash against not just anti-immigrant policies, but similar extremist overreach in state legislators on a number of issues.

Click "next page" to read the first of two positions, " Voters reject extremism in Arizona and across nation – What does it mean for 2012? ".



" Voters reject extremism in Arizona and across nation – What does it mean for 2012?": By Suman Raghunathan, director of policy and strategic partnerships with Progressive States Network

Over a year after the passage of SB 1070, what happened at the ballot box in Arizona this November was indicative a national backlash against not just anti-immigrant policies, but similar extremist overreach in state legislators on a number of issues.

The verdict that Arizonans handed down on State Senator Russell Pearce this November was an historic one, as he became the first state lawmaker in Arizona history and the first Senate President of any state to be recalled. His support for extremist policies – including his close ties with the controversial, corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council – resulted in a bipartisan group of activists leading an ultimately successful charge to rein in his radical agenda.

Chief among the policies that drove the outrage against Senator Pearce was his key role in advancing SB 1070. When Arizona's anti-immigrant bill passed in 2010, the expectation was that such broad enforcement-only policies would spread like wildfire through other states. Yet Arizona's approach has been rejected by the vast majority of states in which similar legislation has been introduced, with nineteen states defeating SB 1070 copycat proposals this year and refusing to follow the misguided path blazed by Senator Pearce and Arizona's legislature. Over the past two years, voters across the nation have shown clearly that they understand the value of crafting common-sense state immigration policy that seeks to expand opportunity and keep families whole – both immigrant and native-born families alike.

In states that have seen copycat bills passed – including Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Utah – the backlash has been immediate. Every state that has passed a SB 1070 copycat bill has seen costly legal challenges, a fleeing workforce and tax base, threats to boycott tourist industries, and hurtful economic losses. This is one reason why efforts by businesses similar to the one earlier this year backed by dozens of Arizona CEOs to rein in an extremist anti-immigrant agenda have seen traction in other states as well. They know that our state economies cannot afford the effects of divisive and economically devastating policies like SB 1070. 

The backlash against extremist right-wing overreach in the states this year was not limited to the rejection of the self-proclaimed "Tea Party President" Pearce. Other results from every corner of the nation on Election Day showed a decisive rejection of right-wing attacks in state legislatures this year – targeting not only immigrants, but also women, workers, historically disenfranchised voters, and the middle class. Decisive majorities of voters in Ohio and Maine took to the polls to repeal laws passed by their state legislatures this year to strip workers of collective bargaining rights and needlessly make it more difficult for citizens to vote. In Mississippi and Iowa, voters rejected social extremism that ignored jobs and the economy in favor of divisive attacks on reproductive rights and same sex marriage.

As 2012 legislative sessions are set to kick off, responsible state lawmakers across the nation are aiming to build on this momentum against such attacks on the 99% by advancing policies that truly ensure economic security for all. As part of that effort, over ninety state lawmakers representing thirty-eight states including Arizona are working to advance positive pro-immigrant legislation that reflects our core values as a nation and prioritizes economic growth over divisive attacks. As the national backlash against conservative overreach this year shows, eschewing destructive attacks in favor of building economic security for families and prosperity in our states is an approach that voters in Arizona and states across the nation emphatically support.

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Click "next page" to read the second position, " ????????????"



"???????????": By Joel Olson, an associate professor of politics and international affairs at Northern Arizona University

With the suspension of much of SB 1070 in the courts, the failure of even more draconian legislation such as SB 1611 last spring, and the defeat of Russell Pearce in last month's recall election, Democrats and independents might be forgiven for thinking that Arizona has finally shaken its penchant for far-right conservatism and anti-immigrant laws.

I wouldn't get too excited just yet.

Whether the nativists are on their way out has more to do with politics than demographics.

The immigrant rights movement in Arizona has been surprisingly successful and deserves much credit for beating back the tide of nativism that seemed to engulf the state just a year ago.  Further, the recession has given Arizonans other things to worry about besides immigration.  But while these things have put anti-immigrant forces on their heels, it may not be a permanent shift.

For one, the Pearce camp is right to claim that the circumstances that led to his ouster were unusual. Had the recall vote involved a primary rather than gone straight to a general election, Pearce would have likely defeated his challenger, fellow conservative Republican Jerry Lewis.  Further, redistricting will likely split Pearce's old district in two, creating the possibility that he could return to the Senate along with Lewis. 

And lest anyone forget, Republicans still hold a supermajority in both houses of the legislature.  Anti-immigrant bills, tax cuts, and proposals to "slash big government" fire up the GOP base in a presidential election year.  More deeply conservative legislation is surely coming when the next state legislative session begins this spring.

Most importantly, however, political shifts are not inevitable simply because of the state's changing demographics. Eighty-three percent of Arizonans over 60 are white and tend to be conservative, while over 50 percent of Arizonans under 18 are of color.  Many Democrats think that as older Arizonans pass on and younger ones grow up, Arizona will inevitably become more liberal.  Pearce and his ilk are a dying breed, they smirk.

But this assumes that young Arizonans are immune to conservative politics.  It is a dangerous assumption.  The political interests of a generation can never be taken for granted.  In 1964 liberals thought Barry Goldwater was crazy to try to turn white working class men and women against the New Deal and the Democratic Party.  By the time of Ronald Reagan, they weren't laughing any more.  That's because conservative activists knew that demographics are not destiny.  They knew that political interests are constructed, never given.  They therefore worked hard to change the political interests of these white workers, and they succeeded.  "Reagan Democrats" were the base of the conservative wave that elected Reagan, installed Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House, elected two Bushes, and founded the Pearce era in Arizona. 

Is it unreasonable to think this could happen again?

Political attitudes are determined by organizing, not demographics.  Arizonans who want to see an end to this state's anti-immigrant, anti-public education madness need to actively fight for such a future, not smugly assume it is inevitable.  In doing so, they would be wise to learn from the conservative playbook.

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