Posted on August 25, 2004

Immigration Measure Puts Arizona’s Reputation On Line

Arizona Republic, Aug. 22

Arizona stands much taller than her sister states.

With a whopping 10 electoral votes, she easily outclasses Wyoming and Montana with three each, Idaho with four, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada with five each, and even Colorado with nine.

She’s the belle of the Mountain West.

Both President Bush and presidential wannabe Kerry have asked her to go steady. More than once.

And why not?

Arizona is cosmopolitan and cultured, with world-class landscapes that can make an atheist stop and ponder God. Her sunsets are dazzling, and her sun rises on the promise that if you build it they will buy it and resell at a nice profit.

Arizona has a Democratic governor who was given a fine speaking slot at the John Kerry’s Democratic coronation.

Arizona’s Republicans may insist that Gov. Janet Napolitano is not that big a deal nationally, but Arizona knows the governor is smart, sassy and getting noticed.

Arizona also has a rock-star Republican senator whose very presence on stage makes George Bush look more re-electable.

Arizona’s Democrats don’t dare say Sen. John McCain isn’t a big deal. Instead they talk about his “maverick” ideas and try to pretend he really agrees with them on lots of things.

As Arizona stands in the national spotlight, there’s no doubt she gets her glow from both sides of her political family. If she plays this right, Arizona could wind up with growing national stature and the continued favor of the man in the White House, whoever he is.

Prestige, popularity and political clout. Sure beats the days when traveling out of state meant answering questions about a governor who insisted African-Americans really did call their children “pickaninnies.” Not to mention the conviction, resignation and pardon of a subsequent former governor.

Arizona looks far more sophisticated these days.

But the state’s reputation is on the line even as the two party boys fight for her favor.

It’s the friendly stranger in the black sedan that Arizona has to worry about. He’s got candy and the promise of a quick answer to one of the state’s toughest problems.

The so-called Protect Arizona Now initiative offers a “solution” to illegal immigration by addressing things that are already illegal and turning state and local workers into de facto immigration agents. It solves nothing.

It wasn’t close to getting on the ballot until some national anti-immigration groups with big bucks paid to hire signature collectors. Now it is part of a high-profile national tug of war. On one side is a national advisory group headed by a self-proclaimed racial “separatist.” On the other is a lawsuit from the national Service International Employees Union trying to pull it off the ballot.

According to the union argument, people who signed the petition to get the measure on the ballot weren’t informed that Protect Arizona Now makes criminals of state or local employees who fail to report any illegal immigrants who try to get services.

The man in black robes stands between Arizona and the stranger in the black sedan. For Arizona’s sake, I hope the judge bars the way. The argument that voters deserve to have a say is rather disingenuous, considering the measure would never have gotten on the ballot if outside agitators hadn’t pulled out their checkbooks.

This initiative puts Arizona in a whole different kind of national spotlight, and what it illuminates could sully the state’s reputation badly. It is part of a larger culture war in which today’s non-European immigrants, legal and illegal, are viewed as a threat to the American way of life.

Arizona could play a role in debunking those fears because the state has a large American-born Latino population that has long been an integral and valued part of the state’s economy and culture. Protect Arizona Now is more likely to bring out the folks who call me to leave messages that start with “you filthy Mexican (blank).”

I’m German-Irish, for the record.

Arizona also can play a role in compelling the federal government to take long-overdue responsibility for the southern border. McCain, as well as Reps. Jim Kolbe and Jeff Flake, have put together a guest-worker proposal that could make the state a leader in reforming immigration policy.

Arizona can continue her growth toward more national clout and class.

But if she takes a ride with the friendly stranger, she will just wind up with a tarnished reputation and the need for a long, hot shower.

Poll: Anti-Immigrant Measure Gets Overwhelming Support

Howard Fischer, Arizona Daily Sun, Aug. 25

PHOENIX — Arizonans remain overwhelmingly in support of Proposition 200, even when told of what foes say are the negative aspects of the initiative.

The new statewide survey shows that 64 percent of those questioned say they will vote for the measure which would require proof of legal residency to get public benefits and evidence of citizenship to register to vote. The same measure also would make it a crime for public employees to fail to report those not here legally.

That margin is smaller than the 74-16 edge the measure tallied just a month earlier. But the question asked by pollster Bruce Merrill drew fire from anti-200 forces who said it did not accurately describe the initiative.

Merrill recrafted the query to more closely reflect the actual ballot language. But even eliminating words that initiative foes found offensive and spelling out the new crime to be created, the measure still shows signs of easy approval on Nov. 2.

“It’s disappointing to hear those figures,” said Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox. She chairs the Statue of Liberty Coalition which was organized to fight the initiative.

“But we haven’t started to tell our story,” Wilcox said. She promised a campaign to educate voters on what approval of the measure will mean.

Whether the kind of education campaign Wilcox has in mind will make a difference is unclear.

The question asked in July — the one that showed a better than 4-1 margin of approval — used the words “Protect Arizona Now,” the name of the initiative organization.

Alfredo Gutierrez, who has been coordinating the opposition campaign, said that is misleading because the measure provides no protection.

And Merrill also included something in the new question not in the first poll: the misdemeanor charges that government workers would face for failing to report those who are not here legally.

“If nothing happens between now and November, this thing will pass,” said Merrill, who conducted the survey for KAET-TV, the Phoenix area PBS affiliate.

All that presumes the measure will get on the ballot: A state judge is to hear arguments today (eds: wednesday) on challenges to the initiative petitions. And whatever he rules likely will be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Kathy McKee who chairs Protect Arizona Now said the poll results prove to her that her organization needs to reemphasize its name.

She said the description of the measure by Merrill, while accurate, is “boring legalese.” McKee said that when people understand that what Merrill described — and what will be on the ballot — is the Protect Arizona Now initiative it will get even more support.

“People know and trust what Protect Arizona Now is about,” she said.

Wilcox conceded it will take at least $1 million to “make a big dent” in the support for Proposition 200. She said the coalition does not yet have that kind of money but that there are pledges of support being made.

But Merrill questioned whether even that will work.

“The average guy out there, Republican or Democrat, believes that the Mexicans coming across the border illegally are taking jobs that citizens want,” he said. Merrill said it may be irrelevant even if that turns out to be a myth.

But that myth could be reinforced by the fact that the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, the state’s largest business organization, is among those opposed to Proposition 200.

Merrill noted that the state’s entire congressional delegation is opposed to the measure, as are the leaders of both major parties. He said TV ads with someone who has high credibility, like Sen. John McCain, might sway some minds.

“But a lot of people don’t like someone telling them what to do,” he said.

The survey of 400 registered voters was conducted last Thursday through Sunday and has a margin of error of 4.9 percent.