Over the past month, the state of Arizona has come into the national spotlight since it enacted the nation’s harshest immigration law, SB-1070. In another controversial move, this week Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ) signed into law a bill that will ban ethnic studies in public schools. A couple weeks ago, the Arizona legislature approved a “birther bill” that would require President Barack Obama to show his birth certificate and prove his own citizenship status. A sharp critic of Arizona’s nativist efforts has been Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon. Today, Gordon sat down to talk with the Wonk Room about what has led Arizona to take such drastic measures.
Gordon described a “perfect storm” consisting of three factors. First, the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine radicalized the political discourse. Second, beefed up border security along the California and Texas borders with Mexico redirected smugglers and cartel operatives toward Arizona. And lastly, the economic recession. Gordon explains that “politicians who love their job a lot more than they love their state or their country” exploited the three factors and led Arizona into the predicament it’s in now:
This became a perfect storm….we had the ending under Reagan of the Fairness Doctrine, which not only allowed both sides of an issue, it required both sides of an issue to be discussed. [...] Language that was spoken in the dark rooms, but not out in front became acceptable. And it became acceptable on television and radio. Particularly the extreme right radio. [...]
The second in Arizona was the fact that we are right on the border when Texas and California were tightened up. [...] It made Arizona the gateway and continues to do so because it is an impossible border to secure.
As a result of that, and the issue of the economy, the three came together and were exploited politically by individuals like Hayworth, and Russell Pierce — the local senator — and the governor [Jan Brewer], and those that love their job a lot more than they love their state or their country. The more extreme these issues became, the more leadership these individuals took on and scared off other more moderates, particular Republicans.
Gordon also listed another element which has exacerbated the extremism that is present in Arizona. When President Barack Obama was elected president, he appointed then governor of Arizona, Janet Napolitano (D), to serve as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. According to Gordon, when Napolitano left, her successor (Brewer) filled the void left behind by appointing a lot “extremists” who “hijacked” the system. The Wonk Room previously reported that Napolitano stated that she vetoed bills similar to SB-1070 “at least twice.”