By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
"If they'd come down here with a couple of thousand people thinking that that would give them political power that they could then make a move, that would have been a mistake. It went well because it did not reflect any militancy," said Usdane.
There may not have been militancy by Zaler and the other supporters of the King holiday, but there was exposure on the evening news and, consequently, retribution.
"The calls have been terrible," said Zaler. "There have been so many, sixty calls right away. My four-year-old and my one-year-old heard some of this when I played the answering machine--`You dirty Jew, you nigger lover.' Someone sent a letter with a swastika on it. The message was, `We know how to deal with people like you.'"
In the face of these violent emotions, Usdane is most concerned that his delicate coalition of Republicans not be rocked by confrontation. As the unrest on both sides of the King holiday mounts, Usdane seeks to minimize.
"I don't believe it's as important as people make it out to be legislatively," says Usdane of the King bill.
The suggestion that a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is not a big deal in Arizona requires a unique perspective:
* The King holiday was the symbol that rallied opposition against then-Governor Mecham and his frequent attacks against women, gays, Jews, blacks, Asians, and Hispanics. When the Senate's only black, Carolyn Walker, cast the deciding ballot for conviction, she voted on the twentieth anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King.
* Phoenix area high schools are under court order to integrate. Earlier this year, 200 blacks and whites at Alhambra High School fought each other with fists because of racial tension.
* Phoenix's most exclusive enclave, Paradise Valley, has virtually no minorities living within its boundaries. A local attorney seeking to get favorable zoning for a client told the town he would seek a fair-housing bill in the legislature unless his client obtained the variance he sought.
* Terrified of the potential influence of the state's Hispanic population, Arizona became one of the first states to vote for an English-only amendment to the Constitution.
* Although he was already working under a plan to recruit more minorities to Arizona State University in Tempe, President J. Russell Nelson was forced to sign a twelve-point plan last month to improve racial harmony at ASU in the wake of demonstrations at the university. The protests were sparked when 500 white students on fraternity row surrounded four blacks and screamed "niggers," "coons" and "porch monkeys." It took four Valley police agencies to break up the brawl.
* In March, at the University of Arizona in Tucson, four black football players walked through the campus assaulting white people they encountered. In April students at the UofA confronted that school's president and demanded racial reforms.
* For the last three years on the anniversary of the holiday, 10,000 people have marched to give witness to their desire for a King celebration. At the same time this year, a contingent of fascist skinheads also marched along a different route shouting white-power slogans.
Short of lynchings or the Klan burning crosses on Central Avenue, it is difficult to picture just what would make the King holiday a big deal if recent events have not. Some might even argue that in a state where the economy is depressed, the very fact that business executives and Republican leaders can look at a $62 million-dollar loss from a national boycott while maintaining the King holiday isn't a financial issue is prima facie evidence that Arizona has de-evolved into the Mississippi of the Sun Belt.
But Usdane looks at the King issue from the perspective of the Senate president.
The legislative session is winding down with the budget crisis unresolved. The state cannot possibly balance its books and fund the various strapped state programs without raising taxes. In some areas, such as prison overcrowding, Arizona has a disaster on its hands. Funding for mental health programs is so abysmal--the state ranks lower in per-capita expenditures than all 49 other states and the territory of Puerto Rico--that the courts have stepped in and ordered the monies be found. And yet, Republicans in general and the fundamentalist Christian officeholders in particular are adamant that there will be no new taxes.
This is what Senator Usdane means when he says the King bill is not that important legislatively because, "There are lots of things I have to get done for Arizona."
In seeking accommodation with the fundamentalist Christians who have captured key positions within Arizona's Republican party, critics wonder if Robert Usdane, the Jew, hasn't exchanged his principles as an individual for the principle of the greater good. The problems facing Arizona are complex, and Usdane insists he has a vision that will help. He will need to be a man of authority to implement solutions. Today, that strength is dependent upon Mecham's allies in the Senate. Some men who court such power, those with agendas, like Lyndon Baines Johnson or Ronald Reagan, engineered revolutions with their influence. Lesser mortals are merely influence peddlers. For those who pray for a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Usdane's brinkmanship with the fundamentalists is unnerving. If the King bill passes, Usdane will get very little credit for his role as steward. And if it fails, Usdane's accommodation of the Christian extremists will be remembered as appeasement.