Brace Yourself for 1990
On the eve of his stunning political triumph, Julian Sanders was in an expansive mood. "I am not prejudiced," said Sanders. "I pick up black hitchhikers if I see them in need."
Because I half expected him to tick off which Stevie Wonder albums he owned, it was plain that while Sanders continues to surprise, he no longer shocks. The Tempe architect has flown his true colors for months.
"Worse than Lucifer" and "the antichrist" were the words Sanders used to describe Martin Luther King Jr. in a public letter he sent to the head of the Mormon Church earlier this year. Despite this willful disrobing, Sanders was not shunned. He has still succeeded in forcing the King holiday, enacted a mere three months ago by the legislature, to a vote of all Arizona residents in November 1990. Tomorrow petitions with approximately 80,000 signatures will be submitted by Sanders and his allies to the Secretary of State's Office, almost twice the number needed to put the King holiday on the ballot.
Given the moment, Sanders understandably was full of himself and chose to explain how Dr. King essentially did not respect blacks.
"It appeared from some of King's statements and actions, if you analyzed them, he himself didn't believe that blacks were equal. Those who are less gifted, underprivileged, had less ability to learn--you had to take from those who had more. Take from overachievers and give to the underachievers.
"Julian Sanders does not accept that. All men are created equal. There is no justification for creating laws that penalize achievers."
Well . . . Julian Sanders is correct when he says that he and Martin Luther King do not respect black people in the same way; certainly the two men would differ as to why some must sleep in their cars while others may offer rides.
I listened to Julian Sanders on the phone and I glanced at the evening news on television.
I watched in astonishment as East Germans pried cinder blocks from the Berlin Wall at a time when Arizonans continue to hurl brickbats at the memory of Martin Luther King Jr.
In Bulgaria, in Latvia, in Czechoslovakia, in Estonia, in Hungary, in Poland, on cobbled streets wherever Eastern Europeans gathered, candles were lighted and hands were joined as millions of people asked their government rulers for freedom.
King sought similar freedoms for his people and marched on to witness to the world that equality is a constant struggle, not just for blacks but for all mankind. Even in America. Tomorrow, Arizona will repudiate Martin Luther King Jr. yet again.
Here in the Valley of the Sun we began the year with a race riot at the state's largest university, and with these petitions, we are concluding the holidays in clear defiance and open contempt for decency.
ON JUNE 16, the legislature adjourned without passing the King holiday. First proposed in 1975, recognition of Dr. King has failed annually, dying this year in committee when Senate President Robert Usdane broke repeated promises to allow a holiday bill onto the floor for a vote.
The legislation only revived inside a hastily called special session in September after business leaders realized that the NFL was unlikely to select Phoenix as a Super Bowl site in 1993 if we were one of only four states in America that refused to recognize Dr. King.
If the motivation--fear of losing a $200 million Super Bowl payday--for support of a King holiday was dubious, the effectiveness of corporate leaders was not. The business executives even overcame Governor Rose Mofford's palsied leadership.
When King holiday backers met with Governor Mofford on August 4, she assured them she would include the issue in the upcoming special session of the legislature. The next day she publicly reversed herself. Then Pastor Warren Stewart sent her a copy of the minutes of the meeting where she'd Pledged her support of the King holiday; she reversed herself again stating, "If we could do it in a day and not prolong it and fight, I would be happy."
Finally, Bill Shover and other Super Bowl ramrods sat the governor and obstreperous legislators down and spoke forcefully of fiscal sense and political nonsense.
Republican senators still refused to follow the national King bill signed by President Ronald Reagan that combined Lincoln and Washington holidays into a single Presidents' Day. Instead, Columbus Day was killed to make room for recognition of Dr. King. The leaders of the GOP agreed that Arizona would suffer irreparably if state workers had two holidays where there had been but one.
At the time Republican Senator Leo Corbet joked with me that Columbus was the clear choice to go because it was obviously a Democratic holiday: Columbus had been funded by the government, he didn't know where he was going and when he got there, he didn't know where he was.
On September 21, the legislators created the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday; however, anyone who hoped that this depressing period of racial embarrassment was behind Arizona was misled.
Once impeached and once again a candidate for governor, Evan Mecham told a radio audience, "The only question that I have is, is this going to further civil rights and improve things in Arizona, or is this a militant movement to just prove it and shove it down your throats?"
Mecham's uncanny ability to give voice to the dark passions in this state rallied one front in the anti-King offensive.
In another camp, the Knights of Columbus and Italian-American organizations throughout the state met to map out a course of action to restore the holiday for the man who discovered America. Once more politicians had taught the insidious lesson that if black people gain something then white people must lose something.
Mecham loyalist Julian Sanders launched a petition drive to let the voters of the state decide whether the King/Columbus bill ought to stand. Although he preached moderation, Sanders soon made his intentions transparent.
Sanders leaked copies of a letter he'd written to the head of the Mormon Church wherein he claimed, "he (King) exceeded Lucifer in his ability to deceive the masses with impressive oration and dedication in spite of his addiction to alcohol, tobacco and sex."
Despite this unhinged ranting, Sanders was joined in the quest for petition signatures by Pat Quaranta of the American-Italian Club of Phoenix. Overcoming his obvious distaste for Sanders' hectoring of King, Quaranta joined this strange bedfellow because he'd do whatever was necessary to restore Columbus Day.
Neither man was able to gather the 43,350 valid signatures necessary on his own, but combined, they estimate they have about 80,000--enough to get it on the ballot, even allowing for invalid signatures that will be thrown out.
Despite his success, Quaranta is not interested in killing the King Holiday. "I told people I'd hold off as long as possible on filing these petitions," he said. "I was praying they would have another special session that would settle this by restoring Columbus, but it never happened."
One other avenue open to Quaranta and others was outlined by Attorney General Bob Corbin. In an informal opinion on November 28, the prosecutor said that because of a technicality, the part of the legislation that canceled the Columbus holiday was improperly drafted. If a lawsuit were filed, it was Corbin's opinion that the King section would remain intact and that the part of the bill dealing with Columbus would be thrown out. Both holidays would be legal.
A successful lawsuit would deal with Quaranta's problem and he would not have to turn in his petitions. An isolated Sanders would not have enough signatures of his own.
It was also hoped by King holiday backers that a quick lawsuit filed before the petitions were turned in would avoid the image that lawyers were somehow frustrating the will of the people to vote.
The Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest began to explore the possibility of filing suit. Quick pursuit, however, has never been the strength of lawyers, liberals and committees. The unexpected success of Sanders' petitions, coming as they do--one day before Hanukkah and four days before Christmas--have caught King supporters both distracted and disillusioned.
Everyone knew that signatures were being hustled at places like the Phoenix Cardinals games, and everyone knew the deadline was December 21. Still, people have most often reacted with, "Oh, they can't possibly have enough signatures!"
Frankly, the most visible King leaders are stretched too thin at this critical moment.
For three years, Pastor Warren Stewart has chaired the King organization. The father of five young boys, the head of the state's largest black church and an active member of the pro-life movement, he has for some time warned that he would step down. Earlier this year he said he would resign in January and if a campaign in November was necessary to save the King holiday, the effort ought to be led by a white man. Stewart's move was acknowledged as politically judicious in a state where less than 5 percent of the population is black.
The most visible white leader on behalf of King has, of late, been Arnie Zaler, the chairman of the Outreach Committee of the Jewish Federation.
Recently Zaler's mother suffered a brain aneurysm. He spends so much time on trips to her California bedside, at his computer-software business and agitating for a King holiday, Zaler's own children have begun to ask after him. Two weeks ago his grandfather passed away, and suddenly Zaler's sense of loss was matched only by the sense of responsibility as he shouldered the family duties of burial and estate.
Beyond these all too human problems, questions of whether or not to sue have also foundered upon the delicacies that afflict dealings between the well-intentioned and minorities.
Kevin Lanigan, executive director of the Center for Law, said they would not sue without the go-ahead from a black client.
Pastor Stewart refused to carry that burden. Why should a black organization risk the failure of the suit when the King holiday was for everyone? Let the Center go ahead and sue if it so chose, reasoned Stewart, but why use the King Committee as cannon fodder?
After three years of his leading the charge in the face of constant rejection, after securing a King holiday only because of the Super Bowl--of all things--after announcing his resignation and asking that someone in the white community step forward, here come these damn liberals asking that the Pastor get out in front of this litigation.
It was all too much.
And if you think Pastor Stewart selected a fine time indeed to get sensitive, you must also know that he was not alone.
In the midst of this guilt gulag, Senator Leo Corbet proposed a legislative remedy that would have identified Columbus with an Italian heritage day. This only served to make Pat Quaranta sputter with indignation, "Columbus Day isn't an Italian holiday, it's American!"
On December 12 the board of directors for the Center for Law decided to take no action.
The next day Zaler returned from the California funeral to a full meeting of the King Committee, where he pushed for a lawsuit. The committee voted unanimously to have its own board reconsider asking the Center to initiate a suit. But the Center's board would not meet again for another month, and in the meantime, petitions were being signed.
Could someone else file a lawsuit in the interim?
Zaler called a couple of attorneys but it was only a halfhearted effort; his mind was preoccupied.
Pastor Stewart felt that the business leaders behind the local Super Bowl push might start the litigation. NFL officials will choose a city for the 1993 championship this coming spring, and they are unlikely to name Phoenix in March if voters have a November ballot that could kill the King holiday.
But so far, no one from the Super Bowl group has stepped forward.
Quaranta of the American-Italian Club would love to see the Center file the lawsuit, but he says Lanigan refuses to accept the Italians as clients. Quaranta finds this infuriating since it was Columbus Day that was abolished to make room for King. Quaranta feels the injured party.
Too busy organizing a Christmas benefit for more than 100 abused children to search out a private attorney to sue, the discouraged Quaranta honestly feels this suit belongs in the hands of the Center for Law in the Public Interest.
"If the entire holiday mess, Columbus and King, isn't in the public interest, what is?" wonders Quaranta.
Lanigan reasons that under the law, where a King holiday exists and a Columbus holiday does not, the American-Italian Club has nothing to lose if the suit fails. Therefore, says Lanigan, those people with something at risk, the King Committee, must make the call.
Throughout this colossal dithering, people continued to sign petitions.
Tomorrow, December 21, Quaranta and Sanders will file their petitions. Unless a lawsuit is risked Arizona will spend 1990 arguing over Martin Luther King Jr. It makes me bone weary.
Already people are shaking their heads. The questions are starting again: What sort of place is Arizona?
Arnie Zaler is adamant that if it comes to an election on the King holiday, people must not give in to exhaustion. Depression must not become an excuse for lethargy. He is right.
YOU CANNOT ESCAPE the prejudices of Arizona. It is the same everywhere.
One fall I left Phoenix grateful to be away from the agenda of the bigots who wanted to declare Arizona an "English- only" state as a reaction against immigrant Mexicans.
I was in France but leaving the next day for North Africa. I stopped at a bar next to my hotel. For some reason, the door to the saloon was closed and bolted. When I knocked, the owner peered out through a small, latched peephole. Inside, the dark room was nearly deserted. I put some coins into the jukebox and the bartender put a drink in front of me. The man made small talk until he discovered that I was departing for Morocco in the morning. This completely unsettled the Frenchman.
For the next five minutes, he railed on about what ungodly wretches Moroccans were. All Moroccans were thieves. They did not wash. Their very presence ruined Paris. He never allowed a Moroccan into his bar.
One week later I sat in the passenger seat of a car as a Moroccan drove through the Atlas range well outside the ancient walls of Fez. The man described various Berber tribes that inhabited the countryside. Although none of the nomads completely met with his approval, he said that at least the Berbers in the Rif Mountains along the Mediterranean were honorable. If you crossed them, they would cut your throat. At the end of his talk, he mentioned a particular tribe that he regarded with a sneer.
"If you want to sleep with a man's daughter, you can do that. If you want to sleep with a man's wife, you can do that."
He paused for a moment, searching for a description to fully illustrate his disgust.
"These people . . . they are worse than the French."
ARIZONA IS NOT this amusing, but neither is it so different from the rest of the world. If we must fight again for King, then we must fight.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.