Speaking to attendees of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's Black and White Ball Saturday night at the downtown Phoenix Sheraton, Governor Jan Brewer refused to say whether or not she would sign state Senator Russell Pearce's police state/anti-immigrant bill SB 1070. But she assured the crowd that she understood its opposition to the measure.
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"In regards to Senate Bill 1070," she stated, "I will tell you that I never make comment, like most governors throughout our country, before a bill reaches my desk. But I hear you, and I will assure you that I will do what I believe is the right thing so that everyone is treated fairly."
Her statement prompted a quip from the following speaker, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, who asked the mostly Latino crowd, "I think what I just heard was a commitment to veto that bill, whatdya think?"
Gordon's remark drew loud applause, though Brewer's ambiguous statement offered little promise that she would reject the bill once it reaches her desk.
The final read on the bill will be held in the state Senate this Monday, April 19. A positive vote is anticipated. It should be transmitted to the governor shortly thereafter.
Brewer could allow the bill to become law without her signature, sign it, or veto it. Doing the last would be an incredible act of political courage, perhaps a suicidal one.
Although a recent Rasmussen poll shows her ahead of a wide field of contenders in the GOP gubernatorial primary with 26 percent support, the same poll found that, "Two-thirds (67%) of GOP primary voters say that a candidate's position on immigration is very important in determining how they will vote."
However, Brewer has bucked her own party previously, by pushing a state sales tax increase that will go to the voters in the form of Prop 100. Brewer thanked the Chamber in her address for supporting the proposition, which would up the sales tax by 1 cent.
Prior to Brewer taking the stage, AZHCC President/CEO Armando Contreras urged the governor to reject Pearce's legislation.
"Legislation like Senate bill 1070 [is] not only an unnecessary waste of precious resources, but bad for business, bad for our economy's recovery," he stated in his speech. "Therefore it is with great respect for you Governor Brewer and the office you were sworn to uphold, that I ask that you veto Senate Bill 1070."
Contreras noted that Latino immigrants had become the target of a "hostile contingent in our legislature," one that projects an image of Arizona that is "backward and uncaring."
He further stated that, "In this economy, Arizona can ill-afford to present itself as an unwelcoming and embittered environment."
Gordon's speech denounced the climate of hate now prevalent in Arizona, and urged people to get involved and speak out against those who "would return [Arizona] to the 1950s," when hate mongers hid behind "white sheets."
"Let's make our state what it was founded on," he intoned. "A state that values and treasures diversity. That values and treasures a great work ethic. And welcomes anyone that wants to be part of our state."
After the speeches, I ran into Arizona Congressman Ed Pastor, who told me that many in D.C. are wondering what's up with Arizona and its hate-filled legislation.
"So now we're being touted as the state with the toughest immigration law," he explained. "And there are members in Congress who think that's great. But I think the majority are kind of confused that a state that relies so much [on] an economy that's intertwined with the Mexican economy and its people, why we're going for such a hard thing.
"I tell them that in Arizona we have a love-hate relationship with Mexicans," he smiled. "When there's a problem, we blame them for everything, When we need something done around our house, we love 'em."
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, who may be vying with Brewer in the general election for the state's top spot, was also present that evening. I asked if he would veto SB 1070 were he governor. He responded with characteristic caution.
"I can't answer that question," he said. "All I can say is there are some troubling aspects [to the legislation]. It would be very hard."
The Attorney General would be obliged to defend the bill in court once it becomes law. This might be one reason for Goddard's reticence, but I'm sure many Democrats would like for the AG to be more vocal on SB 1070, and the negative impact it will have on the state.
Goddard mentioned that he'd recently been in D.C. on an economic development mission, and had been questioned on the law by businessmen and potential investors in Arizona. He said that the reporting by national news outlets on the matter had hurt the state's image.
"It puts us back to being singled out for being reactionary, racist, this kind of stuff," he stated.
Unfortunately, it's a reputation that Arizona richly deserves.
Outside the Sheraton, several demonstrators with Phoenix civil rights leader Salvador Reza's Puente Movement protested Brewer's attendance at the event. Reza said that Brewer's being part of the evening's program would be analogous to, say, the African National Congress inviting pro-apartheid South African leader P.W. Botha to speak before it during the ANC's fight against his regime.
Of course, the pro-business AZHCC ain't no ANC, by the longest stretch of imagination, though I understand what Reza was getting at.
"[The Chamber] could have said, `Governor, until you say you're not going to sign that bill, we don't want you here,'" he contended.
On the other hand, having the governor there also allowed her to be pressured by the AZHCC, and by Reza's protesters, which is something, I suppose.
(Note: Thanks to my colleague Jose Munoz for some of the photos above. You can see more of Munoz's work at his Web site photosbyjosemunoz.com.)