Ousting of Senator Leah Landrum Taylor from Democratic Leadership Post Leaves Black Leaders Fuming, Feeling Disenfranchised

Senator Leah Landrum Taylor speaks at a rally supporting Pastor Warren Stewart for the District 8 City Council seat.
Senator Leah Landrum Taylor speaks at a rally supporting Pastor Warren Stewart for the District 8 City Council seat.

A move by Arizona's Democratic senators that booted Senator Leah Landrum Taylor from her post as the Senate minority leader on Tuesday has infuriated leaders of the black community.

The decision is causing further strain on the relationship between black and Latino leaders in Phoenix.

See also: -Black Leaders Struggle to Retain Power in a District They've Historically Controlled

About 25 black leaders had gathered on the steps of the Calvin C. Goode Municipal building to rally African-Americans to vote on November 5 -- and to support Pastor Warren Stewart, the only black candidate in the District 8 race.

A loss by Stewart would mean no black representative on the Phoenix City Council. With that weighing on their minds, leaders then learned about Landrum Taylor's fate.

After the press conference, several leaders fumed in heated conversations about Landrum Taylor -- the state's highest and only black representative -- being removed.

"She's done nothing wrong," said Luther Holland, a retired pastor who's ministered to the community for about 45 years.

He and other black leaders are calling on the Arizona Democratic Party to demand that its state senators apologize.

That's unlikely to happen anytime soon.

DJ Quinlane, executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party, said they, too, were caught off guard by the unexpected leadership change.

"I don't think a lot of us really know yet what happened," he said. "It's premature to label this as racism or sexism. Clearly, the caucus made a decision, we don't know the reasons for that yet."

He's confident things will be smoothed over by the next session, and Democrats will come together because "the policies that Republicans are pushing out hurt all Arizonans."

"We're here to bring together our very diverse coalition," Quinlane said, adding that leadership battles within political parties were not uncommon. "We're here to heal the wounds that occur after these types of battles."

Holland, however, had no problem calling it blatant racism.

"Am I playing the race card? Yes," he said to New Times. He explained that it was because the state's Dems are "treating me like I am a member of their reservation. I'm not on their reservation. I'm not on their plantation. They did to Senator Leah Landrum Taylor what I would expected they would do 75 years ago. But not in 2013."

Black leaders said that Landrum Taylor has been a loyal member of the party and has done nothing to disgrace it.

It all started when the state's Democratic senators met Tuesday morning to select a replacement for Senator Linda Lopez of Tucson, who was stepping down form her post as assistant minority leader.

There was "robust discussion" at a closed-door meeting where Senator Steve Gallardo of Phoenix made the motion that promoted Senator Anna Tovar of Tolleson to Senate minority leader.

After the initial vote, several members walked out.

Senator Lynne Pancrazi of Yuma ended up being selected as the assistant minority leader, and Gallardo stepped in as minority whip.

Gallardo insists that it wasn't personal.   "We're trying to move forward," he said. "The caucus decided to go in a different direction politically in the next session."

When we asked specifically what that different direction was, he said he didn't "want to get into that."

He said it wasn't the caucus' intention to cause upheaval in the black community.

"It wasn't trying to get people riled up or upset," Gallardo said.

Gallardo said that the focus of the change was about the 2014 election -- about protecting members who were going to be challenged in certain races and promoting other Democrats who are running in other district and trying to gain additional new seats.

We asked how the party was going to move forward with festering resentment, and threats by some of Democrats to defect from the party.

"It's a legitimate question," he said. "Hopefully the caucus will continue to stay together."

Regarding the blow felt by the African-American community, Gallardo said that he is willing to sit down with anyone who would like to talk to him about it.

"I have a good working relationship with the African-American community," he said. "I really do. I would love to be able to sit down and talk to them if they are upset."

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