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Will SB 1062 Backlash Change AZ? This Time, It Actually Could

Democrats need to paint their Republican rivals as bad for business and bad for Arizona.
New Times Photo Illustration

Back in the dark ages, Republicans used to be all about the economy, stupid. A chicken in every pot, a home-entertainment center in every living room.

Take, for instance, our last great Republican president — William Jefferson Clinton. He demonstrated that a Democrat (in name) could be pro-business, and during his presidency, the nation enjoyed eight years of peace and prosperity.

Sadly, the GOP long ago abandoned the putative goal of economic prosperity for the mental mud-wrestling of ideological politics.

Nationally, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner recently abandoned a push for immigration reform, bowing to the extremists in the GOP and those GOPers who are afraid of the Teabagger caucus.

This, despite a study from the Bipartisan Policy Center showing the benefits of such reform: a 4.8 percent increase in economic growth, a $68 billion boost to the housing market per year, a slight bump in long-term wages, and a $1.2 trillion reduction in the deficit over the next two decades.

The BPC's immigration task force includes such noted leftists as former former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, both Rs, natch.

So why can't we have immigration reform? Because Tea Party fools don't like brown people.

Locally, Arizona's business community long has played a devil's game with the GOP, allowing the far right to have its way with the state Legislature, as long as business gets what it wants: low taxes, tax breaks, and any other goodies it can lay claim to.

Now, the Legislature once again has passed a bill revealing Arizona to be a hotbed of hatred and bigotry: the anti-gay legislation, Senate Bill 1062, which would amend Arizona's version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to allow business owners to discriminate against gays if their "sincerely held" religious beliefs so dictate.

The bill's language does not single out the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community by name. But it doesn't need to. Other minorities are regarded as "protected classes" by the feds and by some states.

LGBT folks in Arizona do not enjoy this "protected" status, as they do elsewhere.

Backers of 1062, such as Cathi Herrod of the Taliban-like Center for Arizona Policy, know this and are hiding under the ruse of "religious freedom."

Which explains why Herrod, when interviewed by a daytime CNN show, would not answer a simple question: Under 1062, could a restaurant turn away a gay couple based on a "sincerely held" religious belief?

Her foil on the segment, Robert Boston of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, spoke for her: "Her answer is, 'Yes,'" Boston said after Herrod dodged the bullet more than once. "She's afraid to say it. They would be able to discriminate. [That's] fundamentally anti-American, fundamentally wrong."

The media and the American public agree with Boston. Arizona has a voter-approved gay-marriage ban in its constitution, but acceptance of gay marriage elsewhere continues to grow.

Gays now serve openly in the U.S. military, allowing for the possibility, if SB 1062 ever became law, that a veteran LGBTer who lost a limb in Iraq could be denied service by a local bigot who owns a restaurant.

(Note: Some legal scholars say this is already the case under Arizona law, and that 1062 would act more as an invitation for additional discrimination.)

As this column goes to press, the bill, passed by the state House and Senate last week, sits on Governor Jan Brewer's desk, and after the red-hot blast of nonstop outrage by the American public, it's widely assumed she will veto it.

Unlike with Sand Land's anti-brown immigration legislation of four years ago, Senate Bill 1070, post-passage opposition has been swift, broad-based, and sustained.

The Democrats, who fought 1062 like the IRA fought the British, never wavered. And their candidates for statewide office are stalwart in their hostility toward 1062.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred Duval was the first to call for a veto.

"If I were governor, I wouldn't have waited for this bill to get to my desk," he said in a statement. "I would have stopped it before it passed. I would have made it very clear to the Legislature that they shouldn't bother sending me this legislation."

He noted that the bill was a "job-killer," which has been borne out by the business community's near-universal condemnation of 1062 and its call that Brewer veto the "right-to-discriminate" legislation.

One by one, business associations such as the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, and the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce have called for Brewer to gig this six-legged radioactive frog and be finished with it.

Businesses like Apple, American Airlines, and Marriott, have done likewise.

Suddenly, the 2015 Super Bowl in Glendale is in trouble with the National Football League, the Arizona Cardinals, and the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, each issuing statements of concern over 1062 and support for tolerance and inclusiveness.

 

The only Republican gubernatorial candidates to embrace 1062 have been disgraced, disbarred ex-Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and hapless ol' state Senator Al Melvin, who made the mistake of trying to defend 1062 on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360.

Asked by Cooper to offer one — just one — example of religious persecution in Arizona that would make the law necessary, Melvin looked like a kid trying to recall the capital of Rhode Island for his grade-school teacher.

"But you can't cite one example where religious freedom is under attack," Cooper stated.

Straining, Melvin replied: "Not now, no, but how about tomorrow?"

It was almost as fun watching state Representative John Kavanagh get eviscerated during a different segment by Cooper and a New York University law school professor.

At the end, Kavanagh tried an old tactic from 1070 days by telling the prof and Cooper, "You got to read the bill."

Cooper cut off Kavanagh, "Well, we have all read the bill."

Mmmmm, how sweet it is!

Other than Melvin and Thomas, GOP candidates for governor, including Secretary of State Ken Bennett, ex-GoDaddy exec Christine Jones, Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, and even Arizona Treasurer Doug Ducey, who has CAP's Cathi Herrod as a policy adviser and supporter, all have come out in favor of a veto.

GOP moderates who voted for 1062, including state senators Bob Worsley, Adam Driggs, and Steve Pierce, made public mea culpas, saying they regretted their votes and asking Brewer to save the state from 1070-like boycotts with a veto. Plus both of Arizona's Republican U.S. Senators — Jeff Flake and John McCain — say 1062 is onerous and has to go.

Early on, Republican political guru Chuck Coughlin, the guy responsible for giving Brewer the key to the ninth floor, told the New York Times, that he believed Brewer would veto 1062.

That's likely because Chuckles knows that were Brewer to sign this abomination of a bill, the Dems might actually win some statewide offices come November and, who knows, pick up seats in the Legislature.

Assuming Brewer vetoes 1062, the protesters melt away, and the media frenzy dissipates, does this brouhaha have any effect on the political reality of this state and the deep political psychosis that holds sway over Arizona tuskers?

Rebecca Wininger of Equality Arizona, the state's preeminent LGBT advocacy group, says she believes 1062 broke the dromedary's back.

"This is a tipping point," Wininger tells me. "I think people are awake enough now and have found their voice that we're ready to take back our state."

Wininger has been a constant presence at the Capitol, where a diverse crowd opposing 1062 has been showing up almost daily.

Wininger informs me that there's a big demonstration planned for March 29. It will mirror to some degree the massive "Moral March" led by the NAACP in my hometown, Raleigh, to protest the extremism of the North Carolina Legislature.

Marches are great, I told her. But unless some of the Republican crazies are defeated in their primaries by moderate Rs, or by Democrats in general elections, or unless Dems score veto power with the election of Duval, the insanity will roll on like the mighty Mississippi River.

In other words, can the backlash against 1062 be translated into electoral victories?

At the March 29 march, Wininger says, candidates will seek signatures for their nominating petitions, and people will be encouraged to get involved.

What about money? If Brewer saves the Rs' fannies with a veto, will progressives be able raise money with 1062?

"I think so," she tells me. "We're already seeing some inquiries [from out of state about] what people can do to change Arizona."

She also pointed out that the Dems need to pick up only two seats in the state Senate to force a tie. And some statewide wins by Ds, particularly for governor, would help ameliorate the political extremism of the Republican Party.

Certainly, Arizona Democrats can make the case that the Rs simply are bad for the economy because they have passed divisive laws such as 1070 and 1062, statutes that are expensive to litigate and costly to the state's business interests.

In fact, GOP ideologues already have pushed bills out of legislative committees this year opposed to higher standards for our state's K-12 students.

This, because the black-helicopter crowd regards these national standards, referred to as Common Core, as a plot by the Obama administration to teach Karl Marx to children.

An educated workforce? Higher standards? Of course, it's a communist plot! And phooey to the businesses that want employees to be able to read and write.

But so far, the Dems have not made headway politically by opposing this sort of antediluvian thinking.

 

Rather, the seats picked up by the Dems in 2012 in the state Legislature and in Arizona congressional elections were the result of a fair shake from the state's Independent Redistricting Commission, which drew new and more competitive legislative and congressional maps.

The next redistricting will not be until after the next census, in 2020 — a long time to wait for change.

Todd Landfried of Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform saw a similar pattern, with far different dynamics, in the battle over 1070 in 2010.

Four years later, will 1062 be different?

"There's a possibility that the Republicans jumped the shark with 1062," he says. "Time will tell whether the businesspeople who have supported these fringe Republicans over the years, say, 'You know what, it's just not worth it anymore. Even if we have to hold our nose and endorse Democrats.'"

The message to Arizona Rs then would be: Shape up or lose.

Which might force Grand Canyon State Rs to moderate, just as the Democratic party had to moderate back in 1992 to take the White House with Clinton, a conservative (by Democratic Party standards) Southerner.

Until then, I can promise, the crazy will just keep on' comin'.


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