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Arizona Democrats' Defeat Dissected and Why the Party Needs to Bust Out a Guillotine or Two

NEAR BEER
The only thing lame duck Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard could do to redeem himself from his painful-to-watch, failed run at becoming this state's CEO is call a news conference announcing the indictments of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the entire MCSO command staff.

Barring the unlikely occurrence of Goddard indicting Maricopa County's (for the moment) Teflon Don, Goddard should take a cue from Dave Chappelle's career arc and fall off the face of the planet once his term's done in January.

Sure, Goddard was doomed. But it wasn't Arizona Senate Bill 1070 that doomed him, or Governor Jan Brewer's signing of that vicious breathing-while-brown statute. No, Goddard, and his fellow Democrats, doomed themselves. They ceded the entire immigration debate — the only one that mattered, sadly — to the Republicans, without ever attempting to do otherwise.

In fact, Democratic candidates and their flacks were encouraged to avoid the dreaded term "SB 1070" altogether, as if it invoked the Devil himself.

They were advised by internal pollsters, focus group gurus, and party hacks to talk "tough" on the border or even, as in the case of quisling Dem Jon Hulburd, embrace it and ignore the stench of nativism sticking to them.

Hulburd, who went as far to the right as possible in conservative Congressional District 3, was still bested by 11 points by the much-maligned Ben Quayle. In CD5, Democratic Representative Harry Mitchell, who also cozied up to nativism and 1070, was undone by his foil, David Schweikert.

What better evidence do you need that between heroin cut with powdered Pedialyte and the real deal, the customer will always opt for the latter?

Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick in CD1? She, too, copped a Republican-lite line on immigration and was whupped by Paul Gosar, a wingnut ivory-puller. Only Representative Gabby Giffords in CD8 mimicked a tusker and pulled it off. Nevertheless, insane-in-the-membrane Tea Partier Jesse Kelly nearly engineered an upset.

Democratic rationalizers will throw CD7's Congressman Raul Grijalva at me, in riposte. Yeah, his Republican nobody-foe Ruth McClung came too close for comfort, but Grijalva still topped her by five points. By the end, he had to apologize for backing the boycott over 1070, but he didn't back off his opposition to the law itself.

There are other issues here in Sand Land, but immigration and the poisonous combo of nativism and xenophobia are the dominant factors, unavoidable in our prickly needle patch.

Dems were clueless as to how to respond to 1070, because for so long they have taught themselves to betray their beliefs and hide beneath a thick duvet of false moderation.

Goddard, for instance, waffled from jump, first finding 1070 "troubling," then whining because mean ol' Jan Brewer wouldn't let him defend it in court. He even blasted the federal government for suing over 1070, though he knew (secretly) it was the right thing for the U.S. Department of Justice to do.

Supporters defend Goddard, claiming he had no choice, that as AG he was duty-bound to protect 1070 like a mama hen guarding her newly hatched chicks.

If that was his only excuse, Goddard should have resigned his office, denounced 1070 and the governor for signing it, and exposed the law as an unconstitutional boondoggle benefiting the Snell & Wilmer lawyers hired to defend it, the private prison industry, and merchants of hate, such as state Senate President-elect Russell Pearce.

I won't argue against 1070's popularity in Arizona, but the GOP's nativist battering ram wasn't constructed in a fortnight.

Some — like yours truly — were ringing the tocsin at the beginning of 2010, as Pearce set 1070 in motion. Too many Dems, however, were turning tail, concocting alibis, avoiding public statements.

So when Goddard gave his concession at the Wyndham Phoenix on Election Night, I was startled to hear him utter the following:

"This state that we love is not, has never been, and must not become a place of hatred and racial unrest. We must resoundingly reject Russell Pearce and those that would make our great state a poster child for racial discord in this nation. We cannot allow that to happen to Arizona."

It was raw flesh to the party faithful present, stuff they'd wanted to hear Goddard emphasize during the campaign.

If he had, perhaps he wouldn't have garnered around 70,000 fewer votes than Democratic Attorney General hopeful Felecia Rotellini.

Rotellini, too, adopted a near-beer attitude toward 1070 in the general election, as her rival Tom Horne painted himself as Mr. 1070, Mr. Ethnic Studies Ban, and Mr. Anti-Amnesty.

Her stance didn't get her past Horne, but she fared better than Goddard did against his opponent. Brewer's spread, at last count, was more than 200,000 votes. Whereas Horne crept past Rotellini with around 60,000. (Early ballots and provisionals were still being counted as this column went to press.)

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons