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.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey