Ken Bennett's "Birther" Request Shows the Insanity of Arizona's GOP

If you need an explanation as to why birtherism is alive and well in Arizona, just spend a little time with the alter kocker kooks who regularly attend meetings of Mesa's Red Mountain Tea Party, the epicenter of far-right extremism in the Valley of the Sun.

Each week in the auditorium of a Mesa charter school, hundreds of geezer Teabaggers with one leg in the tomb meet for extended bitch sessions and speeches from local politicos presided over by founder Randy Hatch, whose pale countenance and coal-black hair lends him a mortician-like vibe.

Not everyone there looks like they could pass for a World War II vet (or the wife of one), but let's just say that only a tiny minority need not worry about losing their choppers when biting into a hunk of sirloin.

That's not to knock old people. I mean, I aspire to be a senior citizen one day. But these geriatrics are so far to the right that they would make Ronald Reagan seem a flaming lefty, were he still above ground.

Their articles of faith hold that Sheriff Joe Arpaio could walk on Tempe Town Lake if he wanted, that all Mexican immigrants are "dirty" (just like Sheriff Joe says), and that President Barack Obama was, without a doubt, born in Kenya and, therefore, is ineligible to be the nation's chief executive.

The big problem is, these crazy old 'baggers actually have power. Nearly every GOPer running for office eventually goes before them to prove his or her conservative bona fides.

Sadly, these fossils are the activist base of Arizona's GOP, and woe be it to any Republican who does not cater to their whims, like the fantasy that President Obama's birth certificate is a forgery.

That's why I almost felt an ounce of sympathy for Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett as I watched him address the Red Mountain Tea Party this past Monday, with Hatch moderating.

Bennett recently put himself front and center of the birther madness by asking the state of Hawaii to verify that it has in its possession Obama's original birth certificate, which shows he was born in Honolulu on August 4, 1961, making him a natural-born citizen of the United States and eligible to be president.

Never mind that Obama's "certification of live birth" was made public four years ago or that in 2011, Hawaii's Department of Health issued a waiver to its own rules and produced two certified copies of Obama's so-called "long form" birth certificate, one of which the White House posted to its website for all the world to see.

Loretta Fuddy, current director of Hawaii's Department of Health, granted that waiver and signed a letter to the president stating, "I have witnessed the copying of the certificate and attest to the authenticity of these copies."

Fuddy serves at the pleasure of Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat, but the verification of Obama's birth certificate is bipartisan and stretches back to 2008, when Dr. Chiyome Fukino, health-director appointee of then-Republican Governor Linda Lingle, issued a statement saying that she had "personally seen and verified" Obama's birth certificate, which is in her department's possession.

In 2009, Fukino issued another statement, insisting that she had "seen the original vital records maintained on file by the Hawaii State Department of Health verifying that Barack Hussein Obama was born in Hawaii and is a natural-born American citizen."

Fuddy's letter and Fukino's statements all are available via Hawaii government websites, by the way.

Keep in mind that the electronically generated "certification of live birth" made public in 2008 has legal validity and is what any native son or daughter of Hawaii would receive upon request of a copy of his or her birth certificate.

But tinfoil-hat wearers, like those in the RMTP, never die (until, one by one, they actually do), because they hate Obama. They're also suspicious of the fact that his dad was from Kenya and that he's the product of a mixed-race marriage, and — let's be honest — that he's the nation's first African-American president.

After all, does the birth certificate or place of birth of über-Caucasian and Pat Boone wanna-be Mitt Romney ever get questioned? Of course not, because to an entire class of Republican doofuses, being white is equivalent to being American.

It's no mistake, for instance, that the one characteristic RMTPers have in common — other than their decrepitude — is a general lack of melanin.

To some degree, the bigoted idgits of the RMTP are reflective not only of Sand Land's GOP but of this place in general, as a recent Morrison Institute poll showed that a whopping 60 percent of Arizona voters support the concept behind a "birther bill," with 76 percent of GOPers supporting it and 58 percent of Democrats opposing it.

This leaves about 42 percent of Dems (or dem-wits) who need to be drummed out of their own party.

Maricopa County's cynical top cop knows a good thing when he eyeballs it, which explains the sheriff's "cold case posse" spending a reported $40,000 on a sham "investigation" into birther claims, concluding (surprise, surprise) that there is "probable cause" to believe Obama's long-form birth certificate is a "forgery."

That Arpaio would exploit the stupidity of conspiracy wackos is no shocker. But when my colleague Matt Hendley blogged that Secretary of State Bennett (who also acts as Romney's Arizona co-chair) apparently had jumped on this backward bandwagon, I raised an eyebrow. This mainly is because Bennett always has struck me as a Republican of the non-crazy variety, one not given over to the partisan insanity of some of his colleagues.

In an e-mail quoted by online publication World Net Daily (better known as World Nut Daily), Bennett, though skeptical of birther claims, said he had asked Hawaii officials for yet another verification of the Obama birth certificate. The likely Republican candidate for governor also promised:

"If Hawaii can't or won't provide verification of the president's birth certificate, I will not put his name on the ballot."

The fallout from Hendley's blog was swift. Bennett was forced to issue a press release stating for the record: "I am not a birther." Yet he left the door open for more birther madness, telling KFYI's Mike Broomhead that though he believed Obama was born in Hawaii, that state's officialdom was dragging its feet on getting back to him and, therefore, it was "possible" Obama might not make it on the 2012 presidential ballot in Arizona.

Bennett claimed he had initiated the inquiry only because more than 1,000 of his "constituents" hit him with e-mails on the subject, demanding action. Add to that a petition with 3,000 signatures and Bennett felt he must play the dutiful public servant.

I suspected Bennett was using the issue to gain some traction with his party's dominant crazy wing. But watching him squirm before a couple hundred birthers at the RMTP gave me second thoughts.

Bennett's address dealt with what his office does to ensure accurate ballot counts and prevent fraud at the polls. Dull stuff, during which some of the seniors actually nodded off.

But before opening up the event to audience questions, Hatch directed Bennett to explain what was going on with the Obama birth-certificate situation.

The Secretary of State suggested that the current kerfuffle was a result of Hawaii's intransigence over the issue and its insistence that he must prove he has the authority to request the information.

That afternoon, Bennett said he felt he all but had resolved his contretemps with Hawaiian officials and that he believed, "within the next day or two," Arizona would receive verification from Hawaii and the controversy would conclude, at least for him

(One day after Bennett's appearance, Hawaii sent over a "verification of birth" to the secretary of state, which he accepted, though you can be sure the irrational, antediluvian airheads of the RMTP will cling to their birtherism in defiance of all sanity.)

Hatch then chided Bennett for declaring on KFYI that he was not a "birther," complaining that the secretary of state had used it like "kind of a dirty term . . . something that marginalized people."

So it does, just as the label and spelling of "troofer" rightfully marginalized the idiots wedded to the grand conspiracy theory that 9/11 was an inside job orchestrated by the Bush administration.

Nevertheless, Bennett, to his credit, stood his ground. He said he did not think "birther" was a dirty word. Still, he said, he could not be categorized as one.

"I have my doubts," Bennett told them. "But for the most part, I believe [President Obama] was born in Hawaii. If he wasn't born in Hawaii and that could be proven, then I think [U.S. Secretary of State and former candidate for the Democratic nomination for president] Hillary Clinton would have proved it four years ago."

As Bennett explained that in Arizona, presidential nominees usually self-certify their meeting all the requirements for office, he seemed genuinely uncomfortable.

When asked what he thought of Arpaio's investigation of the matter — which now includes the ridiculous step of sending a deputy off to Hawaii along with a posse investigator — Bennett offered a critical response.

"If they found probable cause that a crime may have been committed, that the document is a forgery or whatever," Bennett said of Arpaio's posse probe, "that should be turned over to the County Attorney's Office and prosecuted, which has not occurred, and I cannot understand why that hasn't happened."

Heck, I wouldn't put it past Arpaio to throw something in County Attorney Bill Montgomery's lap. Monty wouldn't want it, natch, but that wouldn't stop Joe. This is an election year, after all, and Arpaio's Teabagger followers are fanatics.

One old biddy demanded Bennett do something because Obama was "obviously guilty." To which Bennett was forced to counter like a sixth-grade civics teacher that no one is "guilty" until proven so in court.

Afterward, when I filed out with the oldsters, some griped that the country was "going communist" under Obama. Others talked about how Obama "obviously" was a Muslim.

In the lobby, I asked Bennett why he'd even entertain the notion that Obama's birth certificate was not legit. He repeated his refrain that he was only responding to constituent requests, that he thought Hawaii would quickly respond and end the issue for him.

Then, Bennett admitted that he hadn't seen Chiyome Fukino's aforementioned statements until Monday. He also insisted that he was not trying to "prove" his conservative credentials to anyone.

(Note: As this column went to press, Bennett kinda-sorta ate crow, telling KTAR radio hosts Mac and Gaydos, "If I embarrassed the state, I apologize.")

The simple fact that Bennett felt the need to placate goofball requests from his "constituents," when he should've just ignored them or sent them on their way with copies of Fukino's press releases, shows how deeply insane both the state GOP and Sand Land's political discourse is right now.

Bennett's big mistake was humoring these moon-howlers to begin with. 'Cause if you give the conspiracy-minded crackpots of either the left or the right the time of day, you might as well be Br'er Rabbit playing with the Tar Baby. You'll never get loose.

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