Russell Pearce Triumphs on SB 1070, as Minority Leader David Lujan Takes a Powder

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It's state Senator Russell Pearce's Arizona, and the Democrats just live in it. The Republicans? They do as they're told.

Such is the state of affairs after the passage of Pearce's police state/anti-immigrant legislation SB 1070 in the Arizona House today. The handful of disgruntled Republicans who'd been promising quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) to walk away from the vote, in the end followed orders, mollified, in part, by a few minor tweaks offered by state Rep. Andy Biggs.

After some contentious debate and vote explanations, with some legislators throwing around Bible quotes, while others intoned the name of murdered Arizona rancher Robert Krentz like a mantra with magical powers, the vote fell along party lines: 35 ayes, all GOPers; 21 nays, all Dems; and four not voting, also all Dems.

Curiously, one of those Dems who didn't bother to show up was none other than Democratic House Minority Leader David Lujan. Struck by the NV (Not Voting) mark next to his name, I called his office for an explanation. His secretary had no idea where he was.

I obtained the Minority Leader's cell phone number from a source and tried ringing him several times, but there was no answer.

I checked his campaign Web site, as Lujan is currently running for the office of state Attorney General. It showed that he would be at a small Democratic function at the Shepard of the Hills Church in east Phoenix at 7 p.m. So I drove out there to ask him a few questions.

Lujan was present, working the tiny crowd, as if today were any other day, not the day that a bill passed the House requiring that everyone in the state have their papers on them at all times, lest they be detained by authorities on suspicion of being "illegal." 

(The bill must go back to the state Senate and then to the Governor to be signed before becoming law, but this is expected to happen.)

Asked why he wasn't present to vote against, speak against and fight against Pearce's odious legislation, Lujan offered an explanation on par with the proverbial the-dog-ate-my-math-assignment.  

"Well, I wanted to, but my parents were celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary," he told me, lamely. "We had a little family get together this afternoon. The bill's been moving. It was scheduled to be heard two weeks ago, and then last week. And so it just happened to come up on a day when I had a previously scheduled thing."

When I countered that the Dems knew the bill would be coming up today, at least as recently as this past Friday, he admitted that the House leadership did know this, but they also knew they didn't have the votes to halt it.

"If I was there, I certainly would have voted against it," Lujan stated, meekly. "Every immigration bill like that that's come up in the past I've voted against. So I have a long record of voting against those bills."

Then he offered, "I'm actually not going to be there a good part of this week because of the anniversary celebration. We're taking [my parents] to Las Vegas for their 60th anniversary."

At this point, I think my eye may have been twitching, and I was ready to start pulling my hair out and calling for the last ride to the mental ward. But I maintained my cool, despite Lujan's nonchalance at being confronted with his absolute ineptitude as a leader in the Democratic party.

Even if he knew the votes were not there to kill the bill, what about his role as the loyal opposition? Or blocking the vote with legislative maneuvers, such as a filibuster? Lujan shrugged off every possibility.

"We were working the bill to try to kill it," he insisted. "You and I talked a few weeks ago about a filibuster. The reality is, it [was] not going to kill the bill."

Lujan was mentioning a conversation we'd had back at the beginning of March, after an anti-Pearce demonstration by Sal Reza's organization Puente. He suggested then that a filibuster was an option, but it's apparent he was only blowing smoke. 

He related that, as a matter of strategy, if you're working to peel away Republicans from a bill and then you filibuster it, "you just piss them off," thereby losing the votes.

What pedestrian disingenuousness. If Dems knew they didn't have the votes, as Lujan suggested earlier, then why not filibuster, make a stand, draw some blood?  

There are other cracks in Lujan's alibi. For instance, his parents' anniversary to-do wasn't keeping him away from a function that same evening, one attended by less than 100 people.

I accused him of taking a walk because he's running for AG, so he didn't have to explain the vote during a general election. He countered that there were plenty of votes the Republicans could ding him on. This one would have been no worse than the others, he argued.

Lujan is a walking, talking metaphor for what's wrong with the Arizona Democratic Party, and a perfect example of why the Dems are riding a seemingly endless losing streak. With a backbone of jelly you cannot go toe-to-toe with a raw beef-eater like Russell Pearce, who was driving the legislation's passage like an antebellum Alabama overseer raised from the dead.

The Dems should take a lesson from Pearce, and study him like scientists study the woolly mammoth. 

Pearce could have given up at several points along the way, or balked at the mounting opposition to his bill from a litany of church, municipal, business and law enforcement organizations.

But he persisted, pawed and bit, fought as dirty as a mangy gutter mutt. And came out on top.

I'm not suggesting that it's necessary to adopt a scoundrel's tactics in order to best him. But at least be prepared to give him a fight. Bloody the bully's snout, metaphorically speaking, before he bloodies yours.

Otherwise, you might as well hand him the keys to your cage and call it a day. Which I guess  is what Minority Leader Lujan just did.

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