Sylvia Allen's "Arizona Guard": Disaster in the Making

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If you need an example of wigged-out, dysfunctional democracy verging on outright insanity, look no further than state Senator Sylvia Allen's Border Security, Federalism and States' Sovereignty Committee.

Here, Chairwoman Allen and a cadre of right-wing loons hold sway. Rational questions and reasoned arguments are dismissed with a flutter of Allen's hands. And those poking their heads in the room to interject a note of sanity are most unwelcome.

That was the case Thursday when Major General Hugo E. Salazar, Adjutant General of the Arizona National Guard, dropped by Allen's committee to express his concerns over Senate Bill 1083.

That bill, which is Allen's baby,  would create a state-sponsored "Arizona Guard" with four paid staff positions, an initial $500,000 from the state's general fund and an extra $1.4 million from gang task-force funds, all so that potentially hundreds of local, armed militia-types can run around on the border after "illegals."

Under the Arizona Constitution, Salazar is the commander of all state military forces and answers directly to the governor, and he would, in theory, bear responsibility for this new force as well. So you would think Allen would be eager to hear what the general had to say.

She wasn't. In fact, her face visibly dropped when Salazar approached the lectern before the committee, and explained that he had seen that the bill was on the day's agenda, so he decided to be present so he could make his concerns known.

"My real concern is...I really haven't been consulted on this bill," he told the committee.

Seems he and Allen had discussed the bill in her office, but that was about it. Otherwise, he explained, "I don't know what the plan is."

He hastened to state that he had no official position on the bill, but he had a number of worries, among them the fact that Allen's militia would be armed. 

Though Allen had earlier stated that there are 23 state guards around the country, Salazar pointed out that Arizona's would be the first where guard members would be carrying guns. Even the Texas State Guard, which serves as a model for other such organizations, is unarmed.

"There are a lot of things that would have to occur before I would be  comfortable putting a weapon in a volunteer's hand," Salazar said.

Allen was soon interrupting him, asking the general pointedly, "How do we fight a war without weapons?...How do we fight a war without guns?"

Referring to the soldiers he's already got on the border helping various law enforcement agencies, he replied, "Ma'am, the soldiers and airmen I have working on the border are not fighting a war. They're on federal orders to do a mission."

He then went on to school Allen on the difference between a "war" and America's border problems.

"The situation we have on the border is a law enforcement and policy problem," he said. "The problem I believe is that you cannot solve a law enforcement and policy problem with a military solution. A military solution is for a military problem."

Allen was having none of it.

"Sir, we are in a war," she informed the general. "The cartels have targeted our country. It's where they're making their millions. And they're not going to back off."

She wanted none of Salazar's complaints about the bill, expert and sensible though they might have been. 

Salazar warned about issues of liability, should a guardsman be injured or injure someone else. Then, there was coordination with the federal government and local sheriffs, who were not keen on cooperating with an all-volunteer state force.

Allen wants to give her militia the power to seize property, and share in any funds resulting from the seizure of that property. Also, her guardsmen would have the power to detain folks, opening up a whole other can of worms.

One of the few other adults in the room was state Senator Steve Gallardo, who asked Salazar if the governor could declare an emergency and place National Guard troops on the border, instead of ill-trained militia members.

Salazar told him that the governor could do this at any time, but she had never requested it. 

Should the governor ever do so, the state would have to pick up the entire tab, which could run as much as $20 million per year for 500 full-time soldiers and airmen. (Apparently, the feds are paying for the soldiers down there now.)

This explains why Governor Jan Brewer has never made such a commitment of state forces.

Allen and her colleagues state Senators Al Melvin, Frank Antenori and Steve Smith pooh-poohed the general. Hey, what does he know, right?

They gave Lyle Mann, executive director of the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, even less shrift. Mann advised that if the senators wanted the new force to have the power of arrest, its members should be POST certified.

How long that does that take, they wondered? 17 weeks of 40 hour-per-week training, Mann told them.*

Frowns all around. True, there's citizen's arrest, but if someone isn't properly trained, a district attorney may not be able to use that arrest in court or any evidence that derives from it. Also, if improperly executed, the arrest could become the subject of a lawsuit.

One other grown up on the committee, state Senator Jerry Lewis, said he'd called around to various border sheriffs and found them to be against the proposal. Also, why weren't there some sheriffs present to testify, didn't the committee want to hear what they had to say, since supposedly they would be working with Allen's militia?

Allen dismissed the notion. She seemed to already know what they'd say: These sheriffs would want the money she's allocating for her new brigade, as they'd expressed to Lewis.

"I don't know why they're so reluctant," Allen said of the border sheriffs. "Yeah, they said that to me too, `Well, just give us more money.' I could give them that million dollars, it's not gonna go far enough."

What would be the vetting process for the guardsmen? That would be up to the force's commander, who, would, by the way, have the power to order "the close, continuous pursuit of ongoing cross-border criminal activity."

Can you say, "international incident," boys and girls?

Arizona Guard members would, in most cases, be immune from arrest while serving, and would be immune from personal liability for acts they perform while on duty. Two more disturbing thoughts.

As loony as this bill is, Lewis was the only Republican on the committee to buck the tide.

"There are too many unanswered questions on this bill," he said in explaining his vote, citing the concerns of law enforcement. "It would be best we work out these things before we pass a law so my vote is, `no.'"

Weirdly, Democrat Robert Meza voted, "yes," without offering a word as to why he was going along with this disaster in the making.

And so the bill moved out of committee, headed, potentially, for a Senate floor vote sometime in the future. 

It's interesting that GOPers would be so dismissive of the opinions of law enforcement and the military, not even wanting to hear what they have to say. Mainly because those opinions conflict with their own.

But in the bizarro world of the Arizona Legislature, where Supreme Commander Sylvia Allen gets her way, professionals are shown the door. And only the cracked are given the time of day.

*NOTE: I initially thought Mann meant 40 hours total over a 17 week period, but after rechecking, I realized that he stated the POST training would be 17 weeks at 40 hours-per-week, which makes more sense. Thanks to 85014 for correcting the error. I have made the correction in the text.

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