Arizona has earned itself the moniker of "the most racist state in the nation" for a reason. Not a day goes by that its public officials fail to concoct some new, bigoted outrage as manna for Sand Land's wingnut masses.
The outrage du jour? Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne is suing the federal government, seeking to overturn the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the law that essentially enfranchised America's minorities and prevents states from coming up with ways to keep them from the ballot box.
Civil rights workers in the South and elsewhere died at the hands of white racists while working for the kind of change the VRA made real. Before the VRA, many states had poll taxes, literacy tests and a whole array of schemes and gimmicks to make sure that whites of a certain status were the only ones allowed to vote.
Arizona was one of these. Its legacy of disenfranchising minorities put it on a list of states that must seek preclearance from the feds regarding anything to do with voting, including redistricting.
States can "bail out" of their preclearance status by meeting certain requirements. But, significantly, Horne is not attempting to do that. He in fact wants to overturn the portions of the law having to do with preclearance and have them declared unconstitutional.
Horne argues that the standards Arizona must meet are archaic and no longer apply. Golly gee, he seems to be saying, Arizona in 2011 is a veritable model of inclusiveness.
That is, if you ignore Senate Bill 1070, the constant barrage of anti-immigrant laws, the general anti-Latino sentiment, the attack on ethnic studies (authored by Horne, natch), the rise in hate crimes, the race-based murders by minutewomen and assorted hate-filled Anglos, and on and on and on.
Sure, minorities have nothing to worry about in a state run by right-wing Anglo politicians who bank on the exploitation of rampant xenophobia and the fomenting of racial and ethnic discord.
Ironically, Arizona's Attorney General gives evidence of why the preclearance is still needed in his press release, and in the suit itself.
For instance, in the former, he states:
"Just because a person claims that Spanish is his mother tongue does not mean that he cannot speak or read English or that he suffers from discrimination, but the Act treats him that way."
Are you freakin' kidding me? Civil rights groups often have to sue government entities, such as the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors or local public school districts to get them to comply with federal law as it pertains to translators and language-access.
Indeed, the mere speaking of Spanish is constantly used as a talking point by Arizona nativists as a reason why Arizona needs to clamp down on "illegals." As if everyone who speaks Spanish is an illegal immigrant.
Another reason the AG thinks this preclearance stuff is silly is because Arizona once elected a Hispanic governor...in 1974.
That was Raul Castro. A Democrat, of course. He could never get elected these days.
Never mind that the last time Arizona's political map was redrawn, it was initially done with the intent of discriminating against minorities. (Please see Arizona Eagletarian blogger Steve Muratore for a discussion of the U.S. Department of Justice's letter to the redistricting commission back then.)
Horne's grandstanding move drew a sharp response from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who issued the following statement:
"The Voting Rights Act plays a vital role in our society by ensuring that every American has the right to vote and to have that vote counted. The Department of Justice will vigorously defend the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act in this case, as it has done successfully in the past. The provisions challenged in this case, including the preclearance requirement, were reauthorized by Congress in 2006 with overwhelming and bipartisan support. The Justice Department will continue to enforce the Voting Rights Act, including each of the provisions challenged today."
Did you catch that? The VRA was reauthorized in 2006. And signed by Republican President George W. Bush. You know, that crazy liberal.
Why is AG Horne doing this? Is he in fact a racist? No, he's not a racist, but his actions are meant to assuage the fears of many Anglos in this state that they are losing their political hegemony due to an increased Latino presence.
Actually, the entire nation's minority population is expanding rapidly. USA Today just reported that, "White infants are on the verge of being displaced as the majority of newborns now that nearly half of babies in the USA are ethnic and racial minorities."
Which is, of course, a good thing. When the day comes that we are all minorities of one kind or another, laws like the VRA may indeed seem antiquated.
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But that day has not yet come. And there are many who wish to maintain the influence of a white power base for as long as possible. Horne's suit is a sop to these small-minded individuals.
See, Horne wants to be governor one day, and he knows that the only way a former Democrat such as himself can appease the racist Tea Party rabble that control the state GOP is to bolster his bona fides when it comes to keeping the Mess-cans down.
For a man of Canadian birth, whose parents reportedly fled the Nazis, it is a grotesque betrayal of his heritage, one the governor's seat may compensate for, if he ever makes it that far.
In other words, Horne knows better. But the allure of pandering to a reactionary electorate is far more powerful than his conscience.