30 April 2010

¡Gracias, Arizona!

Oh, Arizona, gracias indeed for passing AB 1070, a/k/a the "Permanent Democratic Majority Bill." I don't mean to be glib - it's pretty bad. And on a personal, visceral level, I know exactly how it feels to wake up in this country with fewer civil rights than you had when you went to bed because a majority of your neighbors, or a majority of your elected officials, felt you didn't deserve them.

AB 1070, if you've been living under a rock (or, fair enough, outside of the US) for the last week, requires state cops to do racial profiling, mandates illegal arrests, puts thousands of Arizonans in fear of illegal arrests, and puts the state on the hook for future untold millions in legal costs. AB 1070 was passed by a craven and bilious state legislature and signed by a deeply unpopular governor who needed a lifeline.

Sound familiar, California?

And California has not until very recently been such a Democratic stronghold. From 1967 to 1999 we had sixteen consecutive years, and twenty four of thirty two years, of Republican governors. This was a purple state, and one in which Republicans consistently won statewide elections and had long had at least one of our two US Senators from the GOP.

Until Pete Wilson.

I was a frequent visitor to California in the early 1990's, and I remember the deeply unpopular Governor Wilson trying to survive. I remember reading that his approval rating at one point was in the low 20's, but I can't find that sourced now and I don't trust my memory enough to put that as a fact. I did find a reference here to Wilson being 20 points behind his Democratic opponent in 1993, a year before the general election. How did he come back? He ran on a platform of flogging anti-immigrant sentiment up and down the state to get Prop 187 passed.

Later overturned by the courts as being illegal, Prop 187 might sound familiar to anyone reading about the Arizona law. From the USC Libraries, Prop 187 required that:

1.All law enforcement agents who suspect that a person who has been arrested is in violation of immigration laws must investigate the detainee's immigration status, and if they find evidence of illegality they must report it to the attorney general of California, and to the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

2.Local governments are prohibited from doing anything to impair the fulfillment of this requirement.

3.The attorney general must keep records on all such cases and make them available to any other government entity that wishes to inspect them.

4.No one may receive public benefits until they have proven their legal right to reside in the country.

5.If government agents suspected anyone applying for benefits of being illegal immigrants, the agents must report their suspicions in writing to the appropriate enforcement authorities.

6.Emergency medical care is exempted, as required by federal law, but all other medical benefits have the requirements stated above.

7.Primary and secondary education is explicitly included.

Sound familiar?

And it worked! Wilson came roaring back on the backs of fed up white voters who felt that the "illegals" were the reason that their taxes were going up, and that if only we got them off the state's "very generous welfare system" then all would be right in the world. This was the period of "Falling Down" (1993), the angry white man movie with Michael Douglas. Wilson was going to be tough - tough on crime and tough on illegals. And he was. He won his second term for Governor, but he lost the state for a generation - and counting - for the Republican party.

I guess xenophobia and race baiting cloud one's ability to do math. Hispanics as a percentage of California's population in 2000 was 32%. In 1990 it was 26%. That is more growth both in real numbers and in percentage terms than any other demographic group in the state over the same period.

Arizona's population projections? From a 2000 population of 5.1 million it's projected to grow to 10.7 million by 2030. In 1990, Arizona was 18% Hispanic; in 2000 it was 25% Hispanic and 20% Mexican American alone. I'm not a demographer or a math genius, and even I can see where the train is heading.

Vilifying 20% and infuriating 25% of your state's population is not a great way to get elected as a party when you've got white liberals in the state as well. In the South, fine, you can get away with centuries-old patterns of disenfranchisement at a statewide level because there hasn't been enough migration and capital flow to counterbalance the entrenched old white voting blocks (though this has started to change in Virginia and North Carolina); in the West? It won't work.

Arizona will continue to have the same number of senators, of course, but they might in another cycle or two be two senators with D's behind their names, instead of the two R's they have now. How will Republicans look 40% of the state's voters in the eye and say "No, not you, we didn't mean you when we angrily paraded up and down our state saying that we needed to arrest people who had accents and were, um, browner than us and send them back, we meant those other folks with the accents who are browner than us."

And by 2030 there will be two, or possibly three, or possibly even four new US House districts in Arizona. Which direction do you think they will lean?

To vilify and attempt to criminalize large portions of your own population is not only mean spirited, anti-Christian, illegal and ineffective (if your real goal is to "protect the border"), it's the surest proven way to make your political party irrelevant at the statewide level. So, Arizona, by 2016 at the latest I would like to welcome you to the "West Coast automatic Democratic electoral votes" Club.

And Nevada, we have room for you, too.

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