Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Arizona's Tea Party Politics

Billboard in Tombstone, Arizona/Tom Barry

Arizona’s state politics are especially predictable – and bizarre. The predictability comes from the longtime domination by leading figures from the mining, agribusiness, and housing development sectors and their often radically conservative, often libertarian leanings – in the Barry Goldwater tradition.

Democrats do count on strong constituencies in the Tucson, Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Nogales, which can propel the party to occasional victories in statewide elections, such as Napolitano’s narrow victory in the 2002 gubernatorial election. The Republicans (of the most reactionary type) have, however, usually maintained tight control over the state legislature, which is constitutionally the strongest branch of government in Arizona.

Napolitano’s 2002 narrow election victory did point to rising political potential for the Democratic Party as the base of Latinos and college-educated continues to grow. But Arizona Democrats have never acted from a position of strength and enthusiastically joined the bipartisan consensus around tax-cutting and unfunded spending mandates over the past couple of decades. Clearly, Arizona must reverse course to state and local government, but still the Democrats are timid about the taxing option, referring instead to need for a more palatable “long-term tax reform.” Rather than proposing structural tax reforms, Arizona Democrats prefer to focus on the more widely appealing idea of terminating hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate tax loopholes, including for liposuction treatments and spa country club memberships.

In traditional political categories, the Democratic Party forms the political center in Arizona. From there, it’s all to the far right. The political agendas of the Republicans and tea partiers are too extreme to be labeled conservative. Fortunately, the Arizona chapter of Americans for Prosperity provides a more telling label, as it does to describe the politics of its allies:”Patriotic/Free-Market/Conservative/Libertarian/Constitutionalist.”
Outside the electoral -politics arena but an important although be no means extreme part of the entire political spectrum are the array of citizen action organizations with a humanitarian mission, including such innovative and dedicated groups as Border Action Network, No More Deaths, Arizona Interfaith, Just Coffee, Repeal Coalition, Humane Borders, and Sierra Club Borderlands Protection.

On the right there is a tight circle of policy advocacy institutes – including Goldwater Institute, Arizona Chapter of Americans for Prosperity, Arizona Federation of Taxpayers -- that provide the words and numbers for the Republican movers and shakers.

Although concerns about the state’s stability and security dominate Arizona politics, the elephant in the tea party room is environmental sustainability. Arizona’s model of housing and population-driven development in the middle of a desert with unbearable (without air conditioning) is, to say the least, not sustainable. 
While Governor Brewer and State Senator Russell Pearce led the charge in the policy arena to secure Arizona against immigration and other perceived border threats, three county sheriffs were energizing the anti-immigrant and border security backlash in Arizona. 

They are what Barbara Simpson, the self-described “Babe in the Bunker” commentator of the right-wing WorldNetDaily called “the trinity of heroes,” namely Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, and Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever.

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