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In response to some heavy prompting by a family member in Tucson, Arizona, I left my home of 40 years (which I’ve been guilty of referring to as “redneck Redding” in my less charitable moments) with very mixed feelings, to move to the Tucson area last year.
Despite my relative’s glowing recommendations, I made this major change at 80 years old with no small measure of trepidation. I wasn’t convinced that even the most progressive city in a deep red state would be an improvement over what is arguably the most right-wing, Trump-supporting region in deep blue California.
I’m pleased to say that there is far more going on of a positive nature in my new home than I would have ever imagined.
Tucson is a beautiful, wildfire-free southern Arizona city of a half-million people in Pima County, which covers 9,000 square miles, and is larger and more populated than several small states. Tucson and Pima County are governed by a progressive city council and county board of supervisors, who are often at odds—in a knock-down, drag-out fashion—with Arizona’s heavily conservative state government, to the point that Pima County once attempted to secede from the rest of the state.
Maricopa County, where Arizona’s state capitol, Phoenix, is located, is home to the infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose anti-immigrant abuses and racial profiling lawsuits have cost the taxpayers of that county $66 million and counting. They didn’t seem to mind, though, since they reelected him to term after term spanning an incredible 24 years, until Nov. 2016, when he was finally ousted.
The Republican-controlled state capitol has also originated some of the most stunningly over-reaching state laws in the country.
For example, in 2016 the Arizona State Legislature passed SB 1487, which is a blatant attempt by the Republican majority to bring wayward liberal places like Tucson and Pima County to heel. Arizona cities and counties can no longer implement local laws and ordinances that don’t conform to state law without being deprived of large sums of shared state revenue. Liberal areas rightfully view this law as denying local jurisdictions the ability to govern in a way that addresses local concerns.
One casualty of this new law was a local ordinance implemented by the city of Tucson in an effort to reduce the number of guns floating around the streets of the city. The ordinance was implemented after two local mass shootings and permitted the city to destroy guns used to commit crimes and received in voluntary buy-backs from local residents.
However, an NRA-backed lawsuit brought by the state was decided in the state’s favor, on the grounds that destroying guns violates a state law requiring “surplus property,” including guns, to be sold to the highest bidder.
Tucson’s counter-suit maintained that the autonomy of cities and counties to address their own needs was being compromised, but was rejected by the Republican-stacked Arizona Supreme Court. Tucson city officials had no choice but to void the local law after the State of Arizona threatened them with the loss of $57 million in shared state revenue.
Both Pima County and Tucson issued formal statements labeling Trump’s plans to expand the U.S./Mexico border wall as “an offensive and damaging symbol of fear and division”. The Tucson City Council also recently approved placing a measure on the November ballot which would make Tucson Arizona’s first sanctuary city. This measure was submitted with 12,000 local signatures (3,100 more than needed). Predictably Arizona Republicans have brought a lawsuit challenging aspects of the signature-gathering process in an attempt to keep this measure from reaching the ballot.
This is in stark contrast to the rush by the Shasta County Board of Supervisors to adopt a resolution – in response to pressure from many of their constituents – to publicly declare themselves opposed to sanctuary cities, and to express their willingness to aid the Trump administration in its Draconian anti-immigration sweeps.
And where Shasta County has its Tea Party-motored State of Jefferson movement, an attempt was made a few years back led by a group of progressive attorneys to separate Pima County from the rest of the state (this proposed 51st state was tentatively called “Baja Arizona”).
This effort was inspired in part by the state-level passage of SB 1070, which prompted a national boycott of Arizona by businesses and governments in various other states. This civil rights-violating law enabled police officers to racially profile and harass any darker-skinned person they came into contact with simply under the assumption that they might be in the country illegally. It required Hispanic-appearing people singled out by police to either prove their citizenship, or to carry papers at all times proving they are documented immigrants.
Of course both efforts are doomed to failure, but they further highlight the polar opposites in attitude and actions that exist in Shasta and Pima counties, which Pima County officials struggle valiantly to maintain in the face of constant backlash from the state.
Arizona’s ultra-conservative state government still has the upper hand. However, I’m seeing definite glimmers of hope in things like the election of Democrat Kyrsten Sinema to the Arizona Senate, the recent defeat of a bill that would have defunded comprehensive women’s clinics like Planned Parenthood in favor of funneling millions of dollars into deceptive, heavily religious anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers, and former Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s loss to a far more moderate candidate. If progressive leaders, organizations, and individual voters can successfully chip away at extremism in one of the most rabidly right-wing states in the country, perhaps there’s even hope for Shasta County.
The short viral clip above shows anti-immigrant, MAGA hat-wearing protestors at a recent Tucson City Council meeting being met with laughter, boos, and a police escort out the door.
Green Valley, Arizona