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Smart v. Stupid

Jan Brewer’s 'Southern Strategy'

Did Gov. Brewer find a new way to deal the GOP's favorite race card?

With the announcement of a major drug bust in Arizona, we now have some sense of why President Obama may have invited Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to the White House. It is hard to imagine that she was not be briefed on the pending bust. But her comments afterward merely served to reinforce the idea that she doesn’t really care.

For the past couple of months in Washington’s press corps, a media narrative has emerged about immigration, something to the tune of "everybody agrees that 'Washington hasn’t done its job.'"

Republicans like the narrative because it casts Democrats as failing. Immigration-reform advocates like the narrative because they believe it gives momentum to real immigration reform. Border fence advocates like Senator John McCain like it because, I believe, they are completely disingenuous phonies whose real intention is to prevent actual immigration reform. (They’d prefer to distract with a fence when the real solution is penalizing employers.) And Governor Jan Brewer likes it because it reinforces her own made-up story about an increasing horde of illegal Mexicans.

Of course, anyone who has crossed the border in the Arizona border towns of Nogales, Naco or Douglas, or hiked a bird sanctuary on the border near Hereford is all too familiar with the green Border Patrol graphic, the dark green Border Patrol uniform and the dark blue one worn by Customs. Border Patrol personnel are a common sight all along the border.

If you’ve ever driven back from Mexico through Nogales, it’s perfectly clear that the government is certainly doing something. And that something takes one heck of a long time.

The second claim for Brewer’s Law is crime; after all SB 1070 is named in part, “Safe Neighborhoods Act.” So let’s recap the crime data: Like the rest of the country - and like the other border states - crime rates in Arizona have been declining for years. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Arizona’s violent crime rate is the lowest since 1983. Property crime rates are the lowest since 1968. And the number of illegal immigrants in the US has declined almost fourteen percent since 2007. Just last week, Border Patrol seized over 16,000 pounds of marijuana. And that was before the June 10 Department of Justice announcement that the feds had arrested over 2,200 people accused of working with Mexican drug cartels, culminating a two-year investigation.

Yet when Brewer announced the law, she said “The bill I’m about to sign into law – Senate Bill 1070 – represents another tool for our state to use as we work to solve a crisis we did not create and the federal government has refused to fix… the crisis caused by illegal immigration and Arizona’s porous border.” A crisis, it turns out, that never was.

When she left the White House, ostensibly armed with the knowledge that DOJ’s arrest sweep was imminent, she was somewhat less histrionic but still called her actions “the right thing to do.”

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So given that Brewer’s claims aren’t provable - just the opposite - what’s she really up to? One popular rumor is that SB 1070 was a gift of legal protection to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has an infamous and exceptional lawsuit problem. The suspicion is that she gave him legalized race profiling in exchange for him not running against her in the Republican primary.

The other explanation is that Brewer is trying an update of the Republican “Southern Strategy.” In every election from Nixon to Reagan, Republicans played to the racial fears of Southern whites, first using overt racist language and later using racial code language like “state’s rights.” This is not an opinion; it’s a fact of history. It was explained by famous Reagan political strategist Lee Atwater, in a quote that’s too coarse for me to repeat, but probably important for you to read.

In the absence of evidence to prove her claims, it appears that Jan Brewer is playing a new race-pandering strategy, a kind of updated Republican Southwestern Strategy. If that’s the bottom line, shame on her.

If Arizonans let her get away with it, shame on them.

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Jimmy Zuma splits his time between Washington, D.C. and Tucson. He writes the online opinion journal, Smart v. Stupid. He spent 5 years in Tucson in the early ‘80s, when life was a little slower, swamp coolers were a little more plentiful, Tucson’s legendary music scene was in full bloom, and the prevailing work ethic was “don’t - unless you have to.”

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