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What the Devil won't tell you

Angels & demons: Ducey's COVID reversal part of a bigger GOP identity crisis

In 1965, Alabama Gov. George Wallace was setting himself up to be the martyr for state’s rights against an over-reaching federal government that was trying to protect civil rights protesters marching from Selma to Montgomery.

President Lyndon Johnson didn’t want the subject changed from civil rights to state’s rights (it’s never about race, right?). He wanted Wallace to call up the National Guard.

In a pretty famous line, President Lyndon Johnson buttonholed Wallace. The president asked Wallace to think about what history would say about his decision.

“George, you and I shouldn’t be thinking about 1965; we should be thinking about 1985. . . . Now, you got a lot of poor people down there in Alabama . . . a lot of people who need jobs, a lot of people who need a future. You could do a lot for them. Now, in 1985, George, what do you want left behind? Do you want a great big marble monument that says ‘George Wallace: He Built’? Or do you want a little piece of scrawny pine lying there along that harsh caliche soil that says ‘George Wallace: He Hated’?”

Wallace called up the Guard.

In a congruent historical move, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey reversed his decision to bar the Federal Emergency Management Agency from helping set up a couple of coronavirus vaccination sites on Tucson’s South Side.

Without the FEMA help, more of the Latinos and tribal members who live in that part of Tucson will likely die, but that would have put a smile on the most rancid part of the GOP’s base.

Blocking Pima County from accepting hundreds of thousands of doses of COVID vaccine was an astonishing decision (since reversed) and maybe the most blatantly racist thing an Arizona governor has done since I got to Arizona in 1986. That span includes Gov. Evan Mecham rescinding Martin Luther King Day and Gov. Jan Brewer signing SB 1070.

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Now I’m going to stipulate that Ducey is no Wallace. He is, unfortunately, acting ambitious and seems to be – shall we say – Wallace-curious.

I find it frighteningly compelling watching the governor of this state struggle inwardly between his angels and devils. Ducey seems to be battling in real time between being a standard-issue, '90s-era “wing nut” and a psychopath.

First response

Let’s review the bidding:

Ducey decided last week to reject federal assistance to help get people vaccinated. Pima County had secured a deal to have FEMA provide shots and expertise in getting doses to communities on the South Side.

Ducy said no. The state won’t give up it’s right to control its vaccines. Actually, Ducey wouldn't give up the right to control them, himself. This is a decision about who lives and who dies. So any Latino death would have been a state-sponsored biological lynching. I don't know how else to describe it.

The state’s own web site shows coronavirus has ravaged neighborhoods on our South Side. Who lives there? It’s largely Latinos and tribal members. Everyone who has lived here for any amount of time knows this.

Ducey’s proclamation ending the coronavirus emergency asserted that Arizona is among the national leaders in vaccinating people of color. But data from just prior to Ducey’s initial decision, showed Arizona’s vaccination rate three times higher for whites than Latinos. That’s not numbers. It’s rates.

As of March 15, 21 percent of Arizona whites were vaccinated. Just 6 percent of Arizona Latinos can say the same.

Even Republican Supervisor Steve Christy voted with Democrats on the Pima County Board of Supervisors, to unanimously ask Ducey to reconsider the move.

Federal officials responded with a letter saying: You don’t have to give up any kind of control, Arizona. You get to run the program. The feds are just there to assist.

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But giving the nod to FEMA meant allowing President Joe Biden's administration to help us, and that's sharing credit with a Democrat — not something that MAGAs look kindly on.

Ducey remained a hard "no" until Friday when he reversed course (thank God), like Wallace did on that one occasion 56 years ago.

They both deserve the same amount of credit.

Emergency One

That didn’t happen when it came to masks and the state’s COVID emergency.

Not to be outdone by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott or the collective wisdom of Mississippi, Ducey lifted his COVID emergency and forbade local governments from requiring masks.

Pima County is pressing ahead anyway in what will probably end up in a fascinating lawsuit to decide whether more people dying in Pima County is a statewide concern.

A little fewer than one person a day died of alcohol-related deaths on Arizona’s roads in 2019, and a little more than one person per week died on the job that year.

Imagine if either of those numbers suddenly surged to Arizona’s 7-day average of 25 coronavirus deaths each day. There would be statewide panic. Now imagine the statewide reaction to the state suffering more than 100 deaths a day as we did between early January and mid-February.

Imagine then if Ducey rolled back workplace regulations as the death toll surged in on-the-job deaths. What if his response to a 10-fold increase in DUI deaths was to ban cities and counties from enforcing drunk-driving laws? He wouldn't just be impeached. He'd be committed.

Black Lives Matter protesters knocked over a single Scottsdale mall and Ducey ordered the whole state be put under a hard curfew.

But with coronavirus? 

Ducey didn't even consult hospital leaders before making this recent move. They're not his audience because they aren't Republican primary voters who act like historic body counts are a small price to pay to be able to not wear a piece of cloth on their faces.

They like to say that coronavirus is like the flu. The rest of us are overreacting.

It is kinda like the flu. Both are viruses that can make people cough. COVID just does a lot more damage because it’s a lot more powerful.

Knives and guns are both weapons that can make people bleed. Therefore they are exactly alike, right? So we can ban all Glocks, Sigs Sauers, Colts and weapons like them so long as MAGAs can keep their knives. Correct? 

MAGAs will be happy with that. Right? What? No? They are different in a lot of different ways? I'd say tell Trump supporters' knives are to guns as the flu is to coronavirus but they just don't care.

Coronavirus remains an emergency of the first order, but Ducey's partisans refuse to abandon their false right to depraved indifference to public health.

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Cover stories

It’s not that Ducey doesn’t see emergencies or an imperative for federal action.

Juxtapose his intellectual contortions against his moral clarity over President Biden’s failure to manage the overcrowding of facilities at the border. See, Biden is supposedly more lenient on immigration than Trump, thereby encouraging immigrants to come to America, giving us a "crisis."

Yes, in 2021, this is a scandal because we seem to have worm-holed back to 1921, when, again, it wasn’t about race. Eugenics see, is just “practical thinking.”

To whit, Ducey chided Biden choosing Vice President Kamala Harris (yes, fellas, Vice President Kamala Harris) to oversee the efforts to fix what I will call a “mess” but not a “crisis.”

The former attorney general of California isn’t qualified to address an immigration situation? Or is it because she's the first African American and Asian American woman to hold national office that she isn’t qualified? Should she just dance? Do your kid’s math homework? Or should she just shut up and cook Ducey some dinner?

Enter the ever-present cover story. No, Ducey will say, he meant she’s lacked the “passion” required to see the border as “a threat.” He'll take the credit for dissing a black woman as unqualified but that's not what he meant.

Be clear. The border is a line. The geographic terms of the Gadsden Purchase never attacked anyone.

He means people coming into the country are the threat. It’s the migration of people we must fear.

Somebody prominent in Arizona recently wrote an op-ed for the Orange County Register asking California Republicans to move to Arizona. That person knows that new people migrating to a place gives that place heightened vitality and economic growth. The author’s name was Doug Ducey.

Ducey can claim some sort of moral high ground if he can vouch with his political life that none of the O.C. migrants will rape, none of them will murder, none of them will end up on welfare or in Arizona’s prison system.

No one can do that because human beings are flawed and all migrants matter.

So we can only conclude that Ducey means one group of migrants to Arizona is better than the other. Some people are inherently a threat. Other people are a boon. We can tell the difference based on their cultural origin.

And yet there is a desire on the modern right to hold that idea and still demand full credit for not being a racist so long as they point to a reasonable cover story.

Racist outcomes are not racism so long as white folk can provide a credible alibi.

Careful now. Don’t fall into the narrative trap that there’s a difference between Californians moving to Arizona legally and El Salvadorans seeking asylum coming illegally. The asylum process is in fact a perfectly legal way to gain access to Arizona and the other 49 states. What part of "legal" don't you understand?

The struggle continues

Ducey has long been a hawk on the border. That’s nothing new for the GOP. It’s worked for them.

An alarming number of Americans – including the whole D.C. press corps — has bought into the idea that people who are dying to get into America somehow prove there is a failure of leadership in Washington, rather than immigrants being integral part of our heritage.

Donald Trump and coronavirus have forced a new level of math into the equation, and Ducey seems to have already been struggling with this subject for going on six years now.

Arizona's governor has proven he can evolve on issues from K-12 education to climate change. He refused to take what appeared to be a phone call from Donald Trump at the very moment he was signing a document to certify Biden's victory in Arizona. He finally allowed local governments to issue mask mandates despite political pressures.

He also refused to impose restrictions. I lost my stuff about it and probably came off as hysterical last summer, when I was worried the state might hit 5,000 deaths. We've now seen more than 16,000 of our neighbors die from COVID.

Still, I believe in there is the kind of conservative who I grew up with, who I rolled with in college at Euclid Terrace and the Green Dolphin. Sure he's wrong, but you could argue politics and policy with him and maybe have some fun in the process.

That's not a bad thing in a democracy.

MAGAs and evolution don't mix well. Devolution on the other hand ...

Ducey finishes his second and final term as governor at the end of 2022, although it's clear he has ambitions beyond the ninth floor.

Until then he's going to be wrestling with the Devil and the rising Blue sea.

It will be interesting to watch how he works with and around obedience to Trumpism. It will also be terrifying because we in Arizona will have to live (and die) with the consequences.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.


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Gov. Doug Ducey is struggling with his inner MAGA and Arizonans are the collateral damage.

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