Smart v. Stupid
Oasis of brilliance in Arizona’s desert full of crazy
Start Our State takes lead with smart new public policy idea
Arizona has not—repeat, has not—gone crazy. Not entirely anyway. Sure, Arizona still takes the prize for nuttiest state in this great nation. From deciding to let transplant recipients die, to banning the history of its large Hispanic population, to racial profiling laws like the now infamous SB 1070, Arizona has established itself as America’s leader in dumb government.
But it would be a mistake to paint Arizona with too broad a brush. A rather brilliant public policy idea is now gaining steam in Arizona’s Pima County, the progressive and well educated enclave that shares a long border with Mexico. It’s called Start Our State, and it’s an effort to divide Arizona into two states, Arizona to the north and Baja to the south. This idea is not so crazy. Article 4, section 3 of the U.S. Constitution covers this exact thing. Both Maine and West Virginia were created this way.
Pima County has a population of about one million and includes the uber-cool city of Tucson. It hosts the University of Arizona, and values a friendly relationship with Arizona’s largest trading partner, Mexico. Tucson offers multi-cultural education as an elective in public school. And as I found last year, they’ve never been too fond of SB1070.
The idea to carve out a progressive enclave in Southern Arizona is rooted in a desire not to be embarrassed or held back by the immigrant retirees in Maricopa County, up around Phoenix. Save our State calls Arizona’s current governance the “know-nothing nativism of the 19th century.”
In Maricopa they have too much grass for the desert, too much hay fever because of the grass, and too many golf courses. But mostly, there are too many retirees. It’s the kind of community where everyone is from somewhere else, where knobby knees shine under well-pressed tennis shorts, and where “the new people from up north” imagine that guy speaking Spanish has to be talking about them.
With 65% of the state population, Maricopa rules Arizona. That leaves the state’s liberals with no voice. So a natural solution is to partition the state. Reactionaries and curmudgeons can run the northern half (sorry Flagstaff) and progressives can take title to the south.
In some ways, today's USA is not so different from Arizona. While progress keeps progressing, it is so slow that most liberals die before public policy catches up with them. We are a nation of polar opposites—the “backwardites” and the “forwarders.”
So Baja Arizona—while a good idea—is actually small potatoes. What if we divide the country into two “Affiliations”? Not two countries, two near-autonomous groups of states, one conservative and one progressive. Each would have a bicameral legislature, an elected executive and their own Supreme Court. Each would operate under the same Constitution interpreting it as they see fit.
Let’s call them the Red Affiliation and the Blue Affiliation. Conservatives could have the God-fearing, gun-totin’, crap-kickin’ hoedown they want, complete with its disdain for education. They could design their affiliation as if it were permanently 1952. Progressives could establish a rule of law that treats every citizen—and every marriage—as worthy and honorable. One group could offer no healthcare; the other could develop universal health care. One affiliation could eliminate taxes; the other could establish tax rates that actually cover the cost of the services people want.
The Federal Government would have a lot less to do. It could meet for a few months each year just to award welfare to corporate execs. How long could that take?
Of course, both sides would have to make sacrifices. Red would lose the wealth transfers from Blue states. Blue would lose a large swath of its agricultural economy—wheat and grain. Red would be forced to import more fruits and vegetables although this would be mitigated if Florida decides to go with them. Pollution from Red Affiliation will surely spill over into Blue territory. Maybe Blues could set up their wind turbines to blow in that direction. (Save the condescending letters; it’s a joke.)
But there are also benefits. Foremost is the freedom to govern according to beliefs. Red Affiliation gets the freedom to govern according to the Bible. Blue Affiliation gets the more educated folks—who the Red folks don’t respect anyway. Blues get the technology economy, higher education, and lower skin cancer rates. Red folks get to work with their hands out in the sunshine and home school their kids and stuff.
It is sure that large swaths of the South from South Carolina and Georgia straight through to Texas would go Red. The coasts would surely choose Blue Affiliation. Blue probably keeps the rust belt and Red almost surely gets the grain belt. Southern progressive states like New Mexico would likely go Blue, especially if the trends continue for the decade or so it will take to set up this system. Nevada and Arizona are solidly Red.
Baja, of course, is ours.
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.”