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Baja Arizona fades as electors meet and GOP catches crazy fever

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What the Devil Won't Tell You

Baja Arizona fades as electors meet and GOP catches crazy fever

  • Will southern Arizona dreams of becoming a 51st state wither  with shifting political realities in Maricopa County?
    Will southern Arizona dreams of becoming a 51st state wither with shifting political realities in Maricopa County?

“This decision will have far-reaching ramifications for the future of our constitutional republic. Perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the constitution.”

Texas Republican Party Chairman Allen West put this language out responding to the Supreme Court’s “yeah, right” response to the state’s lawsuit seeking to overturn other states’ election results.

I read that and my first instinctive reaction after living in Arizona for 34 years was “Uch. God. No. Please don’t. I don't want to secede.”

Then I remembered, about a nanosecond later, “Wait. That’s not Arizona, anymore. When the Red States leave, we get to stay true-blue Americans.”

I know. I know. The Legislature is Republican and Maricopa County elected Republicans up and down the ballot. It’s just that it happened by the skin of their teeth. Five Democrats and four Republicans make up the state’s Congressional delegation. Both our senators are Democrat.

So, I guess we would stay.

Awesome! That’s great because we’re the ones who always wanted, — kinda and deep down — to go. I’m referring to the whole Baja Arizona movement, which exists deep in the hearts of any southern Arizonan who felt at the mercy of the Arizona Legislature. By that we meant Maricopa County.

Monday, Arizona electors met and cast their 11 votes for Democrat Joe Biden, because Phoenix is suddenly voting a lot more like Tucson. This is the first time since 1996, the state has voted Democrat and the first time since 1948 that the state has done so without a third-party spoiler.

The Arizona Republican Party isn’t taking this well. They basically suggested the GOP become suicide bombers in asking their rank-in-file if they were ready to give their lives for the party devoted to Donald John Trump.

What? Are we supposed to believe they meant swallow sleeping pills and take a nap? No, I’m assuming they meant Gaza-style martyring.

Of course, both have walked it back. West doesn’t actually believe in secession. Arizona GOP chairwoman Kelli Ward doesn’t believe in mass murder (COVID-19 evidence, notwithstanding). Both we’re just venting.

Well, if that’s the case, Tucson knows how y’all feel.

Baja State of Mind columnist Ted Prezelski says that the origins of the Baja Arizona are with the late Hugh Holub in the 1960s. When it comes to weird Arizona historical trivia, I trust a Prezelski to be correct like I trust the sun to rise in the east.

Holub – himeself a political polyglot -- apparently believed that humanity south of the Gila River was superior to the troglydites north of its banks. But he never really pushed the idea, Prezelski says, because Baja Arizona is “a state of mind.”

Former Pima County Democratic Party Chairman Paul Eckerstrom pushed the idea in the early part of the 2010s, after the state Legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer were in a fit of wackadoodle.

Eckerstrom’s goal was to put a non-binding ballot measure in front of Pima County voters asking if Southern Arizona would like to start it’s own state. There’s a reason we used to call him the Mad Viking. The guy was born 1200 years too late to plunder the monastery at Lindisfarne. So he’s looked longingly at Phoenix with a political sword in hand.

His efforts went national, including a segment on MSNBC.

"A lot of folks down here have been very, very frustrated with the extremist policies coming out of our state Legislature.

Anti-immigration bills, education cuts and attempts by conservative lawmakers to "nullify" federal laws prompted the secessionist movement.

Start Our State lists its mission as: "To establish a new state in Southern Arizona free of the un-American, unconstitutional machinations of the Arizona legislature and to restore our region’s credibility as a place welcoming to others, open to commerce, and friendly to its neighbors."

It was an effort, Eckerstrom said, to get around extremism in Maricopa County politics.

Well, how you like them now? Maricopa voted for President-elect Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly. Two years ago, it voted for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and tossed some Republican state lawmakers on their kiesters. 

What does David do when Goliath starts acting reasonable? More to the point, what do the Philistines do when their giant looks them up and down and says "y'all are nuts."

Did anyone notice the lack of craziness coming out of the Arizona Legislature the last two years? Might that have something to do with how voters had shaved their hold on both chambers down to the barest of majorities?

Sure there’s state Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, talking about God only knows what. But he’s one of ours. We can’t blame Phoenix for his arguments that the Supreme Court can’t interpret law or that the Glock is a holy sacrament.

However … Maricopa County appears to be a very competitive county now. Valley voters have put the bat-guano crazy on notice.

So what do Tucson voters bitch about now? Prescott? That’s no fun.

Changes are strange

Redistricting will go a long way to deciding, if and how fast the state turns.  It's going to be another crazy process as an independent committee tries to figure out how to carve up voters.

In 2011, Gov. Jan Brewer blew her Republican gasket when the maps came out with turning the state’s new Congressional District into a competitive one. Democrats have held it from the beginning.

Brewer then protested: “Arizona is a Red State.”

Not anymore.

There’s been some handwringing about how Republicans did well in Maricopa County and further down ticket. That’s true and it’s not. Democrats lost county spots by narrow margins, when they not too long ago, refused to even challenge Republicans in Maricopa County.

Had the good folks up in Phoenix read my columns leading up to the election, they would have been directed to how history tells us states often change. First there’s a de-alignment and then there’s a re-alignment. Arizona is de-aligning but that can take a while. I used the South as an example last time, so I'll look west now.

California famously flipped in 1992 from a rock-solid Republican state in the Electoral College to a can’t-miss Democratic state. The Democrats also lost a seat in the State Assembly that year and the Republicans flipped two Congressional districts. The next year, a Republican was elected mayor of Los Angeles and in 1994, Republicans clawed back control of the state senate while winning four of six statewide offices, including the governorship.

States don’t change in one night but they do change. 

God Bless America

So it looks like the whole Baja thing may die the death of normal political change. States have changed their partisan preference. Republican states have turned Democratic. Democrats lost their states to Republicans. The map is constantly changing.

The point is that we’re not leaving anytime soon and probably never will.

The Red States aren’t going anywhere, either … not yet anyway. But it’s fun to think about a country solely dedicated to the proposition that “it’s all a plot to take our guns away.” It would be interesting to see how they launch a space program believing that 2+2 = Ivanka.

On some level what makes partisans partisan is how much they dislike the other party. What would MAGAs do without liberals to victimize them? A bunch of Southern Arizonans defined themselves by how they aren't Phoenix. Face it, most of Arizona that's not Phoenix defines itself by how none of it is Phoenix. 

One Arizonan handed out some sage advice about extreme solutions like secession. It came up during Eckerstrom’s Baja Arizona push.

"If you don't like the elected officials, just get rid of them and put somebody in there where you like their philosophy and agendas,” said former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. “You don’t start a new state.”

And you don’t blow yourself up in a crowded Starbucks or secede from the union. Try a two-step plan: First, don't be bat-guano crazy. Second, repeat step one.

Turns out we have a union of states that believes in the constitution. God bless, America, right?

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.

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