From the Jim Crow anti-immigrant law and birther bill to the reality television show Sunset Daze, Arizona is gaining an international reputation for being crazy. It's not just "image" or "bad publicity." How did this happen to my beloved home? It took decades and tectonic shifts. Some will sound familiar to regular Rogue readers, but for the sake of the thousands of newbies that have found Rogue Columnist and are curious/frightened about Arizona, here's a primer:
The new Republican Party: Arizona always had a strong reactionary element, going back to its dependence on mines and railroads. Even the Democrats were mostly conservative. Arizona never produced, for example, a William Borah, the progressive Republican senator from Idaho. But even among the Republicans, there was independence and an understanding that Arizona would blow away without massive amounts of federal money. Republicans were a minority until Barry Goldwater slowly built them into the state's dominant party in the 1960s. Even then, Goldwater, Arizona Republic publisher Eugene C. Pulliam and others kept the John Bircher element at arms length, happy to use them but never let them take control. This changed with time and massive influx of new people. By the 1980s, conservative extremism was in the governor's seat. From the 1990s onward, the Christian Coalition and other national right-wing groups began taking control of the party from the lowest levels up, and purging old Arizona Republicans who now were labeled RINOS (Republicans in Name Only). They also focused on winning offices that held the most budget power, from school boards to the Legislature. The result is an entirely different creature: militant, frozen in ideological conformity, hostile to the facts, deeply committed to enacting "conservative" abstractions with little evidence they succeed. And, as the evidence shows, racist. Now, the Republicans have pretty much ruled for decades and the state is a catastrophe. Questions? That doesn't stop them from acting like victimized outsiders and the duhs and ignos in this ill-educated state fall for it.
The Big Sort: The journalist Bill Bishop used this as the title of his book on the dramatic clustering of like-minded people in different regions. It's a big change from most of American history, and as Bishop puts it, the Big Sort "is tearing us apart." Arizona is Exhibit A in this self-selecting process, especially among the Anglo population that votes, has money or is easy pickings for the demagogues. Arizona doesn't have its Austin (sorry, Democratic Tucson's strings are ultimately pulled by a car dealer and the sprawl barons). Despite the notion in the mid-1990s that population growth would moderate Arizona politics, or even the Democratic seats picked up during the nadir of the Bush presidency, Arizona has become redder and redder. People increasingly seemed to move to Arizona or the Phoenix suburbs to be with their co-religionists on the right, while progressive-minded folks moved out.