Baja Arizona Update

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

I thought for sure our local Arizona newspapers would have picked up this Wall Street Journal report from Tuesday on Baja Arizona since they had referenced the fact that WSJ reporters were doing a story in earlier reporting, but Nooo. It even contains the sneering bias that you would expect from a Rupert Murdoch rag.

NA-BK686_BAJA_NS_20110314200237 Note to the WSJ: it's not just liberals who have had enough of the Great State of Maricopa and its far-right insanity. There are plenty of traditional Republicans, independents and people of other political persuasions who have had more than enough as well. Liberals in Pima County, Ariz., Disgusted With Their State, Seek to Separate –

On the patio of a downtown bar here last Wednesday night, a handful of people gathered over pitchers of beer to plot the creation of America's 51st state.

Tucson lawyer Peter Hormel at a meeting of separatists who want to cleave Pima County from Arizona and elevate it to the 51st state.

With copies of the Arizona constitution before them, they debated how to turn Pima County—a liberal southern swatch of Arizona that borders Mexico and includes Tucson—into "Baja Arizona."

"What's the objective?" one member asked the group, Start Our State.

"Becoming our own state and making our own decisions," said organizer Paul Eckerstrom.

Baja Arizona (the working title) will almost certainly remain a dream, but it suggests the growing chasm between the state's Republican leaders and its frustrated liberal minority.

For decades, there has been friction between Pima County and its more conservative northern neighbor, Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix. Residents of Pima County (pop. 1 million) have often joked about forming their own state.

* * *

Supporters of the nullification bill, which was defeated last week, said it was an attempt to curb federal overreaching. It was also the final straw for Mr. Eckerstrom, former Pima County Democratic Party chairman and an attorney in the county's Legal Defenders Office.

"That's basically a secession bill," Mr. Eckerstrom said. "I just couldn't take it anymore. We actually want to stay in the union. It seems Arizona doesn't." In February, he suggested facetiously on his Facebook page that southern Arizona become its own state. Thousands of supporters answered his call.

* * *

Late last month, independent of Mr. Eckerstrom's effort, Democratic state senator Paula Aboud introduced separation of the south from Arizona as a "tongue-in-cheek" amendment to an existing bill.

"We don't want to be part of this state that continues to embarrass Arizona," she said when she introduced the amendment. It went down to defeat.

While acknowledging they are unlikely to succeed, leaders of the separation movement say it is a serious effort, complete with lawyer-drafted legal strategies, a bank account to accept donations and maps of the quixotic new state. The group's Facebook page has a small but growing following, currently at more than 3,000 fans.

* * *

Start Our State is looking to introduce a ballot initiative in Pima County next year, an election year and Arizona's 100th birthday.

It's unclear whether the county would allow it, never mind its fate with Congress and the president.

Other counties have been invited to join. In one scenario, northern counties would link to Pima, creating the nation's first doughnut-shaped state, with Republican Maricopa as the doughnut hole.

Or as I often call it, the suck hole of hell.

UPDATE: In case you missed this report at the Huffington Post by friend of Blog for Arizona Marlene Phillips, with apologies for the late post, here it is. Marlene H. Phillips: The Great State Of Baja Arizona? "Not Everyone In Arizona Is An Extremist" (excerpts):

Some Arizona residents say they've had enough, they're ready to leave Arizona. But they're not talking about moving to another state.

They want to start a state of their own.

A group of southern Arizona residents have formed Start our State, "dedicated to creating the 51st state in southern Arizona." And no, said Tucson attorney and organization co-founder Paul Eckerstrom, it's not a joke. As Baja Arizona, Arizona's Pima County would be larger in square miles than four states, more populated than seven. Eckerstrom feels the region has always felt "culturally different" from the rest of the state partly due to the strong Latino and Native American influence, and is even historically different, since southern Arizona was tacked on to the already formed state of Arizona through the Gadsden Purchase.

But is it really so different that it needs to be its own state? It is now, said Eckerstrom, and the reason is political. "For the last ten to twenty years we've watched the state legislature grow more and more extreme. We watched them cut education spending and we went from having one of the best education state education systems to dead last. We watched them pass extremist immigration laws that are racist, pure and simple."

But what pushed Eckerstrom and others over the edge was the legislature's recent attempt to pass a nullification bill, by which the Arizona legislature would decide which federal laws it deemed unconstitutional, then nullify those it didn't agree with. That, said Eckerstrom, smacked of a state that didn't want to be part of the rest of the country.

"That nullification statute was exactly the kind of statute South Carolina passed before it seceded from the United States, " Eckerstrom said," and we don't want any part of that." He saw further evidence of what he called the Arizona legislature's "anti-American path" with the recent introduction of an 'eminent domain' bill which would allow the state to take ownership of any piece of federal land in Arizona. These bills, Eckerstrom contended, showed that Arizona's Republican-controlled state legislature doesn't want to be part of the United States. "And we do! We, the people in southern Arizona want to be part of the United States." The only way to signal that, and differentiate itself from what Eckerstrom called Arizona's "anti-federal extremist politics," was to start the legal process of forming a new state.

* * *

Michael Bryan, founder of the political website Blog for Arizona, said the Tucson attorney is "dead serious" about forming a new state. And Bryan said if anyone's capable of "delivering the people of Baja Arizona from the tyranny of Maricopa County," it's Paul Eckerstrom. Continued Bryan:

Clearly, what everyone wants is for state government to serve the people of Arizona, not continually embarrass us befor,e and alienate us from, the nation, and the idea of a separate state is a means of conveying that message.

Eckerstrom agreed that the sense of embarassment by association mentioned by Bryan is certainly one element fueling the Start our State group: "We do want to send a message to the rest of the country; not everyone in Arizona is an extremist, not everyone in Arizona is crazy." Tucson, he said emphatically, is "tired of being tainted." And as word gets out about Start our State, "we hope Americans might say, OK, Arizona is crazy, but those people in Tucson, they're OK."

* * *

In the two weeks that have passed since the launch of the 51st state movement interest in Baja Arizona is growing. Unscientific polls conducted by local media showed strong backing the idea, and Eckerstrom's received support from all over the state, including Phoenix. "Oh, yes, we've had lots of calls from Phoenix. These people feel like we do, that the people running this state are so extreme that we don't feel like we're represented at all."

* * *

Whether or not Baja Arizona actually becomes the 51st state, it's hard to deny the sense of frustration that caused the movement to begin. Jeff Rogers called the formation of a new state "a tough hurdle, logistically," but said the idea was born out of "our extraordinary frustration with all of the nutty things coming out of the state legislature on a daily basis." Bryan went even further, calling it "an expression of how marginalized and ignored the people of Baja Arizona feel." He added:

The bosses of Maricopa ignore that frustration at the peril of dissolving the current political bonds that constitute our state. Baja Arizona is a wish to remain a part if America while radicals in Marcopa are trying to separate Arizona from the national community.

Paul Eckerstrom has no problem visualizing Baja Arizona, "a place where our kids get a quality education, where we have a fair tax system, where hi-tech businesses-particularly solar energy-would be encouraged."

Right now that's just a vision. But, he added, "It's a very possible thing."

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