Parallel Universes


The Arizona we have and the Arizona we want seem to bear no relationship to each other.  What does that say about the state of our democracy?

First, let’s look at the AZ we have. The Southern Poverty Law Center has released its 2020 “The Year in Hate and Extremism” report. They count 838 hate groups in the U.S., and 29% of Americans personally know someone who thinks white people are the superior race.  As usual, Arizona features prominently.

For the first three years of the previous administration hate groups flourished with encouragement from the president and his party. They brought about the Muslim ban and one of the worst human rights actions of the U.S. in the separation and caging of children. The multitude of judicial appointments will interfere with human rights for a long time to come.

The number of hate groups dropped 11% in 2020 but is still at historic highs dwarfed only by the Obama years when white people got their knickers in a twist. The KKK is at its lowest number of groups (25) but many alternatives exist such as Proud Boys, Patriots, Boogaloo Boys, and Nazis. Online platforms, that offer camaraderie, count many more individuals than actual members of groups. Being kicked off public media meant that the groups retreated to encrypted rooms such as Parlor and Telegram making them harder to track. White nationalist groups also dropped by over 100 but that could be a counting problem. Hate groups and anti-immigrant groups held their own. Anti-Muslim groups dropped by 12.

Sixty-five percent of the respondents to the survey believe that racism exists and is harmful but 49% believe people of color are lazy – the same people they forced over here by the millions to do the work that white people did not want to do. Logic is not their strong point. Only 38% believe that systemic racism impacts health – in spite of COVID. Still 51% of the people felt the looting at protests was more of a problem than police violence, and that the demonstrations were not needed because of a few bad apples. Since Chauvin’s conviction, police have murdered an average of three Black people a day and five days after the verdict, cops in CA murdered a Latino man by kneeling on his neck. What part of – it hasn’t even slowed down let alone stopped – don’t you get?

They make various recommendations but I for one am sick of all the recommendations that are wasted paper. We have heard it all before – many times.  They did include the often ignored point that misogyny is deeply imbedded in the hate groups but admit it’s not widely acknowledged or addressed. The murders by Incel and the mass shootings of women in FL need to be made explicit and fought. Their beliefs are internally contradictory e.g. women are manipulative but stupid so how do we manipulate such smart men? Women are genetically inferior but yet we produce their (genetically inferior) children. Women deserve violence for having sex or for denying sex. Battered women know this format for years – we cannot win no matter what we do. As the Proud Boys say, since we don’t match their definition of “woman” we can be beat up just like men. Structural sexism exists like structural racism to help white men maintain their positions at the top of an imaginary pyramid.

SPLC also joins the chorus asking for accountability for big tech. One in 50 tweets about voting were from QAnon cited accounts, the former president boosted QAnon content 270 times as of Oct 30, 2020; 91 candidates running in 2020 shared QAnon content and two were elected, both white women. SPLC has produced a resource for parents:  “Building Resilience & Confronting Risk in the COVID-19 Era: A Parents & Caregivers Guide to Online Radicalization.” Some frightening findings were that only 8% of Americans 18-29 years-of-age think the country is working as it should. The other 92% could be leaning either way but 71% of Americans believe elected officials do not care about ordinary citizens. That is very worrisome.

Nationally, the groups are:  KKK, Neo-Nazi, White Nationalist, Racist Skinhead, Christian Identity, Neo-Confederate, Neo-Volkisch, Anti-Immigrant, Anti–LGBT, Anti-Muslim, and general hate. AZ has everything but KKK and Christian Identity many with offices here.

Is it any wonder that AZ had an increase in hate crimes in 2020?

Nationwide anti-government groups declined but mobilization against BLM increased.  The Boogaloo boys are mainly Libertarian and organized around keeping guns. The Oath Keepers have some prominent Arizonans in their members e.g. State Representative Finchem who was at the January 6 insurrection and State Senator Wendy Rogers. A recall has been mounted against Finchem (they need help gathering signatures), and an EEOC claim filed against Rogers (after the Senate cleared her of ethics violations).

Another measure of the Arizona we have is illustrated in the Center for Extremism:  Year in Review 2020 from ADL. 2020, 2,024 reported antisemitic incidents occurred which is a 4% decrease from the year before but is still the third-highest year since 1979. Harassment has increased while vandalism and assault decreased. Since schools were closed, there were more incidents at Jewish institutions and “Zoombombings” that are new to us all. AZ ranked mid-level with 23 incidents on a par with WI, MN, NV, GA, and CT all in the 20s. Again, a bunch of recommendations were made all of which we have heard before.

Reading those two reports left me with quite a sour taste in my mouth about the Arizona we are.  An ABA survey was a little better but national. The American Bar Association takes an annual poll of civic literacy.  This year it was done in March based on 1,000 people polled by phone and released April 29, 2021. (

Not surprisingly age and race had a big impact on beliefs about racial bias in the justice system.  While almost half of whites agreed that there was racial bias (45%), 63% of Hispanics and 80% of Blacks were certain of it. Two-thirds of those under 34 knew it but only one-third of those over 65 (they didn’t ask me!). Asked whether everyone is treated the same under the law, 56% of all those polled agreed but only 41% of Blacks and 47% of those under 34. Most people know what “defund the police” means i.e. to redirect money to community services (50%) with only 17% thinking it means to take all funding or abolish the police (14%).  Blacks were much more aware than anyone else (63%).  It is obvious more education needs to be done about the impact of mass incarceration as only a third understood that aggressive prosecution was the main factor while 43% of those over 65 thought it was a non-existent increase in crime.

As usual, they also asked civics questions taken from the U.S. Naturalization Test. Despite all the publicity over two impeachments, an election, and an insurrection, Americans didn’t know any more about their own government with two exceptions. Seven percent more knew that the speaker of the House is second in line for the presidency, and 8% more knew that the right to vote is not in the First Amendment. But general knowledge was pretty good. 92% recognized where “We the People” came from; 86% knew what the Bill of Rights is and the Declaration of Independence did; and 84% knew what the “rule of law” means. Two-thirds knew what the “separation of powers” means and why it’s important.

With trepidation, I then read The Arizona We Want: The Decade Ahead:  Insights from the 2020 Gallup Arizona Survey, from the Center for the Future of Arizona. The poll of 3,500 residents and resulting report took 40 people nearly two years to complete. Surprisingly we agree far more than we disagree.

Some of the major findings were that 70% are proud to live in AZ but only 44% agree the state is heading in the right direction. College educated millennials are the least optimistic (32%) and fewer than half of those under 35-years-old with a college education think AZ is a great place to raise a child (42%). Political affiliation also plays a role in these perceptions, with Republicans (60%) far more likely than Democrats (37%) or independents (34%) to agree that the state is heading in the right direction.

But over 70% of Arizonans agree on seven main values:

  1. Education
  2. Health and well being
  3. Jobs and economic opportunity
  4. Environment and sustainable future
  5. Civic engagement and leadership
  6. Fair, just and equitable systems
  7. Immigration reform

The list was pretty amazing to me given what is happening at the legislature. Only 26% think we have a high-quality K-12 system.  Only 55% of those in rural areas have access to high-speed internet in their homes – this became a real issue when schools had to close.  The bill to provide monies to improve rural broad band (HB2808) passed the House February 24 and the Senate appropriations committee March 31 but has not been scheduled in Senate Rules or brought to the floor.

The public has spoken loudly and clearly and repeatedly that they support funding for public education and 79% supported it in this survey. Yet the state legislature is doing all they can to hijack the citizen initiative for funding, steal money from the federal funds meant for schools, and give tax breaks to corporations. Even higher numbers of Arizonans, 85%, want mental health services available and affordable and regulations to protect rural water – yet the legislature fiddles while AZ burns.

Only 28% of Arizonans think race relations are good. A majority of Blacks (53%) experienced discrimination in the prior twelve months and for Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans, it was 39%. Yet the legislature is passing bills to shield police and make protesting a crime. (HB2309)

Over the decade, our population increased by 16%, over 250,000 people, but due to the flawed census, we don’t get another Congressional seat. We had GDP growth rate of +3% but it’s hard to figure out where it manifested for the average person who remains in deep financial trouble.

The main ethnicity change was that Latinos increased from 30% to 32% and whites decreased from 58% to 54%. The parties remained in a dead heat:  Democrats 33%, Republicans 33%, Independents 32%.  However, those who lived in the state 6-10 years tended to be Republican by 16 points; those who have lived here 11-20 years tended to be Independent by 8-14 points; and those in the state more than 20 years tend to be Democrats by 2 points. That is contrary to common hysteria that those moving here will make the state more liberal, and that older folks are more conservative (not this Boomer).

Total household income before taxes was distinctly lopsided with 33% (40% outside of Maricopa county) making less than $36,000; 20% making less than $60,000; 30% making less than $120,000 and only 17% making $120,000 or more (22% in Maricopa county).

The percent of workers who permanently lost their jobs due to COVID was concentrated in the northern part of the state (29%) with 18% in Central, 12% in Pima county, 10% in Maricopa, and then 9% in the southeast and 7% in the western parts.

One of the most interesting results was the question, “How many times in the last 12 months could you not …”

buy food – rural at 28% and midsized cities 26%

buy health care – midsized at 31%, rural at 27%

pay for housing – 20% midsized, 17% and 18% for urban and rural

pay for transportation – 18% rural, 15% urban and midsize

pay for child care – 11% rural, 6% and 4% urban and midsize

So where is this GDP growth?

The infrastructure bill introduced in Congress would meet many of the expressed needs in AZ.  Rural communities are less satisfied with infrastructure e.g. roads. Nobody likes their streets with 54% of Phoenix area and only 16% of Tucson happy with their streets though 60% of Phoenix residents said the streets were walkable versus 41% of Tucson. Only 35% – 42% approved of the public transport anywhere in the state.

High speed internet is another big issue especially after schools closed. Overall,16% do not have at home and 3% say it’s not available at all. In rural areas those number are 45% and 23% compared to urban that are 15% and 2%.  However for Native Americans, it’s 53% and 28% compared to Blacks and Latinos (23%) and whites (11%).

When residents were asked where are we going, the outlook was not that favorable. On the standard of living, a third thought it would decline, a third thought it would improve and a third thought it would stay the same. But the college educated are the least likely to think the standard of living will improve. If they don’t think their prospects are going to improve, why stay here?  That could portend a big brain drain and at least at the legislature, we seem to be pretty short of brains already.

People want to contribute to the state’s welfare with 47% saying opportunity is more important than stability. Those under 30 prioritize opportunity (63%).  Latino and Blacks are also more likely to vote for opportunity as they haven’t had much (56% and 61% respectively). While 65% of all Arizonans believe the old saw that hard work will bring success, only 56% of Latinos and Blacks do. They know from experience that it’s not true.

The top issues ranked as important for the future are:

  1. Affordable health care (O’Halleran and Stanton are not co-sponsors of  Medicare for All nor is any Republican);
  2. Quality K-12 education– the legislature is mocking the people’s will;
  3. More good paying jobs – “right to work” states like AZ sink to the lowest level;
  4. A secure water supply – a very weak bill was passed this year and CAP cuts loom;
  5. Ending systemic racism – the legislature is doing the opposite to strengthen police and punish protesters;
  6. Affordable housing – nothing much happening at all.

As outlined above, over 70% of people agreed on seven shared values. 89% voted for a good education for kids. Preschool was particularly important for Latinos which is interesting because it used to be anathema. But 71% believe the state should provide for preschool v. 57% of all others. 76% say it’s important to have quality preschool v. 61% of others Arizonans. Latinos also focused on postsecondary education including trade schools and the financial barriers to attending.

Amazing to me is that 60% of us say they are satisfied with the quality of healthcare they receive except for the rural and Native American residents. The problems are wait time (40%) and cost of medicine (38%) and for rural people, finding a specialist is a problem (30%).  Only 35% however are satisfied with mental health care especially in the west which fell to 17%.

Low-income, rural and communities of color suffered the most in the pandemic with job furloughs, hours reduced, and termination. When asked if they had enough money to cover expenses 25% said not for health care with Blacks and Latinos saying 35%; 19% over all said not enough money for food with the highest among Native Americans with 45%, and for housing overall it was 18% with the highest among Native Americans at 41%.  Again, where’s that GDP growth?

27% said the cost of childcare is preventing them from working or attending school and 22% say the lack of availability is the problem. These numbers are especially high among low-income residents and particularly Black residents. This is why Biden’s family bill just introduced that pays attention to child care is important.

One of the highest areas of agreement was on the environment – protecting our natural areas – at 92% who supported regulations to protect water and increased spending (85%). In cities, 84% wanted to reduce the heat island effect and 82% wanted to protect and expand open spaces. Air quality (80%) and clean energy (74%) were also important. Yet the Apache nation are still having to fight foreign companies to keep the Oak Flat sacred areas free from mining.

While the Republicans in the legislature find it impossible to speak to the Democrats, 75% of Arizonans said they would speak to someone of a different view illustrating, if there was any doubt, that the people are more mature than the legislators.  Even 44% said they would pay more taxes to resolve the issues, 26% were unsure and only 31% said no.

The legislature also is going in the opposite direction of the voters on elections. 73% of Arizonans wanted all registered voters sent a ballot by mail while maintaining in-person options.  Allowing in-person voting for several weeks was favored by 79%. Automatic registration with a driver license was favored by 77%. Ranked choice and same-day registration was favored by younger voters. Latinos were the most supportive of reforms and ballot access.

Young people and Latinos were more apt to be concerned about civic life; millennials were least likely to believe that Arizonans care about each other but more willing to pay increased taxes to get to the future we want. Yet for the last 30 years, all our legislature has done is cut taxes, cut taxes, and cut taxes resulting in no gain for the average Arizonan.

Having worked on criminal justice reform for more than 40 years I was astonished to learn that Arizonans know that addressing systemic racism is a key issue when combating discrimination, reforming the criminal “justice” system, and reforming prisons to focus on rehabilitation. Yet our legislature barrels on with one of the highest imprisonment rates, the highest (85%) requirement of time spent in prison, long sentences, imprisoning non-violent offenders, and for-profit prisons.  Three bills are on the governor’s desk now that he should veto (HB2462, HB2567, HB2295) because they harm reform efforts.

Native Americans and Blacks were the most likely to agree that race relations are bad (82% and 81% respectively). A third of Latinos think race relations are good but 47% disagree. A majority of Blacks were discriminated against in the previous year along with 39% of Latinos and 38% of Native Americans. In addition, 25% of women were discriminated against based on sex and 28% of Native Americans based on religion. Given the current climate of police violence it’s important to know that even before recent events, 45% of all Arizonans felt that the criminal justice system did not treat everyone fairly and only 26% felt it did. Blacks and Native Americans felt the system was unfair at rates of 59% and 53% respectively. Consensus was that prisons should focus on rehabilitation (77%).  HB2130 signed by the governor April 20 is a baby step on that path.  But on April 26 he vetoed SB1261 that would have been another baby step.  Likewise most citizens agree that we should not have for-profit prisons (63%). Nielsen v. Shinnto abolish for-profit prisons is in the U.S. District Court in Phoenix. Even on immigration 86% agree we need comprehensive reform and a pathway to citizenship including for DACA recipients (86%). Would someone please tell Senator Sinema?

What we want and what we are getting is at extreme odds and Arizonans know it. Only 10% said our leaders were very good; only 28% believed we had strong leaders to lead in tough times while 38% disagreed. Even among Republicans, 45% say we do not have good leaders. When asked about future planning – what every elected person should care about – 63% said the electeds do not focus on long-term planning, and 67% said they do not represent diverse voices or use data to make decisions. So who is electing these people? Perhaps we need to audit the election of every Republican member of the House and Senate because surely Arizonans didn’t elect them. Whoever the electeds are listening to, it is not the people of Arizona.

1 thought on “Parallel Universes”

  1. Excellent reportage! I am a boomer, too, but have had reasonable experience with college kids, mostly grad students. As a whole, I would say the are passionate about climate change and the environment as well as social issues. Also, at this level, they are totally comfortable with working cooperatively with others of different gender, race, culture, and nationality. I would be completely happy having them run things compared to the current ignorant dinosaurs in the legislature and most of our state elective offices.

Comments are closed.