GOP appetite to decry its racists evaporates in the face of political consequences

August 1, 2019 8:58 pm

Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake. Screenshot via YouTube

What a difference a year – and a competitive seat – makes when it comes to the willingness of Arizona Republicans to put up with racism in their ranks.

When former Republican state lawmaker David Stringer made national headlines last summer for saying that immigration is presenting an “existential threat” to America, there was a swift rebuke from three top Republicans.

Gov. Doug Ducey, who largely adheres to Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment and whose eventual obituary won’t include the words “political risk-taker,” wasted little time in calling on Stringer to resign from the legislature. He was joined by the chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, Jonathan Lines, and Glenn Hamer, the CEO and president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Other Republicans largely kept their heads down, waiting for the furor over Stringer’s comments to die down. 

That strategy worked – until December, when Phoenix New Times published a recording of Stringer talking about race to some ASU students. Stringer said African-Americans “don’t blend in,” called non-native English speaking students a “burden,” and remarked that Somali-Americans don’t look like “every other kid.”

At that point, with the legislative session just weeks away, Republicans didn’t have the luxury of hoping the storm would blow over. Consequently, more prominent Republicans joined the calls for Stringer to resign. Chief among them was Senate President Karen Fann, Stringer’s seatmate. 

“Representative David Stringer’s comments create a racial and community divide that is counterproductive to the needs of the state. We must respect and celebrate our rich cultures and never abandon the principles of equality that so many have fought to preserve,” Fann said in a written statement, two days after she declined to weigh in because it wasn’t a Senate matter. “Mr. Stringer has given doubt among his legislative peers regarding his judgment and ability to represent his district.”

Stringer ultimately resigned rather than be expelled from the legislature — but we must always remember that his GOP colleagues turned on him not because of the white nationalist ideology he spouted, but because legislative investigators dredged up details of his arrest for sex crimes against children 35 years earlier.

Fast forward to the present, and it’s shocking to see how differently Republican Sen. Sylvia Allen is being treated by her fellow GOPers than Stringer was. 

Gone are the calls for resignation, replaced by a visibly angry and almost-yelling Ducey responding to a reporter’s question comparing Allen and Stringer: “Come on! Sylvia Allen is not David Stringer! She disavowed her comments and says she has love in her heart for every person.

Leaving aside that Ducey is flat wrong about Allen “disavowing” her comments – more on that in a bit – if you look at the substance of what Allen and Stringer said, there’s not much daylight between the comments.

Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts did a side-by-side comparison:

Here, for example, is David Stringer in June 2018:

“Immigration today represents an existential threat to the United States. If we don’t do something about immigration very, very soon, the demographics of our country will be irrevocably changed and we will be a very different country,” he told the Yavapai County Republican Men’s Forum in June 2018. “It will not be the country you were born into.”

And here is Sylvia Allen on July 15:

“Another thing that Dr. Johnson talked about is the ‘Browning of America,'” Allen said, referring to Dr. James Johnson, who studies demographics at the University of North Carolina. “That America is fast becoming … we’re going to look like South American countries very quickly.”

Here is Stringer, lamenting how immigrants are wrecking our country:

“When you have too much diversity too fast, it undermines social cohesion and community. And that’s where we are in America today. That’s why we have so much division and gridlock and tension and friction in our society.’’

Here is Allen:

“When Sen. (Martin) Quezada says we don’t want to assimilate, then what do you want? What do you plan for America to look like in 10 years? What kind of form of government are we going to live under in 10 years?”

In the immediate wake of the speech becoming public, Allen sought to do some damage control – something Stringer defiantly never did. Allen apologized “to anyone who has been hurt by my words” and said she is “recognizing that” the effect of the words was different from her intent.

Ducey would have you believe Allen then took all of those words back. But instead, her apology segued into a “clarification” of what she actually meant, which wasn’t that she was against immigration, but was concerned that socialists from South America will ruin America because they don’t assimilate.

Or something.

And lest you think I’m glibly dismissing Allen’s apology as insincere, fret not – she couldn’t go more than 72 hours without ripping it to shreds herself. On July 29, she appeared on the Flagstaff radio show of conservative Jeff Oravits and declared herself the victim of “verbal lynching” by the media and the left.

“It’s a political weapon that is being used to silence political leaders like myself,” she said. 

“Without changing a single word in our constitution, we have successfully put a muzzle on the First Amendment freedom of speech by dissecting every word someone puts out and interpreting what you think they’re saying with those words, and trying to shame you and to silence you and to reprogram your thinking and your freedom of thought and expression.”

And the day before the radio interview, she posted a video on Facebook in which a far-right conspiracy theorist (who says communists and Islamists are infiltrating America through our elected leaders and our churches) compares illegal immigration with “a nuclear bomb” that will destroy America and says immigrants are part of a Marxist plot to install one-party rule.

Well, then.

Given their relative displays of courage to call out Stringer as a racist last year, I posed a series of questions to both Fann and Hamer about Allen, including whether she should resign and whether she is the victim in this.

Neither has responded to me.

Republic columnist E.J. Montini chalked up the silence among Republicans to Trump. Heavens knows there’s plenty of evidence of racism in Trump’s GOP, but it’s not like Stringer was abandoned by Republicans in a foregone era – it was last year.

A better explanation to me is that Stringer was expendable. Not only did he represent a legislative district that is the most reliably Republican and is the whitest among the 30 districts, but he didn’t have many allies at the Capitol, either among the special interests that traditionally back Republicans or even among his colleagues. All of which is to say, there was no real consequence for booting Stringer.

Meanwhile, Allen is locked in a tough re-election fight and has strong allies – including, apparently, Ducey.

Allen won her Senate seat in 2018 by a mere 1,700 votes out of more than 94,000 cast, even though Republicans held an 8.5 percentage point voter registration advantage over Democrats. 

Her political opponents already smell blood in the water. Republican Wendy Rogers, a perennial candidate in legislative and congressional contests who is still searching for her first campaign win, hammered Allen.

And Felicia French, the presumptive Democratic nominee for the Senate seat, decried Allen’s words, saying that diversity is “what makes America great.”

In hindsight, the Republicans who denounced Stringer probably didn’t deserve the plaudits they received at the time.

It’s clear now that they weren’t being politically brave by casting out against one of their own who held abhorrent views, they were just being politically expedient.

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Jim Small
Jim Small

Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications, the Yellow Sheet Report and Arizona Legislative Report. Under his guidance, the Capitol Times won numerous state, regional and national awards for its accountability journalism and probing investigations into state government operations.