AZ Republicans take a giant step backwards on immigration and race

Gov. Doug Ducey speaks at a 2018 pre-election campaign rally in Prescott. He is flanked by U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, Attorney General Mark Brnovich, and Treasurer Kimberly Yee, among others. Photo by Doug Ducey's campaign | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Once upon a time, not long ago, in a land called Arizona, there was a group of Republican politicians who wanted to shed the state’s post-SB1070 nativist image.

Arizona politics had veered so far to the right and into the range of tinfoil hat conspiracy theories that our state had become a regular target for late-night comedians.

Joe Arpaio, Andrew Thomas, Russell Pearce.

These men used the issue of immigration and fear of the “other” as a tool to divide voters and win elections.

But all three of those politicians were eventually defeated, disbarred or recalled, replaced by individuals who did not espouse the same anti-immigrant philosophies.

As voters soured on extremist views, Republican politicians and influential business leaders stepped up to the plate to work with groups such as the Real Arizona Coalition to dispel myths about immigration and support forward movement on comprehensive immigration reform.

Our state’s top Republican, Gov. Doug Ducey, spent his first term touting the importance of trade with Mexico and working to thwart the type of anti-immigrant bills that had been a mainstay of the Arizona Legislature.

It seemed our great state was putting its shameful politics in the past.

Then came Donald Trump.

Now, Republicans aren’t simply walking back their previous support for immigration reform, they’re openly contributing to a nasty political dialogue that makes any hope for comprehensive reform impossible.

For example, a few weeks ago, state senator Sylvia Allen was speaking at a Republican party function when she lamented the “browning of America.” She informed her fellow Republicans that white women aren’t having as many babies as Hispanics and soon our country will “look like South American countries.”

This week, we learned about Mohave County planning commissioner LaJuana Gillette, a Republican who blames racism on President Obama and black Americans who “want to have things all black people no white people.”

Gillette took to Facebook to inform her followers that “in no time at all white people will be in the minority,” interracial marriage is turning this country brown and “we must stop minorities from coming here.” 

Xenophobia is not a harmless dogma. It inspires hate crimes and empowers white nationalists.

But wait. Surely someone like Ducey, the individual who talks openly about his faith shaping his politics, would be quick to condemn what are clearly dangerous remarks. Right?


As of this writing, the governor has defended senator Allen as someone “who has love in her heart for every person” and remained mute on commissioner Gillette.

Likewise, the state Republican party and Allen’s fellow Republican legislators have responded with crickets.

The only response to Gillette has been from former Republican legislator and current Mohave County Commissioner Ron Gould, who said Ms. Gillette wouldn’t be removed from the commission because he’s “not concerned about LaJuana shooting up a Walmart.”

Well, gee, that should make Latinos in Mohave County feel safe.

What happened to our former Republican changemakers? The ones who promised a new day in Arizona politics and an end to divisive rhetoric?

Without the cover of U.S. Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake – two Republicans who led on immigration reform – it seems the rest of the party has lost its moral center.

Gov. Ducey has become B.F.F. with Trump, a man who regularly refers to immigrants and asylum seekers as invaders, animals and killers. The strong partnership with Mexico that Ducey once promoted has been replaced by Ducey’s support for a closed border and increased tariffs.

And our congressional Republicans? Well, this QAnon conspiracy theory tweet pretty much sums it up:

This September will mark 12 years since the death of my husband, a Phoenix police officer who was shot and killed in the line of duty by an individual who had previously been deported.

I had long hoped the legacy of my husband’s death would not be the discord and division that permeated the city after he died, but rather a defining moment in the push for an immigration solution that balanced safety with humanity, a policy my husband would have been proud to promote.

At one point in time, I believed a bipartisan solution was possible.

But that seems like a lifetime ago, when politicians were willing to work across the aisle and Republicans were willing to call a spade a spade and a racist a racist.


  1. Powerful article. Thank you, Julie Erfle.

    Long before John McCain’s death and Jeff Flake’s departure from the Senate, the AZ GOP lost interest in American exceptionalism, the virtues of Americanism, honesty and candor, and the expectation to prioritize country over party. Kelly Ward has only thrown gasoline on what was already a hot mess of grandiose selfishness, conspiracy theories, and manipulation to cocoon their base in outright lies to gain their public support, donations, and enthusiastic willingness to push hard for Trumpism and push out anyone whose opinions differ.
    We’ve witnessed the birth of American fascism. Dismissing American fascism because it’s not Nazism is a mistake I hope we don’t make because the damage Trump and complicit Republicans have done cannot necessarily be reversed.

  2. Thanks Julie for another great commentary. Your statements are right in line with my thoughts about the current turmoil. It seems that there are way too many wackos in the GOP now. Last night I read statements from Rep. Peter King in Iowa. And I wonder how these people ever got elected! Too many in the GOP are afraid of being found out if they ever should say or vote for a Democratic idea.

  3. Thank you for your article. I hope that your work will ultimately help cement your husbands legacy of service, courage and valor. The fight is not over and these elected officials are beholden to us, the constituents, whether they see us or not.

  4. This is devastating for Arizona’s justice system and the people of Arizona. Creating laws for those they do not want or like puts ALL at risk for harm. So who will be placed in judge positions in the courts if this many racists are in control? All should be concerned.

    After years of controversy in the failed and corrupt Maricopa County Attorneys Office following disgraced and disbarred Andrew Thomas and his “troika”, one would have expected Bill Montgomery to clean up the corruption (well known in the legal community for years) in this county prosecutors’ office.

    DA/prosecutor/politician Bill Montgomery failed to address the over 200,000 felony cases Andrew Thomas bragged about in his failed run for state AG (in his one term in office, 2005-2010): ignoring wrongful convictions, abuse of power, prosecutorial malfeasance and official misconduct, overzealous prosecution, over-charging, over-sentencing, and incompetence.

    Instead, it appears, DA/Bill Montgomery/prosecutor/politician, chose to look the other way on MCAO Thomas 200,000 felony cases and bury them in Arizona’s Pandora’s Box, while he moves on and up.

    This damage by the DA/County Attorneys Office will last for generations for the lives destroyed in their “system”, that has also wasted millions of taxpayers $$$’s, unnecessarily. This legacy is a stain on Arizona’s justice system and castes doubt on its integrity. Arizona ‘prison/police” label does not help encourage tourism or business community. In fact, those businesses should give full disclosure on the marketing and advertising materials, along with noting Arizona’s draconian sentencing scheme — where 10 year sentences are handed out, like one year in others states; where misdemeanors in other states are felonies in Arizona. Let’s be honest with the public.

    • Now that MCAO Bill Montgomery has failed to act, an outside independent investigation is needed into these 200,000 felony cases. Who has the courage to tackle this — like was done in Chicago, Brooklyn, New York, Philadelphia — righting the wrongs and getting the innocent out of prisons.

      Study the data in the National Registry of Exonerations, with over 2,480 exonerees who spent a combined total of tens of thousands of years in prison — THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG of tens of thousands of people languishing in prisons across Arizona and the nation.

      Arizona CANNOT continue to ignore this, if they stand for fair justice. If not, then be honest and say you do not believe in fair justice for the people, and you’ll destroy whoever you want for political and financial gain. There should be full disclosure of this in the state’s tourism and businesses marketing and advertising brochures, so people are forewarned. Think Betsy Godfried. Those who come from out of state for the various events.

  5. Thank you AZMirror for continuing to drive the issue of Arizona racism statewide. This is such an important article…thank you, Julie. And we continue to push for LaJuana Gillette’s removal from the Mohave County Planning & Zoning Commission.

  6. Julie, Thank you for the article. The current events and direction that the country is headed toward is dangerous. I hope that the Nation can correct course.

  7. “If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.”
    ― Albert Einstein

    It’s past time for the real moral majority push their voices into the consciousness of, to prick the conscience of, those in power pretending to be the voices of the majority. They will only stand corrected when they are overwhelmed with moral voices shaming their fear-ridden and ignorant rants.

  8. Thank you for this article. The Republicans in Arizona should be ashamed if themselves. Keep up your good reporting work.

  9. So you are trying to say it is fine for Republicans if more Hispanics and others come here and vote Democrat only. It is not a problem for the two party system. They shouldn’t complain, but suck it up or be called racist. Is that it?

  10. The Republican leadership in this state should really hang their heads. To tolerate the racist and xenophobic comments noted in this report is absolutely reprehensible. This needs to stop. The people holding these sorts of beliefs should not hold public office where there should be an expectation that they represent all of their constituents.

  11. When you accept the fact that our fellow voters vote not for what is in the best interest of the state/country but rather vote for what makes them “feel good”, you’ll understand that nothing will change politically. Accept the fact that while there are many decent people in our state/country, they’re obviously not stepping up during elections. I understand it’s redundant to say but nothing will change so long as the same ideologies are pushed to front and the same individuals are continually elected.


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