AZ Republicans take a giant step backwards on immigration and race

August 14, 2019 2:16 pm

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.

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Julie Erfle
Julie Erfle

Julie Erfle hails from North Dakota, but has called Arizona home for more than twenty years. She began her career in Phoenix as a creative services producer at KPHO-TV5 and 3TV. Blending her background in communications with her passion for community activism, Julie launched the political blog Politics Uncuffed in 2011, and began working as a communications director and consultant on candidate and initiative campaigns. She is the former executive director of Progress Now Arizona, a progressive communications and advocacy non-profit, and a fellow with the Flinn-Brown Arizona Center for Civic Leadership and Leading for Change.