Arizona Goes Rogue

Despite touting a libertarian ethos and gorgeous landscape, the state has become a wasteland for human rights, unsafe for women, LGBTs, and people of color.

BY Victoria A. Brownworth

September 06 2013 4:00 AM ET


Above: Border fence in the city of Douglas; protests against SB 1070; the state flag

Brewer’s governorship has been viewed nationally as racist, anti-woman, and homophobic. A photo of her yelling and pointing in Obama’s face when he visited the state went viral in January 2012 and seemed to exemplify an ugly attitude toward the progressive policies he represents and a lack of respect for the elected leader of the country.

Brewer’s leadership seems to harken back to that of one of the state’s best-known politicians, U.S. senator and presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. Not the softened, gay-friendly Barry Goldwater of the 1990s, but the rabid, extremist, Strontium-90-in-the-tap-water, Commie-conspiracies-everywhere Goldwater of the 1960s; the Goldwater who said, when accepting the Republican presidential nomination on July 16, 1964, “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice” and “moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

Brewer, a veteran of Arizona politics, was elected governor in November 2010 in a  landslide, suggesting that voters had no problem making the shift from Napolitano (who won her own reelection with a two-to-one vote margin over her GOP opponent) to Brewer. The big win also meant Brewer’s most controversial act as governor before her election-proper  had seemingly little impact on her candidacy. Her Democratic opponent, Terry Goddard, had campaigned on Brewer as extremist, yet lost in landslide; Brewer won by over 12% of the vote.

On April 23, 2010, Brewer signed SB 1070, the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act. Under the act, anyone suspected of being an undocumented immigrant could be asked by police for residency documents at any time and for any reason. The law made failure to carry immigration documents a crime—a felony. Police could detain anyone they suspected of being in the country illegally—essentially a stop-and-frisk law for ID.

In addition, the law cracked down on anyone sheltering, hiring, or transporting undocumented immigrants. But the law also meant local and state police could pull over anyone they suspected of being undocumented, giving local law enforcement broad powers that had previously been the sole purview of federal law enforcement.

On the day Brewer signed the legislation, she said the law “represents another tool for our state to use as we work to solve a crisis we did not create and the federal government has refused to fix.” Obama spoke out against the law immediately—highly unusual for a president to do regarding state law — saying the Arizona law sought “to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.”

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 29% of the Arizona population is Hispanic or Latino; Spanish is the first language of 23%. In addition, Arizona has the third-largest population of Native Americans — sometimes confused racially for Hispanic/Latino. Ten percent of the country’s Native Americans live in Arizona.

Critics argued that Arizona’s “papers please” law — or “Brewer’s Law,” as it was dubbed — was blatant racial profiling, effectively making “driving while brown” illegal. Massive protests were held nationwide. Then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton quickly announced that the law would be challenged by the Department of Justice, but challenges were unsuccessful. Last term, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the law constitutional. The law went into effect September 18, 2012 — “an important day for Arizona and supporters of the rule of law,” in the words of a triumphant Brewer. She has since added other anti-immigrant regulations to the state, fighting Obama’s DREAM Act and taking funds slated for education and applying them to border security. Under Brewer, border fences have gone up in various parts of the state, notably in Yuma.

The disconnect between libertarian Arizona and extremist Arizona is also keenly felt by women and LGBT people.

In April 2012, Brewer signed the nation’s most restrictive abortion law. The law disallowed any abortions over 18 weeks’ gestation — six weeks earlier than the 24-week threshold of viability. The time limitation meant that women could not undergo genetic testing via amniocentesis — done at 16 weeks — and still have an abortion should the test, which takes two weeks for results, show something dire. Many other abnormalities also only appear on sonograms after 18 weeks.

At the time Brewer signed the law, Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, the national agency for advancement of information on sexuality and reproduction, argued the blatant rogue attitude of the state: “The point is to make it so difficult to provide abortions that no one will do it. Arizona likes to thumb their nose at women. They take that as a badge of honor.”

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