I Was Talking About Baja Arizona Before Paul Eckerstrom Was
(Over the last week a number of people have asked me about Paul Eckerstrom’s committee and his proposal to create a new state south of the Gila River. The fact is that the proposal actually dates back to the Mecham era when it was put forward by prominent local attorney and curmudgeon Hugh Holub. Actually, it could be argued that it goes back even further, to 1825 when local leaders declared Tucson to be an independent republic. Historians generally believe this to be a misunderstanding, but I am not so sure.
Mr. Holub’s movement consisted of bumper stickers and a few op-ed pieces. It got people talking, and coined the name “Baja Arizona” for the lands acquired by the Gadsden Purchase, even as the writings of Charles Poston, William Claude Jones and Sylvester Mowry once popularized the name “Arizona” for the same region when they wanted the southern strip to be divided from New Mexico. As an impressionable teenager, I got one of Holub’s bumper stickers and it remains a prized possession. It was fixed to my office door when I was in the legislature and got a few strange reactions from Maricopa types who were oddly unfamiliar with the sentiment.
Sometime in the early to mid 90’s I connected, via what passed for the internet in those days, with a fellow who had a Baja Arizona web site. I contributed a few things, and even designed a flag. By “designed,” I really mean that I took an idea from a David Fitzsimmons cartoon and added color.
About 2 years ago, I started a Baja Arizona Facebook ™ group in reaction to some particularly ignorant things that Governor Brewer had said about southern Arizona. It quickly got several hundred members, including people I did not know. What follows is what I first wrote for the group. A few things have changed since then. Notably, that the Town of Marana has taken its petty feud with Pima County to the legislature to complain to daddy that big bad Richard Elias (A Mexican!) and Chuck Huckleberry won’t play fair, and that the current crop of Pima County Republicans behave much like Maricopa County types, placing ideology and partisan solidarity above concern for the community. I still have faith that the current ugliness that has taken hold here is a phase that will pass despite the best efforts of a few car salesmen to see that it continues.)
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…”
Recent events in Phoenix call for the revival of an idea first posited by Tucson attorney Hugh Holub many years ago, namely the division of the State of Arizona at the Gila River to create a new state of Baja Arizona with its capitol at Tucson, Bisbee, or, as at least one columnist has suggested, Biosphere II.
The new Governor’s open chauvinism, one than many in the legislature share, against the southern part of the state is well documented, but if we dwell on this point we miss the larger problem. This problem even goes beyond the fact that Tucson and Phoenix are different communities with different visions. The real problem is that Maricopa County entirely drives our political debate at the state level, and that there are relatively few with the imagination to look beyond to the needs of Arizona as a whole.
Maricopa is the largest county in the United States, so it seems natural that they should dominate the discussion, but it goes beyond that. Maricopa County is so completely dysfunctional, so divided, that the legislature spends much of its time attempting to resolve the petty feuds between the dozens of bedroom communities that make up the Phoenix conurbation and little time is left to discuss issues of statewide concern.
Our recently departed Governor was one person who did understand that there was a state beyond Maricopa County, and that the continued prosperity of Arizona depended on attentiveness to the needs of the 40% of residents who live in the other 14 counties. Janet Napolitano is a Democrat, and the nature of the Democratic constituency in Arizona requires one who hopes to win statewide to appeal to voters in many diverse and obscure corners of our state, something which tends to impress a more inclusive perspective on a candidate. As a Republican, the current Governor needed only to appeal to Maricopa County when she campaigned for Secretary of State.
However, this is not a partisan issue. Yes, Maricopa County is dominated by Republicans and that is a large part of the problem. But it should also be remembered that the Democrats there until recently have largely enabled them by behaving like the ineffective opposition party in some third-world failed state. Here in Tucson, we generally have higher expectations of both parties and tend to elect a better class of Republicans. Compare Jim Kolbe’s record of service to someone like Trent Franks. “Trent who?” you say? Well, now you know what I am talking about.
Furthermore, I think we can all agree that if Joe Arpaio lived in Pima County, he would be just one of the many nameless bigoted cranks who post on the Arizona Daily Star’s online comment section rather than a Sheriff and highly regarded leader in the community.
While it is tempting to think that, once free of Phoenix and its suburbs, this proposed new state of Baja Arizona would be some paragon of enlightened rule worthy of St. Thomas Moore, I think we all know that this would not be the case. One could point out the pointless fight-picking by Marana and Sahuarita with Pima County over the issue of waste water as an example. However, it should be pointed out that these sorts of fights here in southern Arizona are settled in a much more civilized manner than they are in Maricopa, and no one runs to the legislature to ask them to sort these things out. In general, we will be better off free of the ignorance, pettiness and general small-mindedness that passes for politics in Maricopa County.
So this is all a long way of saying that this is a group for partisans of Baja Arizona, whether you are serious about the idea of potential congressional action on the issue, or whether you just regard it, as Mr. Holub once articulated, as a “state of mind.”
Comment: Will be very interesting if Baja Arizona becomes the first state created that started as a joke.