Baja Arizona--and idea long overduehttp://dennisleewilson.com/simplemachinesforum/index.php?topic=540.msg1022#msg1022
* MARCH 15, 2011E Pluribus Tucson: Uprising in ArizonaLiberals in Pima County, Disgusted With Their State, Prepare to Start a Better One
By TAMARA AUDI
TUCSON, Ariz.—On the patio of a downtown bar here last Wednesday night, a handful of people gathered over pitchers of beer to plot the creation of America's 51st state.
With copies of the Arizona constitution before them, they debated how to turn Pima County—a liberal southern swatch of Arizona that borders Mexico and includes Tucson—into "Baja Arizona."
"What's the objective?" one member asked the group, Start Our State.
"Becoming our own state and making our own decisions," said organizer Paul Eckerstrom.
Baja Arizona (the working title) will almost certainly remain a dream, but it suggests the growing chasm between the state's Republican leaders and its frustrated liberal minority.
For decades, there has been friction between Pima County and its more conservative northern neighbor, Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix. Residents of Pima County (pop. 1 million) have often joked about forming their own state. The chasm yawned last year when Gov. Jan Brewer approved an immigration law that prompted a legal battle between the state and the federal government and made the state the target of boycotts. A new batch of immigration bills followed this year, along with a Republican-sponsored state Senate bill to let Arizona nullify specific federal laws.
Supporters of the nullification bill, which was defeated last week, said it was an attempt to curb federal overreaching. It was also the final straw for Mr. Eckerstrom, former Pima County Democratic Party chairman and an attorney in the county's Legal Defenders Office.
"That's basically a secession bill," Mr. Eckerstrom said. "I just couldn't take it anymore. We actually want to stay in the union. It seems Arizona doesn't." In February, he suggested facetiously on his Facebook page that southern Arizona become its own state. Thousands of supporters answered his call.
Some in Pima County are also upset about gun legislation under consideration and cite the shooting spree outside Tucson that killed six and seriously wounded 13, including Gabrielle Giffords, the Democratic U.S. representative whose district includes Pima. The legislation would allow guns on college campuses, which supporters say would make them safer. Another bill, already approved by Arizona's Senate, would enshrine a state gun, the Colt Single Action Army Revolver, which supporters say is central to Arizona's history.
Republicans say the separatists' effort is, at best, a publicity stunt. "It's their silly way of pushing back," said Lori Klein, a state senator and the nullification bill's chief sponsor. "It's Pima County. They fight us on immigration. They fight us on taxes."
"It's no secret that the Democrats took it on the chin this year," said Brian Miller, Pima County Republican Party Chairman. "So instead of regrouping and trying to convince people they are correct in their views, they want to secede." On the other hand, he noted, if Pima County does become its own state, "that would make me the state GOP chairman."
Jokes about the effort, and the liberal history of the region, abound. "The official state license plate would read: Baja Arizona: Your Welfare Is Our Business," wrote Roger Yohem, a columnist for "Inside Tucson Business. "The official state gun would be the Hasbro Super-Soaker."
Late last month, independent of Mr. Eckerstrom's effort, Democratic state senator Paula Aboud introduced separation of the south from Arizona as a "tongue-in-cheek" amendment to an existing bill.
"We don't want to be part of this state that continues to embarrass Arizona," she said when she introduced the amendment. It went down to defeat.
While acknowledging they are unlikely to succeed, leaders of the separation movement say it is a serious effort, complete with lawyer-drafted legal strategies, a bank account to accept donations and maps of the quixotic new state. The group's Facebook page has a small but growing following, currently at more than 3,000 fans.
The separatists point to Maine, which became a state in 1820 after residents lobbied for independence from Massachusetts. But it took them three decades, and as a free state Maine provided balance with the slave states. After the Massachusetts legislature approved the split, Congress and the President signed off as well.
Start Our State is looking to introduce a ballot initiative in Pima County next year, an election year and Arizona's 100th birthday.
It's unclear whether the county would allow it, never mind its fate with Congress and the president.
Other counties have been invited to join. In one scenario, northern counties would link to Pima, creating the nation's first doughnut-shaped state, with Republican Maricopa as the doughnut hole
Write to Tamara Audi at firstname.lastname@example.org