Fed Up with Phoenix, Tucson Talks Secession from Arizona

Article excerpt

Arizona's conservative politics - and Phoenix's dominant role - lead some in Tucson to call for secession. It's a divide that dates back to the 1800s.

There is a whiff of revolution on Fourth Avenue in Tucson. Inside a pub crowded with copper-clad tables sit Democrats - lots of them - often wondering aloud how they came to live in a state like this.

Phoenix, their northern neighbor and the state capital, is only a two-hour drive away, yet it is a different universe. In this pub packed with politicos and professors, the actions of Phoenix and the statehouse there are viewed with as much exasperation as in any East Coast blue state.

The Legislature passes a bill requiring police officers to ask for the documents of anyone they stop who looks like an illegal immigrant. The sheriff of Pima County, which includes Tucson, calls it "stupid" and refuses to enforce it. The state passes a law to ban all ethnic studies at public schools. Students at Tucson Unified School District storm a school meeting and chain themselves to chairs.

And here at the Shanty pub, Paul Eckerstrom has had enough. Meeting weekly with fellow malcontents, he is plotting how best to free his city from the tyrannies of Phoenix. His organization is Start Our State, and its goal is nothing less than a 51st state: Baja Arizona.

"There's always been kind of a resentment that Phoenix dominates Arizona politics and therefore they tell us what to do," says Mr. Eckerstrom, a former Pima County Democratic Party chairman. "They say they don't want the federal government to meddle in state politics, but they're interfering with our county and municipal governments."

Elements within Washington, D.C., have long agitated for statehood. A Long Island lawmaker has endorsed a study to investigate whether the island should become its own state. Puerto Rico has also flirted with the idea. Fringe movements in Texas and Alaska advocate independence.

For its part, Start Our State is a long shot. But its founders say they are serious, and their efforts are a parable of how the dramatically red-blue divide that has split the country is now splitting a single state.

The political divide between Pima County and Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, is evident in voter registration records. In Pima County, 38 percent of registered voters are Democrats, with 31 percent Republicans, and 30 percent "other." The numbers are reversed in Maricopa, with 37 percent Republican, 29 percent Democrat, and 33 percent other.

These differences - and the ideologies underlying them - are perhaps most obvious in the two counties' sheriffs.

Not only did Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik vow not to enforce the state's controversial SB 1070 immigration law, he singled out conservative commentators such as Sarah Palin for blame when an assassination attempt targeted Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Meanwhile, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has gained notoriety as perhaps the most strident advocate of get-tough illegal- immigration policies in the country. …