Arizonans challenge racist ballot measure

News Analysis

TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizonans have usually voted wisely on ballot initiatives, except when the initiative sponsors utilize racism as a weapon. This observation held true on Nov. 2 when state voters passed Proposition 200, the misnamed “Protect Arizona Now” (PAN).

The election is over but the struggle against this racist proposition continues. The coalition that came together to campaign against it is shifting its efforts to the courts and city halls, while hoping that federal law will render many portions unenforceable.

In a dramatic development, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) filed a lawsuit in federal court Nov. 30, charging that PAN violates the Constitution and voting rights laws. It won a temporary restraining order blocking implementation of the measure at least until Dec. 22, when it will seek an injunction against PAN until the lawsuit is settled.

If allowed to stand, PAN would change the political and social landscape of Arizona. The new law mandates that all state, county, city, and public school employees refuse services to any person who cannot prove their citizenship or legal residency.

Even scarier is the attack on voting rights that requires that a copy of one’s birth certificate be submitted when registering to vote. PAN also requires a picture ID when voting. The birth certificate requirement would eliminate all voter registration on street corners, door-to-door, or at county fairs. The ID requirement would overturn Arizona’s liberal vote-by-mail law. It harkens back to the days of Jim Crow when Mexican American voters were targeted and intimidated at polling places.

This law only pretends to protect citizens from undocumented immigration. PAN “is motivated by hate,” Rep. Raul Grijalva told an anti-PAN press conference. “Immigrants are not the root cause of why our country went to war, why millions are denied medical coverage, why too many remain unemployed or why we face so many other problems. This initiative is a mean-spirited effort to deny people their civil and human rights.”

PAN was written by a group of ultra-right state legislators and funded by national anti-immigrant organizations. They are hoping to use the new law to intimidate lawmakers into opposing immigration reform proposals.

Prop. 200 received 56.5 percent of the vote, down from the 75 percent support it enjoyed in early polls, but still enough to pass.

Most leading Democrats and Republicans roundly denounced PAN, but opponents’ claims of a bipartisan coalition didn’t materialize. Arizona’s entire congressional delegation, eight out of 10 of them Republicans, came out in opposition, but only Democrat Grijalva actively campaigned against it, including anti-PAN literature in his door-to-door campaigning.

The pro-PAN vote percentages were almost identical to the vote for George W. Bush. This was the case statewide, in almost all counties as well as on the precinct level. The urban, Chicano-majority Tucson precincts, which voted heavily for Kerry, also voted overwhelmingly against PAN. The suburban, overwhelming white precincts, which went for Bush, also passed Prop. 200.

Before the Nov. 30 court decision, city councils in both Phoenix and Tucson voted to assume the fines of any employees found in violation of PAN, and the state’s attorney general issued an advisory opinion restricting its application to only some welfare programs.

The author can be reached at pwwinaz@webtv.net.