“Start Our State” got lots of press, but will they get on the ballot?
By Sam Stone
Perhaps it’s the explosion of modern media outlets, or our national 24/7 obsession with controversy. But for two months last year, people in Arizona must have thought it was 1860 again. Except in 1860 there was no television. No radio. No Arizona, for that matter. But they were talking about secession. A lot. Just like Arizona in 2011.
Of course, most people probably don’t think that the actions of our state legislature constitute the same Casus Belli as slavery. But that didn’t stop a trio of Tucson Democrats, or a vapid news-media obsession that covered the story almost nonstop on every network from Fox News to MSNBC. For almost two months, you could hardly find a news hour that didn’t include some sort of “Baja Arizona” story. That the proposal for Southern Arizona to secede from the rest of the state was laughably doomed from the start never seemed to intrude on the narrative.
First, the legal hurdles but, even if the effort succeeded in getting on the ballot, approval from the state legislature, then U.S. Congress and finally ratification by the President would be unlikely – while President Obama might well sign on the dotted line, getting Republican-controlled electoral bodies in both Phoenix and Washington to agree is a dubious proposition at best.
Second, even if the proposal were to make it on to a ballot, the chances that it would pass even just here in Pima County are remote. Voter registrations in Southern Arizona are fairly evenly split among Democrats, Republicans and independents, so even getting the vast majority of Democratic voters to support the initiative would leave it well short of success.
Start Our State, the organization founded by former Arizona State Democratic Chair Paul Eckerstrom and Tucson attorneys Peter Hormel and David Euchner to promote the Baja, Arizona, initiative lists its mission as: “To establish a new state in Southern Arizona free of the un-American, unconstitutional machinations of the Arizona legislature and to restore our region’s credibility as a place welcoming to others, open to commerce, and friendly to its neighbors.”
And while Start our State attempts to strongly emphasize the non-partisan nature of their effort on their website, a quick look at the comments on their Facebook page perhaps tells the real story more accurately. Their supporters could best be described as liberal stalwarts with a lengthy agenda for Baja Arizona that would, apparently, include universal healthcare and vastly increased government spending.
This brings us to the third major problem with Baja Arizona: paying for it. Planning to use the tax base of Southern Arizona to drive a modern social-welfare state is like hitching a Shetland pony to a Clydesdale harness. One post directly from Start our State quotes a supporter saying that Baja Arizona means, “We want our share!” Of course, that supporter might be disappointed when they realize that their “share” would be considerably less without the financial support of Maricopa County whose residents, on average, make about 25 percent more income than people in Pima County do.
So what did two months of non-stop media sound and fury signify?
An MSNBC article from March 1, 2011 – about a month after Start our State was launched – reports them having about 2,350 “likes” on their Facebook page. A full year later, they have 3,621. The most recent post is a two-month old “Happy Thanksgiving” message. On November 10, 2011, they posted their last action message requesting signature gatherers to attend Second Saturday at the Rialto Theater in Tucson, it has two “likes” and one “share”. An email request for an interview was not returned.
At this point, given the silence, it seems extremely likely that Start our State won’t do any starting of their own, and the initiative isn’t likely to appear on the ballot. However, considering that the effort was initiated by Democrats upset with a Republican-controlled legislature, the media coverage alone probably constitutes a political win — they were able to emphasize their dissatisfaction with the current legislature in a much, much larger forum than would have existed otherwise.
But at least for now it looks like Arizonans can get back to working together and stop talking about secession. And no one is planning on starting a war this year.